On Saturday, March 7, I took the unusual step of holding six town hall meetings throughout LD26. The meetings were unusual in that state legislators rarely hold them, but I am very glad that I did.
To the more than 200 people who attended these public forums, thank you for doing so and thank you for sharing your opinions with me. I welcomed the opportunity to discuss the current budget crisis, my legislative goals, K-12 funding, and some of the bills that I am sponsoring this year.
Several folks spoke to me before I scheduled these meetings, warning me that they were great opportunities to be ambushed or beat up by folks who disagreed with my positions on certain issues. And they were right. There were certain instances of organized politicking that went on during these meetings, but overall, folks behaved themselves and I believe that it is part of my job to be accountable to everyone in the district, not just those who agree with me. Moreover, a person learns very little if they only converse with people who agree with them, so hearing such varied opinions was a good learning experience for me as well.
During these town halls, there were some people who spoke loudly in favor of increased sales and property taxes as a cure for our state’s budget woes. I had the opportunity to emphasize that I campaigned on a platform of tax relief for our citizens and businesses, and that I will not vote for these tax increases. But what concerned me each time they made their arguments, was that they often cited very inaccurate numbers regarding our state’s budget, funding for K-12 education, and the cuts that have been made and proposed.
Of course, no public discourse seems possible without someone proclaiming that Arizona is 49th in the nation in education funding. In fact, Arizona ranks much higher than 49th in many different categories of K-12 education and we should be doing a better job of promoting that fact. I also mentioned that I was troubled that, in their haste to create a sense of panic among parents, our own education bureaucrats were ignoring the fact that we have outstanding school districts (Marana, Flowing Wells, Amphi and Catalina Foothills) and schools in LD 26. They compare quite favorably with public school districts and schools throughout the USA. Companies considering relocating to the Tucson area would be impressed by the high caliber of public school districts and schools in LD 26. Parents and teachers alike work hard to make these schools the stellar schools that we can be proud of, and we owe it to them to speak the truth about them and to promote them.
Finally, regarding budget cuts, I was able to reinforce the point that the Arizona State Legislature is committed to making K-12 reductions as small as possible. Tough times such as these mean that we will all have to live with a certain amount of cuts, but we are working hard to minimize them. Again, the public would be better served if they were exposed to the facts and allowed to make up their own minds, as opposed to the propaganda that many of them hear. We get e-mails from parents who are “shocked” that we would cut 25 percent, 50 percent or more of education funding. In fact, within the 2009 budget cuts, the K-12 reduction was only 3.2 percent of K-12 general funds and only 1.3 percent of all fund sources, including federal funds. Arizona families are making cuts to their family budgets that are far greater than that, and we will all need to share the pain if we are going to make it through this crisis.
We need to also remember that your State Legislature is also working to protect funding for health care programs, child protective services, public safety, and other critical programs.
I remain optimistic about Arizona’s future and note that many neighboring states are passing massive tax increases, like California for instance. As word gets out that Arizona is being responsible and remains a great place for businesses to relocate to, I believe that Arizona’s economy will pick up first and at a much quicker pace than surrounding states.
I look forward to the next round of town halls and encourage everyone to attend.
Al Melvin is a Republican senator in District 26, which includes much of the Northwest.