Superintendent Hoffman Plays Politics with AZ Kid’s Education

It is no secret that Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman is no fan of the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.  Throughout the 2018 campaign season, Hoffman was on record taking hostile positions against the school choice program. 

Now she has allowed her personal biases to harm children and skirt the law.

Arizona law defines the criteria for children who qualify for the ESA program as well as outlines the process by which the Department of Education must administer the program – including a 45-day deadline for processing applications. 

With several ESA families in recent months shedding light on their own mistreatment by the department, it is unclear how many of the over 5,000 children have fallen victim to the Hoffman bias.

Just last spring a group of students on the Navajo Reservation were found to be using their ESA funds to attend a school in the state of New Mexico.  With nothing but poor failing schools in proximity to the children, the NM school was the only viable educational option.  Instead of seeking a remedy to the issue, these families were being expected to pay back thousands of dollars to the state.  Luckily the Governor’s office and the legislature passed a one-year fix for the native American families.

Only a couple months after this debacle, a military family was denied eligibility, citing the stepmom who was the active military person, was not the child’s real mother.  Despite the biological mom being deceased and the veteran stepmom having legal guardianship.  After a firestorm of criticism followed, Hoffman’s administration reversed the decision.  This was more than shoddy legal interpretation of the statutory eligibility – this was prejudicial. 

Most recently still, a Gilbert mom of a child with specific learning disabilities has called out the department of their willful incompetence after spending much of the summer on hold for hours and never receiving a response.  Even after this mom and her son confronted Hoffman at an ADE meeting, requesting a phone call back, a month later no phone call was received.  This family has been apart of the program for 5 years and has never had trouble in the past with communication.

This last issue was the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading GOP lawmaker Mark Finchem (LD 11) to file a complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s office requesting they investigate the department’s mishandling of ESA applications and failing to process them within the 45-day window.

It seems nothing will overshadow Superintendent Hoffman’s bias toward the ESA program. Not the law.  Not children in vulnerable rural reservations. Not children of our military.  Not children with learning disabilities. 

For the sake of these families who rely on the ESA program to access the educational options that serve their children best – the legislature would be wise to remove the program from her administration.  After all, if Hoffman can’t and won’t administer the statutory program impartially and in full service to Arizona families – someone else should.

Light Rail Economic Development Claims by Valley Metro Fall Flat

Today the Arizona Free Enterprise Club has released a study examining the speculative claims made by Valley Metro that light rail has spurred $11 Billion in economic development.

Authored by transportation policy expert Randal O’Toole, “Valley Metro Light Rail Economic Development Claims Fall Flat” examines the 344 developments the transit agency cites as economic development attributable to light rail. 

The report shows that the vast majority of these projects would have happened anyway, happened only because they were subsidized or were government buildings and that the cost of rail construction exceeded any actual economic development created by light rail. 

There are several examples of projects cited in Valley Metro’s economic development report that have no reasonable connection to light rail, including:

  • Two QuikTrip Gas Stations
  • A Car Wash
  • The Tesla Car Dealership
  • Several Parking Garages
  • Maricopa County Sheriff Headquarters
  • The Phoenix Police Forensic Lab
  • The Arizona Department of Child Safety Building
  • Renovations at Manzanita Hall and other ASU student Housing
  • The Renovations at the Memorial Union

Valley metro included billions worth of projects that were heavily subsidized, were government funded, or were more than ½ mile from a light rail stop:

  • 85 projects worth $3.8 Billion received a subsidy–either a GPLET (Government Property Lease Excise Tax) property tax abatement, a lease-back of ASU property which advantaged the property with a property tax abatement, affordable housing tax credits, or another type of subsidy; 
  • 46 projects worth $2.1 Billion were government buildings;
  • 46 projects worth $2.7 Billion were Arizona State University buildings such as the remodeling of Sun Devil Stadium;
  • 17 projects worth $317 Million that were located more than a half mile from the light rail station and 2 projects worth $61 Million of developments built before light rail was.

“After removing these unrelated and subsidized projects, what you are left with is less than $2 Billion of development that likely would have been built anyways,” said Aimee Yentes, Vice President of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club.  She continued, “furthermore, light rail has cost taxpayers over $2 Billion to build and nowhere in Valley Metro’s analysis do they include the detrimental effects light rail construction has had in displacing or shuttering small businesses along the construction of the line.  The juice just hasn’t been worth the squeeze.”

 “Virtually every project on Valley Metro’s list would have been built somewhere in the Phoenix metropolitan area without light rail,” says Randal O’Toole the study’s author.  “In fact, considering light rail fares only cover 28 percent of the costs of operations and maintenance, it is hard to classify light rail as a ‘productive investment’.” 

The full study can be accessed HERE.

Cost for South Phoenix Light Rail Explodes to $1.35 BILLION Dollars

Yesterday when the City of Phoenix and Valley Metro announced that they had received a grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for the South Phoenix light rail extension, they did not disclose to taxpayers that the projected cost to build the line has nearly DOUBLED—from $700 million to $1.35 Billion dollars.  At $245 Million per mile, the South Phoenix line is now one of the most expensive light rail extensions in the country.

“It is amazing that no one in City Hall or Valley Metro notified the public of these rampant cost overruns,” said Scot Mussi, President of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. “The scariest part for taxpayers is that they haven’t even broke ground on the project, so the price tag will likely go even higher before they are finished.”

To pay for the ballooning cost of the extension, Phoenix taxpayers are on the hook for $540 million, up from $195 million in 2018. “Neither Phoenix or Valley Metro have explained how they are going to pay for this, or what happens when the cost goes even higher,” Mussi Continued. “Taxpayers have a right to know what roadway projects will be cancelled to fund this boondoggle.”

This isn’t the first time Valley Metro has been forced to revise the projected cost for the South Phoenix extension. In November of 2015, Valley Metro estimated the capitol cost for the project to be no more than $530 Million Dollars.   

In August, Phoenix residents will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 105, which would stop the expansion of the South Phoenix line and divert those funds to other needed roadway and transportation improvements. “With light rail costs spiraling out of control, voters would be wise to stop the bleeding before it is too late.” Mussi said.

The 2015 cost estimate for the South Phoenix project can be viewed HERE. The most recent cost estimate for the South Phoenix project can be viewed HERE.

Phoenix Proposition 106 Will Help Fix the Phoenix Pension Crisis

The City of Phoenix has been living beyond their means for way too long.  Their fiscal irresponsibility has led to a crushing $5.7 Billion in unfunded pension debt and no real plan on how to pay it off or honor their commitments to current or future retirees.

The City of Phoenix Employees’ Retirement System (COPERS), the retirement plan for general employees excluding sworn police and fire personnel, is woefully underfunded.  The City contributed less than $30M a year to COPERS in the early 2000’s; this is expected to balloon to over $180M by next year.   Yet these payments still won’t put a dent in the mountain of debt.  As of only two years ago, the fund was only 57 percent funded – having $2.35B in assets to cover $4.13B in liabilities.

Despite several propositions passing in the past to right the ship – Phoenix is still severely underwater.  That is because the city has a major spending problem.  And instead of addressing this problem, politicians have continued to kick the can down the road, using accounting tricks and other sneaky maneuvers to avoid addressing the crisis.  

That is why a group of citizens and Councilman Sal DiCiccio has pushed to get Prop 106 on the August 27th ballot. If approved by voters, this measure will end the budget gimmicks, require honest accounting of pension costs and prioritize paying down the debt of the pension system. The measure will also prohibit the city’s budget from outpacing inflation plus population and put a cap on spending until pension liabilities are funded at 90 percent.

This will put the city’s pension system on a sustainable path and ensure that pension obligations are met.

Prop 106 is a responsible plan for a growing problem that will benefit both taxpayers and retirees. We encourage Phoenix citizens to Vote Yes on Prop 106.