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Claiming consumers here were misled, Attorney General Tom Horne has filed a $3 billion lawsuit against General Motors alleging it sold vehicles to Arizonans the company knew were unsafe.
For the seventh straight year, Maricopa County Superior Court is on track to be the largest National Adoption Day event in the United States.
Dear Gilbert Public Schools Board Members and Dr. Kishimoto,
The successful gubernatorial candidate who promised to balance the budget without tax hikes or borrowing won't be presenting a truly balanced spending plan to lawmakers in January.
Attendees of the annual Gilbert Days Parade on Nov. 22 will find a new twist and an overarching theme highlighting the best of what the town offers its residents.
A Sierra Vista Republican will become the first House speaker from Southern Arizona in a quarter century.
Republican Doug Ducey coasted to victory in the gubernatorial race Tuesday, fueled by unprecedented spending of outside dollars in attack ads on his Democrat foe.
Republican Doug Ducey coasted to victory in the gubernatorial race Tuesday, fueled by unprecedented spending of outside dollars in attack ads on his Democrat foe.
An attorney for state lawmakers made a last-ditch effort Friday to get a judge to reject a bid by schools for more than $1 billion in missed state aid, saying it's the only fair thing to do.
PHOENIX -- An attorney for state lawmakers made a last-ditch effort Friday to get a judge to reject a bid by schools for more than $1 billion in missed state aid, saying it's the only fair thing to do.
Calling it fiscally “impossible,” an attorney for lawmakers told a judge on Monday she should reject a bid by schools to get back the money the state illegally withheld from them for years.
PHOENIX (AP) — Democrat Fred DuVal lashed out at his Republican opponent in the Arizona governor's race over his education funding plans Friday, upping his rhetoric in the campaign as the race nears its final week.
DuVal called Republican Doug Ducey "the most anti-public education candidate for governor in my lifetime," and said Ducey's plans to cut income taxes will end up decimating school funding.
"He wants to do giant tax giveaways to the rich that would cause the largest funding cuts to education in our state — it is simple math," Duval said. "The fact that he won't admit that his plan doesn't add up shows that Doug Ducey isn't honest enough to be our governor."
The aggressive tone from DuVal comes two weeks after voters began casting early ballots and just 12 days before the general election and stands in stark contrast to the civil tone he took in five debates with Ducey. DuVal spoke at a news conference at the Phoenix headquarters of the Arizona Education Association and was joined by teachers who support his call to stop funding cuts.
Former GOP gubernatorial candidate Christine Jones, now a Ducey supporter, deadpanned and called DuVal's statement about Ducey a "slight exaggeration."
"I think there's probably a slight exaggeration that Doug's the single-most antagonistic to public education in the history of his life," Jones said. "But I also think they have difference of opinion on how to fund things."
In a statement, Ducey's campaign called the attack "both dishonest and false."
"In just over one week, we are confident Arizona voters will elect Doug Ducey to lead on both education and the economy, and as governor, he will make certain there are no winners and losers in Arizona's schools."
DuVal has made education funding a centerpiece of his campaigning, vowing not to cut another penny from K-12 schools and to stop fighting a court order that inflation funding be restored.
Ducey wants to continue fighting the court order that the Legislature reset funding formulas to account for inflation, and he said if the state loses, he wants to review school funding formulas to make sure more money makes it into the classroom.
The courts have ordered Arizona to pay an additional $1.6 billion to schools over the coming five years and may order $1.3 billion in back payments. That order came in a lawsuit won by schools over the Legislature's failure to fund voter-mandated yearly inflation increases, and is being appealed.
In addition, the state is facing more than a billion dollars in deficits in the coming two years, a looming fiscal crisis the next governor will have to deal with as soon as he takes office in January.
Both candidates have given general ideas about how to handle the deficit, but dodge when pressed for specifics, as DuVal did Friday when asked by reporters to say what he would cut if schools got full funding.
"You asked the right question, which is OK, fine, you're not going to cut any more in education, but there's a whole lot more to the budget than just that, and you know that," Jones said. "You got to tell me where you're going to get the money from, and I think that's what Doug's been focused on."
It’s not news when politicians try to get into our wallets. But this year, both the city of Phoenix and Maricopa Integrated Health System (MIHS) have crossed the decency line in their efforts to keep our money flowing their direction.
What would you buy with an extra $6 a week?
PHOENIX -- What would you buy with an extra $6 a week? Two gallons of milk? A Big Mac meal? A venti half-caf sugar-free latte?
That's how much more those at the bottom of the pay scale will be making come Jan. 1 when the minimum wage in Arizona goes to $8.05 an hour.
It's not that businesses necessarily want to pay their workers more. It's that Arizona voters in 2006 mandated that the state have its own minimum wage not tied to the federal figure.
More significant, that law requires annual automatic adjustments tied to inflation. The federal minimum wage goes up only when Congress approves, something that last happened in 2009.
It all goes back to that 2006 initiative. It established a state minimum wage of $6.75 an hour, $1.60 higher than what federal law required at the time.
But that law also requires the Industrial Commission to adjust the figure annually based on inflation, as measured as the change in the Consumer Price Index for all urban areas.
So the commission took the current $7.90 an hour minimum wage and multiplied it by the 1.7 percent increase in inflation.
That computes out to about 13.4 cents. But since the law requires rounding to the nearest nickel, the enacted change is 15 cents.
How many workers are affected is unclear, as the state does not maintain such data.
The most recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 17,000 Arizonans working at the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage and another 51,000 paid less than that. But the agency cautions that includes those whose jobs are exempt and does not mean employers are violating federal law.
Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which unsuccessfully opposed the 2006 initiative, said his organization remains convinced that a state minimum wage higher than the federal figure is bad not only for business but for those looking for work.
"It's just another expense that makes it more difficult to hire workers,'' he said. Most hard hit, he said are small businesses, particularly in the food service industry.
It is only an 80-cent-an-hour difference from the federal figure. But Hamer said looking at it from an annual basis -- $312 a year -- multiplied by the number of minimum-wage workers ``clearly puts downward pressure on employment.'' All that, he said is these small businesses hire fewer workers.
Steve Chucri, president of the Arizona Restaurant Association, said he has seen in his industry.
"It's hard to find bus boys anymore,'' he said, as restaurants, seeking to keep costs in line, make the wait staff more responsible to clear tables.
And for those establishments that can't cut staff more, particularly in the "quick-serve'' segment, the only alternative is higher prices.
He said the differences between what consumers pay in Arizona versus other states which have no comparable state minimum wage may be subtle and barely noticeable. But he said those differences exist.
Chucri said it becomes very visible where the gap is large, relating how a San Francisco restaurant where he was dining said it was adding 3 percent to all bills for employer mandates. That includes that city's $10.74-an-hour minimum wage, one that proponents hope to hike to $15 an hour by 2018 through a ballot measure.
Hamer said the really troubling part is that annual inflationary increase, with higher wages forced on employers who may not be able to afford it.
He acknowledged that the adjustment is based on the change in the cost of goods and services during the prior year. And Hamer, who said he does the shopping for his family, said he has seen prices go up.
But he said that $7.90 an hour is better than nothing, which is what he said a higher minimum wage may mean to some.
Chucri has a somewhat different take on the issue, saying the wages should be set by the free market. He said if restaurants, diners and fast-food joints can't find people at what they're offering, that will raise wages.
Anyway, he said, that minimum wage is really a "training wage,'' with most of those at that level in the 18-to-25 age group.
"We don't intend to have a single mother of three make the minimum wage and say it's fine,'' he said. Chucri said anyone with experience can demand more.
As it turns out, many Arizona restaurants won't even have to pay that $8.05 figure.
The Arizona law has a major exception: Firms whose workers earn tips get a $3 "credit'' toward the wages. That means even with the hike, those workers still could be paid as little as $5.05 an hour.
But state officials say that requires proof that the employees are, in fact, bringing in at least $3 an hour in tips.
History of Arizona's Minimum Wage
Year / State / Federal
2006 / $5.15 / $5.15
2007 / $6.75 / $5.85
2008 / $6.90 / $6.55
2009 / $7.25 / $7.25
2010 / $7.25 / $7.25
2011 / $7.35 / $7.25
2012 / $7.65 / $7.25
2013 / $7.80 / $7.25
2014 / $7.90 / $7.25
2015 / $8.05 / $7.25
Sources: Industrial Commission of Arizona, U.S. Department of Labor
Democrat Fred DuVal used the last gubernatorial debate Tuesday to essentially accuse Doug Ducey of class warfare, robbing from schools to give tax breaks to the rich.
PARADISE VALLEY -- Democrat Fred DuVal used the last gubernatorial debate Tuesday to essentially accuse Doug Ducey of class warfare, robbing from schools to give tax breaks to the rich.
Ducey has centered his gubernatorial campaign on his theme of "kick-starting'' Arizona's moribund economy. Central to that is his promise to work to eliminate the state income tax. But DuVal told an audience of two different women's groups such a move would be irresponsible.
He cited the anticipated deficit of $500 million this fiscal year and more than $1 billion next year. That includes a court order to immediately boost school funding by $331 million, a decision DuVal said he will accede to and that Ducey wants to appeal.
"This is a choice you get to make,'' DuVal said.
"Doug's priority is to lower taxes for the wealthiest among us,'' he continued. "My priority is to assure that we adequately fund schools.''
But Ducey appears to be backing away -- or at least finessing -- his position on tax cuts.
During both the Republican primary and since then, Ducey has said he wants to move toward eliminating the tax, or at least making it "flatter and fairer.'' Tuesday, however, he had a different message.
"No one's ever talked about eliminating the income tax,'' he told the audience. Instead he said his goal is simply to drive it "as close to zero as possible.''
And he even added some conditions Tuesday to pursuing that goal which has been a cornerstone of his campaign.
"It's where I would like to take the state,'' he said.
"But I've got to deal with the financial situation of the state as I find it as governor,'' Ducey explained. "And I'll do what's responsible and in the best interest of all of our citizens.''
Ducey disputed that cutting income taxes necessarily means there will be less money for public schools. And Ducey said that he does not necessarily believe that restoring school funding to where it would have been had lawmakers not ignored a voter-approved mandate to adjust annually for inflation will lead to better schools.
The key, he said, is finding better ways to educate children.
"We are underperforming across the state,'' Ducey told the audience.
"But we have pockets of excellence in the state,'' he continued, citing reports that three of the Top 10 high schools in the nation as ranked by U.S. News and World Reports are located here: two Basis charter schools and University High School in Tucson.
Ducey said he would look at the "best practices'' of those schools "so more of our children have a better opportunity.''
Ducey also cited reports from the Auditor General's Office which for the past decade have shown that an ever-smaller percentage of tax dollars is actually winding up in the classroom.
The most recent report shows that less than 54 cents of every education dollar was put into things like teacher salaries. That compares with 58.6 cents a decade earlier, a trend Ducey said he wants to reverse.
But DuVal said the rest of the report found that administrative costs for things like superintendents, principals, business managers and clerical staff is below the national average. Instead, the report said what's making up the difference are fixed non-instructional costs like heating, cooling and running school buses.
And Auditor General Debra Davenport specifically said that's a direct function of less money overall for schools. She said the only place to cut was the classroom, citing figures that while the number of children attending Arizona public schools has dropped by 3 percent since 2009, the number of teachers dropped by 8.6 percent.
"The reason there isn't more money going into the classroom is there isn't enough money,'' DuVal said.
That still leaves DuVal's contention that Ducey's plan to cut income taxes is designed to favor the wealthy.
"The income tax is paid disproportionately by wealthy,'' DuVal said, acknowledging that, by definition, people with more income pay more tax on that income. But he said all this comes as Arizona has one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation -- 5.6 percent plus all local levies -- a tax he called "regressive.''
"Our tax structure is clobbering working Arizona families,'' he told reporters after the debate.
"They're paying significantly more of their income in taxes than upper-income Arizonans,'' DuVal said.
Ducey said what will help businesses come to and expand in Arizona are things he promises like lower taxes and less regulation. But DuVal said some business leaders have suggested otherwise.
He cited comments made in 2011 by the former chief executive of Intel.
"The educational system in the United States and in Arizona in particular is not particularly attractive,'' Craig Barrett told the Arizona Commerce Authority. In fact, Barrett said the situation is so bar that if Intel were looking for a site to build an entirely new operation, as to expanding its $10 billion Arizona presence, the state would not even be on the list of Top 10 choices.
He was not alone in his comments.
"The education system here is very weak,'' said Doug Pruitt, at the time the chief executive of Sundt Construction.
Kids slide down an inflatable slide during the Tempe Tardeada festival at Tempe Community Complex on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014.
PHOENIX -- Saying the state needs the cash, a first-term Tucson Republican lawmaker wants to legalize marijuana -- and do it before it ends up on the 2016 ballot.
Ethan Orr said he believes a Colorado-style law here could generate upwards of $250 million a year in tax revenues. He said the state, heading into a budget deficit, needs the cash.
But Orr said there's another reason for lawmakers to act: a proposed 2016 ballot measure.
He said if that is passed, it is virtually impossible to make changes if it turns out there are problems. By contrast, Orr said anything approved by the Legislature can be amended by the Legislature.
The proposal drew a sharp rebuke from Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, who is also running in the same legislative district. She said the timing -- a month before the general election -- is suspicious as she, Orr and Democrat Randy Friese face off for the two available seats.
But this isn't Orr's first foray into the issue of marijuana.
Last session he sponsored legislation designed to allow the use of state dollars, obtained from medical marijuana users and dispensaries, to study the effects of the drug. That measure was approved by the House but killed in the Senate.
Timing aside, Steele said that, as a substance abuse counselor, she cannot support anything that has the possibility of making marijuana more easily available to teens, even if the law were designed to limit its purchase to adults.
The proposal is getting a decidedly chilly reception from Republican gubernatorial hopeful Doug Ducey who would be in a position to sign or veto the bill if it ever got to his desk.
"As the father of three boys and the son of a cop, he thinks it's a bad idea,'' said spokeswoman Melissa DeLaney.
But Democrat Fred DuVal appears open to the idea -- but just not yet.
"Fred wants to wait and see what happens with the states that already moved to legalize recreational marijuana,'' said Geoff Vetter, his press aide. "There's a lot of things we're still learning and Fred wants to discover all the consequences of legalization before moving in that direction.''
But the Marijuana Policy Project, which got voters in 2010 to approve a medical marijuana law, is not about to drop its plans for 2016.
Chris Lindsey, the group's legislative analyst, said Orr's proposal is "not surprising'' given what he said has been the success of legalization in Colorado.
"We applaud Rep. Orr for taking a stand for a more sensible law,'' Lindsey said. But simply introducing a bill is far from a guarantee of getting a hearing, much less the measure making its way onto the books.
"For the time being, while we wish the representative and his legislation every success, our plans to place a measure before voters in 2016 has not changed,'' Lindsey said.
Orr's plan is a direct extension of that 2010 initiative when voters decided that those with certain medical conditions and a doctor's recommendation could purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from state-regulated dispensaries.
Since that time the state's finances have deteriorated.
The current projection is Arizona will end this budget year $520 million in the red if lawmakers have to reset state aid to schools to where it would have been had they not ignored for several years a requirement to consider inflation. And for the coming year the deficit is projected to exceed $1 billion.
Orr said the experience in Colorado shows legalization can work.
"All of the apocalyptic predictions made have not come true,'' he said.
"You have not seen an increase in the hardcore drug usage of things like heroin and cocaine,'' Orr said, or any increase in arrests for disorderly conduct. "But what you have seen is an increase in tax revenue.''
Potentially more significant, Orr said, is the chance that the 2016 initiative might pass.
He said this means Arizona law will be crafted not after careful consideration and debate by lawmakers but instead go to voters as a take-it-or-leave-it plan. Worse yet, Orr said, is the Arizona Constitution precludes virtually any change by lawmakers in voter-approved measures even if problems develop.
"This is going to happen,'' he said.
"Is it going to happen in an intelligent way because my colleagues chose to act like leaders and do what was right for the state?'' Orr continued. "I guess another way of putting it (is), are we going to govern or are we going to be governed by the initiative process?''
"I don't think we should have it either way,'' responded Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall. "We don't need another highly addictive substance available to adults or adolescents.''
LaWall acknowledged that what Orr is proposing would be only for adults. But she said its greater availability will make it more accessible to teens.
"Research shows it has a devastating and damaging impact on developing brains and can lead to life-long addiction,'' she said. "Among other risks, marijuana impairs thinking, leads to poor educational outcomes and lowered IQ, and increases a teen's likelihood of dropping out of school.''
And LaWall said even assuming marijuana sales could be limited to adults, legalization sends the message that it's use is somehow OK.
Steele said Colorado residents are having second thoughts. In a poll last month by Suffolk University and USA today, about half of residents surveyed said they are not happy with the law and how it is being implemented.
"And in Colorado, we're seeing since this has happened, that the use of marijuana among teenagers is 39 percent higher than the national average,'' Steele said.
But another report raises the question of whether any of this is related to the 2012 law.
A report released by Healthy Kids Colorado found that in 2013, the first full year the drug was legal for adults, 20 percent of high schoolers admitted using marijuana in the prior month and 37 percent said they had used it at some point in their lives.
By contrast, the 2011 survey found 22 percent who admitted to use in the prior month and 39 percent to sampling it.
But along the lines of LaWall's concern of acceptance, the same survey said the percentage of students who perceive a moderate or great risk from marijuana use declined from 58 percent in 2011 to 54 percent two years later.
Steele said her concern is for those children.
"I do think that adults have the right to make that decision,'' she said.
"But I'm a substance abuse counselor,'' Steele continued. "And I have dealt with so many people who started their drug and alcohol addiction in their teenage years, starting at 11 and 12.''
Orr said he has never used marijuana. And he agrees that, at least for teens, the drug should remain off limits for recreational use.
"In high school I saw it fundamentally destroyed some of my friends' lives,'' Orr said, who started with marijuana and, having decided that illegal drug use is OK, moved on to other substances.
This isn't the first foray by lawmakers into the area of legalizing -- or at least decriminalizing -- marijuana for recreational use.
John Fillmore, then a Republican representative from Apache Junction, tried in 2011 to make possession of up to two ounces a fine of no more than $200. When that failed, he tried a scaled-back measure the following year, with a $500 fine for possession of up to an ounce.
That also failed.
Just this past session Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, tried total legalization and recreation but could not get a hearing for his measure.
It’s sometimes difficult to remove political or philosophical underpinnings from an artistic review. The goal is to judge a film or book or album or TV show on either artistic or intellectual criteria, but all evaluations are biased by their nature, and keeping the non-critical viewpoints from seeping into the process is a tremendous difficulty.
PHOENIX -- State lawmakers cannot ignore a court order to provide more funds for schools now while they appeal the findings, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper rejected arguments by attorneys for the Legislature that her decision the state owes schools what translates to an extra $331 million is somehow not in effect. They had argued that her July ruling was subject to an automatic "stay'' while they seek Court of Appeals review.
She said her ruling simply ordered lawmakers to start complying with a previous decision by the Arizona Supreme Court that they had ignored a 2000 voter-approved mandate to adjust state aid to schools each year to account for inflation. More to the point, her order calculated exactly how much needs to be added to basic state aid "to fulfill that mandate.''
What that means, she said, is her order is in effect -- and enforceable.
Peter Gentala, an attorney for the state House, said Cooper is wrong in believing the state has to start paying the money before the Supreme Court gets a chance to see how she calculated the figure.
Gentala also said that ignores the state's financial problems. He pointed to a report released Tuesday from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee projecting a $200 million deficit for this fiscal year even without the payment to the schools.
Don Peters, who represents the school districts that sued, said Tuesday's order does not require the Legislature to come into session immediately to appropriate the funds.
But what it does, Peters said, is provide options the schools can seek to ensure the money starts flowing and is not held up by delays caused by appeals. And he said it even could provide a method of getting the money even if lawmakers balk.
Peters said the judge could simply direct the state treasurer to hand over the money to the Department of Education to be distributed to schools. That would bypass the Legislature entirely and make legislative inaction irrelevant.
And he said that order could have teeth, with Cooper empowered to jail for contempt those who ignore their orders -- including the treasurer.
Peters stressed, though, he is hoping it does not come to that.
Lawmakers at first fought the whole question of whether they were obligated to comply with the voter mandate, contending that 2000 vote was not binding on them.
That argument, however, was rejected last year by the Supreme Court. That left it up to Cooper to decide what was really owed.
That $317 million figure is what Cooper said would have been available this year to schools had legislators not ignored the inflation-funding mandate for several years during the recession. In essence, she looked at state aid for the last year when there was compliance, computed each year's inflation, and came up with a number.
Senate President Andy Biggs, however, contends that number needs to be offset by the money lawmakers gave to schools above and beyond what was required by inflation. He puts that figure at about $240 million.
Cooper, however, ruled in July that's not the way the law reads. And Tuesday's order says unless the appellate court intervenes, it's time for lawmakers to start paying up.
Peters said there is precedent for what the judge is doing -- and for the schools to seek some sanctions if lawmakers balk.
One is directing the treasurer to distribute the funds under threat of contempt. But he said there are other options.
Two decades ago the Supreme Court ruled that the system of funding school construction violated state constitutional provisions for a "general and uniform'' school system. The justices said it resulted in gross disparities between the ability of "rich'' and "poor'' districts, with some being able to afford domed stadiums while others had crumbling bathrooms.
But the justices did not spell out for lawmakers how to fix the system. Instead, they ruled that if lawmakers did not come up with an acceptable plan, they would bar the treasurer from distributing any funds to schools, a move that would have effectively shut down the education system.
It never came to that. And Peters said he presumes the same sort of compliance if the courts issue a similar order in this case.
"There have been times the Legislature didn't like court rulings,'' Peters said. "But there's never been an occasion where they just said, 'We're not going to do it.' ''
He said no one wants to see that kind of stalemate.
"But I will also tell you that if it comes down to that, I'm going to bet on the courts,'' he said. "Because they can send somebody to jail.''
Cooper is separately considering a claim by schools they are entitled to about $1.3 billion they did not get in inflation funds for prior years. A hearing on that is set for later this month.
Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia.
State lawmakers cannot ignore a court order to provide more funds for schools now while they appeal the findings, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Q: Why are you running?
In the upcoming election, the governing board of the Mesa Public School District will ask voters to renew the override of the district’s budget. The extra 10 percent, taken from the local primary property tax, allows the district to make up for budget cuts in state aid, which funds two-thirds of the district’s budget.
Q: Would you say your district is delivering quality services now and what, if any, changes would you make?