On Wednesday, the city of Phoenix gave up its water rights for $60 million in federal funding that may be used for infrastructure. The city cited the historic drought as necessary for its forfeiture.
The trade is a deal offered by the Biden administration to those with Colorado River rights: voluntarily forfeit their water allotment, and in return receive millions of taxpayer dollars. It’s a deal that Tucson also took up last week.
Phoenix forfeited 150,000 acre-feet of its water in Lake Mead over the next three years, in exchange for $400 per acre-foot.
The Biden administration financed the arrangement through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) enacted last year and in 2021, respectively. A combined $15.4 billion from the IRA and BIL were designated for combating drought.
The federal payments for water allocation forfeitures is part of the newly-established Lower Colorado Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program (LC Conservation Program).
Additional options for cities and states include shorter agreements of water forfeitures for less funding: one year for $330 an acre-foot, or two years for $365 an acre-foot.
Mayor Kate Gallego characterized the trade as one of their moves chalking up a big win for sustainability, alongside an Active Transportation Plan to prioritize transit alternatives such as bicycles, fully electric or liquified natural gas-based buses, and an increase in trees planted.
Gallego shared that the city would apply for another federal grant to expand the number of electric vehicle chargers throughout the city.
Phoenix and Tucson follow in the tracks of Gov. Katie Hobbs, who joined California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo to collectively forfeit three million acre-feet of water rights over the next three years. That plan, the Lower Basin Plan, equates to $1.2 billion in federal funding altogether.
The LC Conservation Program by the Department of the Interior (DOI) has three stages altogether, or “components.” The tradeoff of acre-feet for federal infrastructure funding makes up the first component.
At present, the second component effectively offers a blank check to entities with effective proposals for water conservation and efficiency projects. The application window closed in November.
Similarly, the third component requests proposals for long-term conservation. Proposals for this program component are currently open according to the DOI website.
Senior White House and DOI officials traveled to Arizona and the rest of the lower basin states in April to arrange deals for water conservation efforts.
Gov. Katie Hobbs selected her former legislative colleague and longtime lobbyist, Chad Campbell, as her replacement chief of staff. The appointment comes less than a week after the resignation of Hobbs’ longtime right-hand woman, Allie Bones: first as assistant secretary of state and, until recently, chief of staff.
Campbell formerly served as the House Minority Leader for the Democrats for four years of his eight-year tenure as a state representative from 2007 to 2015. For four years, Campbell and Hobbs represented the same district; Hobbs took over as minority leader for Campbell in 2015.
Campbell’s legacy includes passing the 2013 Medicaid expansion under former Gov. Jan Brewer, and lobbying for the 2020 legalization of marijuana through Proposition 207.
Campbell served on both of Hobbs’ transition teams, first as secretary of state and then governor this past year. He will assume his position on June 5.
Last year, Campbell co-founded Lumen Strategies Arizona alongside Stacy Pearson, known for assisting in the 2016 defeat of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the 2020 legalization of marijuana. Prior to that, Campbell served as an executive for two different consultancy firms: Strategies 360 and Resolute Consulting.
Campbell proved his political acumen as recently as the last election, after he predicted the failure of Maricopa County Attorney candidate Julie Gunnigle’s campaign, describing it as resembling the “worst” he’d seen over the last 30 years. Campbell made the remarks in a video call with other Democratic leaders.
“[Gunnigle’s campaign] reminds me of that: not knowing the audience, not knowing the issues that matter to a lot of voters,” stated Campbell. “And I will say this: the vast majority of Democrats that I know all believe that there needs to be reforms in law enforcement, we believe there needs to be more accountability. But almost everybody I talk to, nobody wants to defund the police, everybody knows we need more public safety resources, which will actually make more accountability.”
Hobbs’ recently departed chief of staff, Bones, resigned last week. Bones was the latest in a rapid series of turnovers in Hobbs’ administration.
Bones’ resignation reflected a pattern from Hobbs’ last female predecessor, Jan Brewer, whose first chief of staff also departed within a year. However, both of former Gov. Doug Ducey’s chiefs of staff lasted years.
Bones resignation also followed months of unsuccessful nominations to outfit Hobbs’ cabinet. On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Director Nominations rejected the Registrar of Contractors nominee, former State Sen. Martin Quezada.
In February, Hobbs faced the retraction of two nominees: Dr. Theresa Cullen as director of Arizona Department of Health Services, and Matthew Stewart as director of the Department of Child Services.
The city of Tucson traded its water rights in return for $44 million in federal funding that will help pay for infrastructure.
The federal government agreed to pay the city $400 for every acre-foot of water conserved — the city traded away 110,000 acre-feet through 2025.
The city struck the deal with the federal government through provisions within last year’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The White House announced in April that it would use $15.4 billion from the IRA and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to combat drought. $4 billion of IRA funding was designated specifically for water management and conservation efforts in the Colorado River Basin.
Mayor Regina Romero said the trade qualified Tucson as the “standard in water conservation.”
Other options for funding included a one-year agreement for $330 per acre-foot and a two-year agreement for $365 per acre-foot.
Earlier this month, Gov. Katie Hobbs joined California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo in a pact to conserve three million acre-feet over the next three years. That totals $1.2 billion in federal funding.
The second component of the program consists of proposals for additional water conservation and efficiency projects, which the Department of the Interior (DOI) disclosed could involve “a variety of pricing options.” Proposals for this program component closed last November.
The third program component concerns proposals for “long-term system efficiency improvements” that would result in a “multi-year system conservation.” Proposals for this program component are currently open according to the DOI website, though former DOI public communications indicated that this component was scheduled to close earlier this year.
The DOI issued a letter last week in an attempt to spur interest in participation with the third program component.
The DOI noted that successful conservation efforts would include results in quantifiable, verifiable water savings in Lake Mead based on consumptive use reduction and recent history of use; addition of new water to the applicant’s water supply, enabling a consumptive use reduction of Colorado River water; submission from a Colorado River water delivery contract, entitlement holders, or Central Arizona Project water delivery contractor subcontract holders, including partnerships with those entities; demonstration of viability for full implementation, including by demonstrating financial and technical capability of the entity for initial implementation and long-term operations, maintenance, and replacement; and provision of monitoring to ensure the proposed benefits to the system are realized.
Recipients of the DOI’s encouragement-to-apply letter included the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Arizona State Land Department, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, EPCOR Water Arizona, and the University of Arizona.
Senior White House and DOI officials traveled to Arizona — as well as California, Colorado, and Nevada — to broker deals for water conservation efforts in April.
As part of the deal, the Biden administration set aside $233 million for the Gila River Indian Community, $36 million for Coachella Valley conservation, $20 million for four small surface water storage and groundwater storage projects in California and Utah, and over $54 million to repair aging water delivery infrastructure such as the Imperial Dam.
Northern Arizona University (NAU) admitted that it purposefully admitted more Hispanic students in order to receive more federal funding.
The Department of Education (ED) rewards higher education institutions for having a certain racial makeup within their student population, called a “Hispanic-Serving Institution.”
In order to achieve HSI status, colleges or universities must have Hispanic students making up at least 25 percent of their full-time equivalent student population, as well as a significant number of students requiring needs-based financial aid.
NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera said accomplishment of their HSI designation in 2020 was intentional in an interview last week with Diverse Issues in Higher Education.
“NAU applied for classification and then appointed key leadership to ensure we serve our Hispanic students well,” said Cruz Rivera. “It’s not just about meeting the number threshold, but rather about really carrying out our mission and supporting the success of our students.”
Hispanics aren’t the only racial group that NAU has prioritized. NAU pledged free tuition to Native Americans in November. In March 2021, NAU launched multiple initiatives totaling $1.3 million to increase the number of both Native American and Hispanic science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates.
Following their HSI classification, NAU began to prioritize Hispanic students through their strategic plan, NAU 2025 – Elevating Excellence. These prioritizations include Hispanic-specific retention strategies concerning financial aid, mental health services, and community building; hiring and retention strategies to attract more Hispanic faculty; and faculty training to better understand Hispanic students.
HSI federal programming was reestablished in 2021 through an executive order by President Joe Biden: the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics (Initiative). The concept originated in 1990 under former President George H.W. Bush, but fell out of use in subsequent administrations until Biden was elected.
As part of the initiative, Biden established the Advisory Commission on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics. The commission convened in its inaugural meeting earlier this month.
Included in the 21-member commission are three Arizonans. One of them is NAU’s program director and teacher for its Arizona K12 Center, Juliana Urutubey.
Urutubey was named the 2021 National Teacher of the Year and the 2019 Chicanos por La Causa Esperanza Latina Teaching Award while working as an educator in Las Vegas, Nevada. Urutubey recently relocated to Phoenix and joined NAU’s Arizona Teacher Residency.
Chicanos por La Causa has been intertwined with several major controversial events in recent years, including a federal pandemic loan fraud investigation; membership with the Aspen Institute, the liberal think tank that played a major role in the cover-up of investigative reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop; and funding to pass propositions outlawing debt collection efforts and awarding in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants.
Another Arizonan on the commission is Anna Maria Chávez: President and CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation. Chávez was formerly the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA; director of intergovernmental affairs, urban relations and community development/military affairs advisor, and deputy chief of staff for former Gov. Janet Napolitano; and several Clinton administration positions, including legal counsel for the Federal Highway Administration, attorney advisor in the Office of the Counsel to the President, senior policy advisor to former Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater and SBA Administrator Aida Alvaraz.
Chávez has also served as Executive Vice President and Chief Growth Officer for the National Council on Aging; in June 2020, she became the executive director and CEO of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and currently serves as an ex-officio director on its Board of Directors; in 2021, Chávez was appointed as the inaugural chief impact officer of Encantos and president of their online presence. Encantos investors include Kapor Capital, Steve Case’s Revolution Rise of the Rest Fund, Chelsea Clinton’s Metrodora Capital, and L’ATTITUDE Ventures.
The third is Teresa Leyba Ruiz, who became the senior vice president and chief advocacy and programs officer for Education Forward Arizona (EFA) in April. Ruiz formerly served as the president of Glendale Community College (GCC), part of the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD), having worked in various leadership roles with GCC for over a decade. Ruiz also participated in the Aspen Institute’s 2018-19 Presidential Fellows Program (as mentioned earlier in this article, the Aspen Institute played a major role in covering up the Biden laptop scandal).
EFA received millions from AmeriCorps, the Arizona Department of Education, and Helios Education Foundation in recent years. They also received funding from a wide swath of major entities, including MCCCD and NAU: Alliance Bank of Arizona, Arizona State University, Bank of America, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Maricopa County, the Salt River Project, State Farm, University of Arizona, and Wells Fargo. Leaders from a number of these entities serve on EFA’s board of directors.
Per their agenda, the commission discussed ways they could advance educational equity in K-12 and higher education using Biden’s budget, reviewed federal data on Hispanics, and discussed means of strengthening career pathways for Hispanic advancement.
On Tuesday, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05) and the House Freedom Caucus spoke in opposition to Congress’ plan to raise the debt ceiling: the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA).
Under the current plan, the debt ceiling would increase from $31.5 trillion to $36 trillion by 2025, with no cap in place. Without a raise in the debt limit by June 5, the government will be in default.
“Instead of estimating the actual debt ceiling that will be imposed by that date, January 1, 2025, they simply say that will be the date, there will be an unlimited cap,” said Biggs. “There won’t be a cap for 19 months of the Biden administration, and the Biden administration is probably the most profligate we’ve seen.”
The national debt current growth rate is projected at over $4 trillion in new debt. Biggs forecasted an increase to $5 trillion by 2025.
Biggs claimed that the version of the FRA agreed to under House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-20) would only delay, not prevent the IRS from hiring 87,000 new agents costing $71 billion. Biggs said these agents would not only be weaponized against taxpayers, but presented a significant financial burden.
Biggs further claimed that the FRA establishes Green New Deal tax credits and subsidies for the wealthy. He further criticized the PAYGO program, which would require government bureaucrats to justify how they would afford their expenditures; Biggs noted that a similar program already exists in Congress, yet that program hasn’t slowed spending. He added that Congress also already waives PAYGO provisions.
“How come it is Republican leaders always tell us ‘next year we’ll fight hard’?” asked Biggs.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-07) also opposed the FRA, but for different reasons. Grijalva expressed opposition to the FRA in his capacity as Democratic ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee. He argued that the FRA would jeopardize the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Watch the full press conference here:
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY-04) criticized the Senate for attempting to corner the House into approving their version of the funding bill.
“[The Senate is] sending us a giant omnibus bill the day before the government funding runs out, and saying, ‘Pass the Senate version or the House will be responsible for the shutdown,” said Massie.
House Republican Conference leadership backs the FRA. The chairwoman, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21) claimed the FRA would stop runaway inflationary spending, rescind executive overreach, and improve everyday Americans’ financial status.
McCarthy also characterized the FRA as a win, adding that their version eliminates COVID-19 spending, prevents $5 trillion in new tax proposals, and enacts more work requirements for welfare recipients.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Congress in January that the U.S. had reached its statutory debt limit and would run out of funding sometime in early June. In a follow-up letter last week, Yellen specified the expiration date as June 5.
She disclosed that her department would fulfill over $130 billion of scheduled payments in the first two days of June, including payments to veterans as well as Social Security and Medicare recipients. Yellen added that scheduled payouts would leave the Treasury unable to satisfy all its fiscal obligations.