October 2018 Southwestern Update

Arizona


The mood of Voters heading into Midterm Elections

In a poll by Suffolk University/Arizona Republic, 500 likely Arizona voters were asked:

  1. Approval or Disapproval of the job by Donald Trump. – 47.6% approve while 48.2% disapprove. Virtually a tie with 4.2% undecided.
  2. Do Voters aim to send a message to Trump? – 39.8% want to change Trump’s direction; 39.6% support Trump’s direction; and 15.8% do not factor this into their plans.
  3. Favorability of candidates – Gubernatorial candidates: Ducey (R) 49.6% favorable to 35.4% unfavorable; Garcia (D) 33.6% favorable to 34.6% unfavorable. Senate candidates Cinema (D) 44.2% favorable to 35.6% unfavorable; McSally (R) 40.8% favorable to 42.8% unfavorable.
  4. 43.8% think that Arizona is heading in the right direction compared to 36.6% who think Arizona is heading in the wrong direction. 19.6% were undecided.

Margin of error is + or – 4%

Colorado


Gubernatorial Candidates Differ on Healthcare

The Coloradan gubernatorial candidates differ on many areas, but none as contentiously as their respective approaches to healthcare. Democrat Jared Polis is a supporter of “Medicare for all,” and has released a 100-day healthcare roadmap for the first year he is in office. Republican Walker Stapleton has three priorities for healthcare including seeking a federal waiver to allow insurance companies to sell policies that only cover “catastrophic events.” Each campaign has criticized the other for lack of details and vision.

Critics claim that Polis’ approach will create a single-payer system which could double the state’s budget. Polis’ ultimate goal is to make sure Coloradans do not have to worry about the cost of healthcare. One idea is to negotiate a multi-state consortium that will be large enough to expand coverage and keep costs low. The challenge will be to work with neighboring governors and state legislators and may not benefit Colorado as its residents are some of the healthiest in the nation. One other proposal is to allow the public to buy into the state’s employee health care program. There would be no additional cost to the state as individuals would be paying 100% of their own premiums. This is a novel approach as no other state is currently offering a public buy-in option.

Opponents of Walker’s proposals claim his plans would kick thousands of individuals off of Medicaid. Walker proposes a plan for an outcomes-based Medicaid which is intended to curb the cost of the program, thus freeing up government funds that can be redirected to education and roads. Walker is also proposing a task force to improve the administration and monitoring of Medicaid which will reduce wasteful spending, abuse, and fraud. Walker plans to seek a federal waiver to allow individuals to buy short-term or catastrophic health care plans. He says any options must include protections for pre-existing conditions and allowing young people to stay on their health care plans. This option will have high-deductibles but can offer cheaper monthly premiums. The plan will not cover routine health care costs but is instead to be there in case of a health emergency.

New Mexico


Gubernatorial Candidates – One Month to Go

A recent debate between Gubernatorial candidates Democrat Michelle Lujan-Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce showed how different they are in terms of Education, Healthcare, raising the minimum wage and other public assistance programs.

Both candidates have stated that it is their intent to overhaul the teacher evaluation system to address a lagging system that ranks New Mexico behind most states in student performance. The difference, however, as shown in a recent video of Pearce speaking to a conference of educators was released where he states that his system may very well reflect what is currently in place. Lujan-Grisham, on the other hand, seeks to revamp the evaluation system that is seen as ineffective. The current system factors in student performance into teacher evaluations which is seen to diminish teacher enthusiasm and crush student morale. The New Mexico chapter of the National Education Association is concerned that a small faction of teachers that support the current system will sway the new governor.

In other areas, the candidates disagreed on raising the minimum wage, legalizing recreational marijuana and tapping into the state’s land grant permanent fund for early childhood programs. Additionally, Pearce supports a work requirement for people who get their healthcare via Medicaid or who use other public assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Lujan Grisham pointed out that Pearce has repeatedly voted against public benefit programs.

Lujan Grisham supports raising the minimum wage in three stages. First, immediately raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour and later to $12 per hour. Finally, the minimum wage would be adjusted according to inflation. Pearce states that government-mandated wages increases will hurt people and businesses that will reduce employee hours. Lujan Grisham argues that a wage increase will help small businesses by giving people more money to spend. She points out that raising the minimum wage is especially important for families and women.

There are two more televised debates scheduled before the November 6 general election – October 16 sponsored by KOB-TV and October 24 co-hosted by KOAT-TV and the Albuquerque Journal.

Utah


Prop 2 Compromise Creates First State-run Dispensaries

In a behind-the-scenes compromise deal announced in the state capitol, both sides of Proposition 2 – legalizing medical use marijuana – a deal that will create the nation’s first state-run medical marijuana dispensaries. State lawmakers, faith leaders, and advocates worked out the weeks in the making, but Gov. Hebert has vowed to call a special session after the election no matter the outcome of Prop. 2. “The good news here is that whether Prop 2 passes or fails, we end up at the same point,” Hebert said at the compromise announcement.

Qualifying patients will not have access to medical marijuana from county health departments, and up to five “medical cannabis pharmacies.” The compromise differs from the initiative in that a centralized pharmacy will be created to supply health departments with marijuana in “medicinal dosage form.” The intent of the state-run operation is to increase safeguards and lessen the likelihood of medical marijuana from reaching the black market.

Both sides of the Prop 2 debate have agreed to de-escalate the number of political ads attacking the opposing party. Advocates, however, still caution and encourage voters to turn up at the polls. There are still areas that are unsettled such as the requirement that marijuana flowers be packaged in blister packs. The intent is to send a clear signal to law enforcement that an individual is legally in possession of marijuana. Opposing concerns is that additional packaging requirements will drive up the cost.

Student Loan Forgiveness Report

Nearly all student borrowers who applied for loans forgiveness under a program for public and nonprofit workers have had their applications denied, according to new data from the Education Department.

More than 28,000 borrowers applied to have their loans discharged under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which forgives loans for public and nonprofit workers who have made a decade’s worth of qualifying payments. The program first began discharging loans in November 2017. As of the end of June, only 289 application had been approved for discharge.

The other 99 percent of discharge applications were denied, either because the applicants had not met program requirements or were missing information.

The department did not provide a breakdown of what requirement applicants did not meet.

Congress set aside $350 million last year to help borrowers who thought they were in the program but were disqualified on a technicality. This week, the Senate passed spending legislation (H.R. 6157) that would set aside an additional $350 million for loan forgiveness.

As of the end of June, 96 borrowers had $5.52 million in student loans forgiven.

Legislative Update: AZ, CO, NM, & UT

Arizona

Gov. Ducey Names Kyl as McCain Successor

After the passing of Sen. John McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed former Sen. Jon Kyl to serve out the remainder of the late senator’s six-year term. Ducey commented at the press conference announcing his selection that “now is not the time for newcomers and not the time for on-the-job training.” Further that Kyl is a “beacon of integrity, highly regarded by people on both sides of the aisle and able to work across party lines to get results.”

Kyl, a Republican, has indicated that he is willing to serve until the end of the year, but would not comment on any timeframe afterward. If Kyl steps down at the end of the session, the governor would be required to appoint another replacement.

Court Removes Education Funding Measure from November Ballot

The Arizona Supreme Court struck down and removed Proposition 207 which would have increased income taxes for individuals making more than $150,000 finding that the description of the tax was not clear. Opponents of Prop. 207 claimed that the use of a “percentage” rather than “percentage points” increase was deceptive illustrating that the tax rate would have been increased by 76 and 98 percent increase rather than 3.46 and 4.46 percent increase. The Court found that the language “creates a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.”

Proponents of Prop. 207 claim the measure was the work of thousands of volunteers, which had the backing of the Arizona Education Association, and the state’s teachers union, now emphasize the importance of electing officials that support public education.

The intent of Prop. 207 was to increase education funding for public and charter schools in response to the years of cuts experienced since the recession. The measure could have brought in an additional $690 million to help restore the $1 billion in cuts to education by the legislature.


Colorado

Redistricting Measure on November Ballot

Colorado is taking its political boundary matters to the voters this November. Constitutional amendments Y and Z changes the way the state’s political boundaries are drawn for both the statehouse and Congress. Currently, the controlling political party at the General Assembly has much of the power to draw districts. If approved, those duties go to an independent commission.

The most controversial ballot measure would prohibit oil and gas drilling within 2,500 feet of home and schools. If approved, the proposed setback would all but ban drilling in the state which is one of the state’s largest economic drivers. Both gubernatorial candidates have voiced opposition to the initiative claiming that it goes too far. The oil and gas industry is expected to spend millions of dollars to defeat the measure which is being proposed by environmentalists.


New Mexico

Groundbreaking Lawsuit Finds New Mexico Education System Unconstitutional

First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton has ruled in the Yazzie v. New Mexico class action lawsuit filed in March 2014 that the state’s public education system is a “dismal failure” and violates students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education. Plaintiffs argued that funds are distributed in arbitrary and inequitable ways that leave at-risk students without a basic education to go to college or pursue a career.

Lead Plaintiff Wilhelmina Yazzie provided examples of the inadequate funding in the Gallup-McKinley County Schools which included teachers requesting parents to donate old socks to be used to clean dry-erase boards, and an insufficient supply of textbooks for students. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the school district did not respond to Yazzie’s complaints for years. “All we’ve heard is ‘Sorry we can’t do that, or sorry we don’t have that, or sorry we can’t give that to your children. But it’s not a good enough excuse,” Yazzie said.

Judge Singleton ruled that the state is responsible for assuring that students receive an adequate education.


Utah

Ballot Measures Include Medical Marijuana Initiative

Utah is another state where voters will be deciding the future of the medicinal use of marijuana on the November ballot. If approved, Proposition 2 the Utah Medical Cannabis Act will allow patients, on the recommendation of a physician, obtain a medical marijuana card and to buy cannabis products from private run dispensaries sanctioned by the state. A recent poll in June indicates that 66% of voters are in favor of approving the Utah Medical Cannabis Act.

Proposition 3 asks voters to fully expand Medicaid to provide health-care coverage to 150,000 lower income Utahns. The state currently has a Medicaid waiver before the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that partially expands Medicaid while imposing work requirements on recipients. If approved, Prop. 3 will bypass the waiver process to fully expand Medicaid under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. The initiative proposes to combine $90 in state funding through a 0.15% sales tax increase of approximately $800 million in federal Medicaid funding.

Proposition 4 will create an independent, unelected redistricting commission to recommend electoral maps which then must be approved or discarded by the Legislature without amendment. Better Boundaries, the proponent of Prop. 4, said the initiative is meant to fix a broken redistricting process. “There’s an inherent conflict of interest when legislators draw their own electoral boundaries, as they have the power to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives.” Opponents of the initiative claim the initiative is unconstitutional by interfering in the Legislature’s redistricting process.