December 2016

December 2016

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
I wish all of you a happy, healthy and blessed 2017.

2016 was a good year at the Arizona legislature.  We increased funding for education, reformed the firefighter and police pension plan, passed legislation to grow jobs in Arizona, and focused on promoting free markets and limiting burdensome regulations.

The 2017 legislative session starts on January 9th.  I will be serving as Senate President Pro-Tempore and Appropriations Chairman.  One of my duties as the Appropriations Chairman is to help balance the state budget.

Two recent events have made balancing the state budget more challenging.  The passage of Proposition 206, which raises the minimum wage, will cost the state general fund at least $25 Million extra this year and the adverse ruling by the courts in the Hall Case against pension reforms done five years ago, will cost the state $10 Million this year alone.

When voters passed Proposition 206 I don’t know if they realized that the extra cost to increase the wages for state-funded care-givers for the elderly and disabled and for entry level school workers would have the effect of diverting money from other important priorities like raising classroom spending.  The legislature had no control over the passage of Prop. 206 and the legislature had no control over the court ruling, but it is the legislature that has to fix the problem.

So when the unexpected happens, the state has to do the same thing a family does when unexpected costs occur…we re-prioritize, figure out where we can shave off spending in some places to add it in others.  It is a challenge, but one that can be done and will be done.

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November 2016

November 2016

Thank you for re-electing me to the Arizona State Senate!  I am truly blessed to have the support of so many great people and to work at a job where I can make a positive difference in our state and nation.

Our legislative session starts on January 9th 2017.  I am honored that I have been named Senate President Pro-Tempore and Senate Appropriations Chairman.  I will also serve as chairman of the Joint Committee on Capital Review, Vice Chairman of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee and a member of the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

In 2017 my priority will be to balance the state budget in a way that provides good quality services to the people in our state, but also ensures that government lives within its means.

I also plan to continue my work on pension reform. In 2016 my legislation reformed the firefighter and police pension plan, savings taxpayers’ millions.  In 2017 I plan on introducing legislation that will reform the Correction Officers Retirement Plan.

I am also working on a problem commonly referred to as “Surprise Medical Billing.”  It is not fair that a patient who has worked hard to make sure a surgery is covered by his/her insurance receives a surprise bill from an “out of network”  anesthesiologist or radiologist that the patient had no control in selecting.

Every year I have also sponsored legislation to solve a problem brought to my attention by a constituent.  If you believe there is problem that needs legislation to solve, contact me.

If you would like me to speak to your group or you want a tour of the state capitol, let me know.

Contact me anytime at Dlesko@azleg.gov or 602-926-5413.

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Nov. 8th Ballot Measures

Nov. 8th Ballot Measures

Nov. 8th Ballot Measures:

Note: None of these ballot measures were referred to the ballot by the legislature and the legislature cannot change the ballot measures with a majority vote even if there are unintended consequences with the ballot measures.

  1. Proposition 205 legalizes recreational marijuana in Arizona.  Prop 205 language and pro and con statements begin on page 16 at THIS LINK.
  2. Proposition 206 increases the minimum wage to $12/hour.  Prop 206 language and pro and con statements begin on page 58 at THIS LINK.
  3. Peoria School District $198 Million Bond will cost an avg. homeowner $203/year for the next 26 years according to the voter pamphlet (for a home valued at $250k). Most of the money will be used to build two new schools in north Peoria.  The state will fund the building of new schools when the district reaches student capacity.  The school district did not request state funding for the new schools.  The school district is not near student capacity. Three school board members voted to place this bond on the ballot and two school board members, Judy Doane and Beverly Pingerelli, voted against placing the bond on the ballot suggesting that if the approximately 2,000 students attending PUSD schools from outside the district were sent back to their home schools/districts, there may not be a need to build new schools.
  4. City of Peoria’s Prop 400 will increase sales tax to 8.5% on retail purchases, 10% on utilities, and 9.5% at Restaurants & Bars. Food tax will increase to 2%. Money is slated to be used primarily for open space, a cultural center, a recreation center and an aquatic center in north Peoria.
  5.  West-MEC’s $141 Million Bond will be  used primarily to construct and equip new and current career and technical education facilities.
  6. City of Surprise’s $63 Million Bond‘s top two expenses are for a recreation complex and an aquatic center expansion.
  7. Sun City Fire District $10 Million Bond will be used primarily for new equipment, vehicles, and a new fire station.

Governor Ducey and the state legislature work hard to fund vital state programs without raising taxes. This year local governments have placed numerous measures on the November 8th ballot that, if passed, will increase taxes.  It is important that you realize that the legislature cannot control these tax increases if the voters pass them.

I encourage you to research these ballot measures. Please contact me anytime at DLesko@azleg.gov or 602-926-5413.

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April 2016- Prop 123 & 124

April 2016- Prop 123 & 124

Why I VOTED YES to refer Propositions 123 and 124 to the ballot:

A. Proposition 123 (Education Funding): Republicans and Democrats in the AZ Legislature voted to refer Proposition 123 to the ballot in order to increase funding for K-12 education and to resolve a long-standing lawsuit. The legislation is a result of negotiations with the schools, teachers, legislature, and governor’s office.

I voted YES to refer this to the ballot because:

  • It adds $3.5 Billion to K-12 education over 10 years without increasing taxes.
  • $2.2 Billion comes from increased distributions from the state land trust which is in place to help fund education.
  • $1.325 Billion comes from the legislature’s decision to increase state general funds to education and reallocations.
  • Protections are added to ensure that state trust land assets are protected for the future. The state land trust ending balance is projected to increase from the current $4.8 Billion to $6.2 Billion by 2025 even after the increased distribution to schools.
  • For more information see these non-partisan analysis reports:

Analysis by Legislative Council

Fiscal Impact Summary by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee

B. Proposition 124 (Pension Reform): Proposition 124 is the result of the legislation I sponsored and worked on for over a year. It passed out of the Senate unanimously and out of the House overwhelmingly.

I voted YES to refer Proposition 124 to the ballot because:

  • It protects and sustains the fire fighter and police pension system.
  • It saves taxpayers over $1.5 Billion.
  • It saves the cities, counties, and state money so more law enforcement and police can be hired.
  • This proposition is a result of over one year of negotiations with the fire fighters, police, cities, counties, Republican and Democratic legislators, and the governor’s office.
  • For more information see these non-partisan analysis reports:

Analysis by Legislative Council

Fiscal Impact Summary by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee

C.  The election for Prop 123 & 124 is on May 17th or by early ballot.  For voting information, visit Maricopa Co. Elections

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Feb. 2016

Feb. 2016

I am very pleased that my pension reform legislation, SB1428, passed out of the legislature with bipartisan support, was signed by the governor, and will be on the May 17th ballot!  After one year of negotiations with fire fighter and law enforcement associations, Republican and Democratic legislators, cities, counties, and the governor’s office we got it done!  This reform will help sustain the retirement system for our fire fighters and police and save taxpayers over $1.5 billion.  I highly encourage you to vote yes on May 17th.

Lesko,BiggsPensionReform

photo by AZ Capitol Times

I’m thankful to my fellow senators for unanimously supporting my legislation, SB1142, to help the Department of Child Safety reduce the backlog in inactive and uninvestigated cases. These cases stem from complaints of child abuse and neglect and we need to know if these children are safe.  The legislation requires the department to outsource the backlogs to professional private providers.  At the end of December 2015, there were over 13,000 backlogged cases even though the legislature appropriated $45 million over the last 2 years to solve the problem.  This legislation will help reduce the backlog and allow DCS caseworkers the time to investigate new complaints.
SB1241, my legislation to prohibit photo radar cameras on state highways, passed out of the Senate and will be heard in the House this week.   There are only two cameras left on state highways.  One on Grand Ave. placed there by the City of El Mirage and the other on Hwy 260 east of Payson placed there by the Town of Star Valley.  Constituents in my district have overwhelmingly told me they oppose photo radar on state highways. I believe the legislature, not the cities, should determine if photo radar belongs on state highways.
Please feel free to contact me anytime at DLesko@azleg.gov or 602-926-5413.   I love my job and I’d love to hear from you.

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January 2016

January 2016

2016 has started out with a bang!  Our legislative session started on January 11th, the governor released his budget proposal on January 15th, and I’ve introduced  legislation to help my constituents and the state.

1. The State Budget:

The Good News!: After years of struggling with structural deficits during the  recession, we have turned the ship around and are headed in the right direction. We have gone from a deficit of $3 Billion in the depths of the recession to a positive cash balance of $600 Million, plus we put away $460 Million in a Rainy Day Fund.

The Cautionary Tale: The state’s non-partisan budget analysts caution that we should increase ongoing spending by a maximum of $26 Million if we want to stay structurally balanced in future years.  Thus, calls for huge spending increases to replace cuts we made during the recession will put us back in the same spot we were before.

2.  Pension Reform Legislation: After a year of meetings with stakeholders, we have reached a deal to reform the police and firefighter pension system to make it sustainable for the employees and to protect the taxpayers. In next month’s update, I hope to report successful passage of the bill.  If passed, Arizona will lead the nation in pension reform.

3. Child Safety Legislation: I sponsored SB1142 to protect children and to help the Department of Child Safety reduce their backlogged cases.  As of December, there were still 14,000 cases unresolved and we do not know if the children involved are safe or not.  The legislature gave the agency $45 Million over the last two years  to eliminate the backlog and it is still not done. My legislation  requires the Department of Child Safety to outsource the backlogged cases to professional private providers.  The legislation has the support of virtually every senator.  See my interview with CBS 5 HERE.

4. Photo Radar Legislation: At the request of many of my constituents I am sponsoring SB1241 to prohibit photo radar cameras on state highways. There are only two left in the state.  One on Grand Ave and Primrose in El Mirage and the other in Star Valley near Payson.

Please feel free to contact me at DLesko@azleg.gov or 602-926-5413.

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December 2015

December 2015

MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HOLIDAYS, and BEST WISHES for 2016!
The Secret to Happiness:
I recently heard a speech based on research that determined that people who are thankful are happier.
I believe they are right.
I am thankful for what God has given me,
I am thankful for my family,
I am thankful for my job that gives me an opportunity to make a difference,
And I am thankful for YOU!
Whether you celebrate Christmas, celebrated Hanukkah, or celebrate another Holiday….Best Wishes for a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season and a Wonderful New Year!

 
My Vacation to Israel:

My husband and I recently returned from a personal vacation to Israel. The trip was historic, spiritual, and impactful.  We visited Biblical sites, toured areas overlooking the Lebanon and Syrian

Jpeg

Lesko’s in Israel

borders, went inside a bomb shelter near the Gaza Strip that also served as school playground equipment, touched the Western Wall in Jerusalem, went into Palestinian territory when visiting Bethlehem, listened to a speech at an ancient amphitheater built by King Herod, and sailed the Sea of Galilee.
Unlike what many may think, we felt safe in Israel.  The security there is tight, almost everyone is a veteran since all men and women have to serve 2-3 years in the military, and one of the hotels we stayed at was housing a bunch of soldiers carrying their M-16’s. Eating buffet breakfast and riding on a hotel elevator with young men and women carrying rifles was a new experience for me!
Like all vacations, I am now happy to be home.  I am thankful that I was able to visit Israel and I am thankful that I get to celebrate Christmas with my family and friends.  The Legislative Session starts January 11th.   I’ve been busy working for months.  I’m sure I’ll have a lot of news for you in my next update.

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Education Funding Increase-Nov 2015

Education Funding Increase-Nov 2015

The State Legislature passed a package of legislation that will increase funding to schools by $3.5 Billion over 10 years and settle a years-old education funding lawsuit.   This was a win for the students, the Governor, the Legislature, and Republicans.  Interestingly, all of the House Democrats and all but three of the Senate Democrats voted against the package even though the AZ Education Association, which represents teachers from all over the state, and the AZ School Board’s Association support the plan.

 
The package of legislation, which was signed by the Governor, will:
1.     Increase funding to the schools by $3.5 Billion over the next 10 years using money from the State School Fund and the State’s General Fund and guarantee inflation adjustments for the future.  Specifics can be found HERE.
2.    Settle the years-old lawsuit, so that the legislature can move forward negotiating other reforms that will reward high performing schools, improve student performance and require a higher percentage of the money be used in the classroom and on teacher pay.
3.    Place the portion of the funding increase that comes from the State School Fund on the May 17, 2016 ballot for voters to approve.   Placing this on the ballot was legally necessary.
4.    Put in place protections in case the economy tanks and future adjustments need to be made.  Specific protections can be found HERE.

 
The legislature will be going back into its regular legislative session in January.  If you have ideas for legislation, please contact me at DLesko@azleg.gov or 602-926-5413.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!

Together, we can make a difference.

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Education Funding Q&A- October 2015

Education Funding Q&A- October 2015

EDUCATION FUNDING Q&A from constituents,
plus election info:

How much money do AZ public school districts get?
According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, the AZ Dept. of Education, and the AZ Auditor General’s reports,

The state average = $9,096/student/year
Funding varies by school district depending on federal funding, student needs, etc.

I represent people that live in Peoria & Dysart School Districts.
Peoria Schools FY2014 average = $7,800/student/year
Dysart Schools FY2014 average = $8,500/student/year

If a class has 25 students,
$ Per classroom in Peoria = $195,000
$ Per classroom in Dysart = $212,500

Avg. Teacher Salary in Peoria = $41,500
Avg. Teacher Salary in Dysart = $47,000

Thus, the amount left per 25 student classroom AFTER teacher pay is deducted is:
Peoria Schools: $153,500 per classroom after teacher pay deducted
Dysart Schools: $165,500 per classroom after teacher pay deducted

My Property Taxes are too high. Why do the schools keep asking for override/bond tax increases?  Why did they ask for increases in the good financial times prior to the recession and budget cuts?  

Bond/Override elections have been around a long time in both good and bad financial times.  In many cases, like in Peoria and Dysart, voting yes will increase your property tax bill.   For details on your school’s override/bond election and how much it will affect your property taxes, visit your school district’s website or ask your elected school board members.

Does the legislature fund the schools enough?

K-12 education is, by far, our state’s largest expense.  This year the legislature voted to spend 42% of our state general fund on K-12 education.  The next highest expenses are 13% on healthcare for the poor and 11% on prisons. In comparison, CPS, which protects abused children, got 4%.  Note: In addition to the money that comes from the state legislature, schools also get property taxes, sales taxes, and federal funding.

The legislature and governor are currently looking at ways to increase education funding without raising taxes and without neglecting other areas, like CPS, which has asked for more money to protect abused children.

Unlike the federal government, the state legislature has to balance the state budget each year.  We need to balance the needs of the entire state.  If we give more in one place, we have to take it from somewhere else.  Although 2015 state revenues are higher than expected, much of the extra revenues came from capital gains and is not expected to continue, so it would be unwise to commit one time funds for ongoing expenses.

Why is so much of the override money being spent on a half day of kindergarten instead of for teachers in grades 1-12?  Why did the school superintendent get a raise if funds are so short?  
I suggest you contact your school board members on these questions.  They are the ones that vote on how the money we give them is spent.

Why is the legislature disputing the education funding lawsuit in court?

The legislature is fighting the education lawsuit in court because we believe we did the right and sensible thing during the recession.  In addition, the consequences of losing the lawsuit would wreak havoc on our state budget and force us to raise taxes or cut vital funding in other areas.  In 2000, the voters approved a ballot measure that requires the state to increase education funding by approximately 2% per year.   The law says that the increase can be based on the base funding level OR the school transportation funding level.  During the recession, the legislature based the increase on the less costly transportation funding level because we had limited funds.  Prior to that and since then, we paid on the higher amount and during the good times we even paid more.  The schools sued and it’s been in the courts ever since.

Override Election Info:
Mail-in Ballots: Mail in before Oct. 29th or drop off at polls on Nov. 3rd.
Nov. 3rd Polls open 6am-7pm. Bring ID.
Polling locator: (location is probably DIFFERENT than normal): http://recorder.maricopa.gov/pollingplace/

I hope this information helps you.  Feel free to contact me anytime at DLesko@azleg.gov or 602-926-5413.

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August 2015

August 2015

HEALTHCARE UPDATE: Governor Ducey’s new plan for AHCCCS, Arizona’s healthcare program for low-income citizens, promotes personal responsibility and helps encourage able-bodied adults to transition into careers.

Currently, 1 out of every 4 Arizona residents receives free healthcare through AHCCCS (AZ Healthcare Cost Containment System).  Of those, approximately 350,000 or 22% are able-bodied adults.  Able-bodied adults do NOT include children, the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women, the seriously mentally ill or single parents with children 6 or under.  Under the current system, recipients pay no insurance premiums and most pay no co-pays.

A.  Governor Ducey’s proposal requires able-bodied adults to:

1.  Pay up to 3% of their annual household income on co-pays for certain services.  For example, if the recipient goes to the emergency room for something a primary care doctor or urgent care could handle, a co-pay would be required.

2.  Pay up to 2% of their annual household income into a personal health savings account that can be used for non-covered services, like dental or vision care.

3. Enroll in school or training or actively seek employment if not already employed.

B.  Governor Ducey’s proposal includes adding apps, texts, and an online chat system, so that patients can receive text alerts for appointments, manage medications, and use chat to ask questions instead of waiting on hold or in long lines.

C.  The proposal also increases the use of modern tools to better detect fraud, waste, and abuse.

D.  Community meetings will be held on August 18th at the:
Disability Empowerment Center
5025 E Washington St, Suite 200, Phoenix, AZ 85034
Session 1: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 12:30-2:30 PM
Session 2: Tuesday, August 18th, 2015 3-5pm

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