Seven Deadly (Legislative) Sins

Phoenix Magazine – September 2016

Mike O’Neil


Local control? Only when Big Brother approves! Phoenix and Tempe banned puppy mills. Bisbee banned plastic bags.  Flagstaff citizens are exploring a minimum wage initiative and Tempe and Tucson are looking into mandatory minimum sick leave. The legislature has pre-empted local control over policies it does not like.  Yet these same folks scream bloody murder about federal mandates, arguing that that “decisions are best made by government that is closest to the people”.

Mass incarceration.  The U.S. has the second highest incarceration rate in the world (of 223 countries only tiny Seychelles is higher).   And Arizona is the 7th highest incarcerator in the U.S. This is not new, but what is new is Constraining the choices of future elected leaders by issuing multi-year contracts with private prison companies with guaranteed occupancy levels. If a future legislature should decide that mass incarceration is a wasteful budget-buster, we would still be on the hook for housing nonexistent prisoners.   All other state contracts stipulate that funding is contingent on future legislative appropriations, since the constitution requires that no legislature can bind a future legislature’s expenditures.

Wonder if campaign contributions have anything to do with this? See below: good luck following the money trail.

Protection of “Dark Money.” Numerous polls have shown a public increasingly “getting” the invidious nature of dark money. Two separate citizen initiatives to open up the process were quashed by heavy-handed means.  Instead, SB1516 virtually eliminated the few remaining disclosure requirements. Run expenses through a third-party committee and no one will ever find out who is funding your campaign.   As Republic columnist EJ Montini noted, this means “Arizona has been sold but we don’t know who bought it.”

Court Packing.  We just increased the number of Supreme Court justices from five to seven. Why?  Even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said there was no need.  The sole purpose was to pack the court with ideological cronies of the Governor. And this court was already Republican-dominated: four of the five justices were appointed by Republican governors. President Roosevelt tried to pack the U.S. Supreme court in the 1930s; the public was outraged. Staggered court appointments let the courts serve as a check on the excesses of other branches of government. Packing the court violates this principle.  Republicans already dominate the legislative and executive branches.  Trifecta!

Education Funding. Arizona funds education at one of the lowest rates in the country. State revenues fell in 2007-08 with the onset of the Great Recession.  The legislature, arguing that the funds were unavailable, ignored a citizen mandate and took a meat axe to education. A lawsuit was filed; it won at every level. When the economy improved and funding was still not restored, the public, as measured in opinion polls, grew increasingly concerned.  The Governor brokered a compromise solution. This required a public vote (Prop123) which raided the state land trust to pay for it even though by 2016 the state had a budget surplus.

Tax Cuts above all else.  The main objective of the above scheme seemed to be to do the minimum necessary to placate parents while preserving a continuing stream of tax cuts.  Cutting taxes always sounds good.  But have you personally felt any of those cuts?  Who is getting them? (Hint: think Special Interests and see “Dark Money” above).  But if you have a kid in school, I’ll bet you can personally feel the cuts.

Mike O’Neil is a sociologist and pollster who has analyzed public attitudes in Arizona and the nation for over 35 years. He is host of the public affairs program, The Think Tank, on KTAR-FM 92.3. Most of his recent articles are available at