Phoenix Spending 25 Percent of COVID Relief on Homelessness, Affordable Housing

Phoenix Spending 25 Percent of COVID Relief on Homelessness, Affordable Housing

By Corinne Murdock |

The city of Phoenix plans to spend over 25 percent of its $396 million in COVID-19 relief funds on homelessness and affordable housing initiatives. It is the city’s second-highest expenditure of relief funds after city operations. 

According to the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) plan for this year, over $99.5 million will be spent on homelessness and affordable housing. The majority of this, around $75.5 million, is slated to address the homelessness crisis. 

Even with tens of millions allocated to mitigate the homeless crisis, notorious encampments like “The Zone” continue to worsen. City spokespersons informed reporters in September that the city is working to approve contracts and allocate the funds, which expire in 2024.

Earlier this week, the state’s largest homeless shelter told 12 News that they lacked enough resources to meet community needs, though they receive city funding. The city announced on Wednesday that it allocated $8 million to expand shelters for homeless families.

Comparatively, the city’s allocation of relief funds for other initiatives amounted to far less. 

Financial, utility, and rent assistance for low-income families totaled $26 million altogether — about one-fourth of what’s slated for homelessness and affordable housing. Funds to advance the city’s workforce training facility and program, as well as establish workforce tuition and apprenticeship programs, totaled $28.5 million. 

Concerning COVID-19 mitigation, the city allocated $28.9 million for testing and vaccines. From last July until the end of June, the city provided nearly 120,000 tests and 15,700 vaccines.

The city also allocated $28 million for COVID-19 health care expenses for its workers, and another $22 million to give premium pay for its essential workers. The city’s revenue replacement totaled $20 million. It set aside $23 million to rehabilitate a recycling facility and manage stormwater projects with the county’s flood control district.

$6 million went to tuition assistance and college prep for high school students, with another $3 million to update the Mesquite Library. $5.9 million went toward public Wi-Fi, with a small portion of that allocated for laptops and hotspots for the community, and $22 million to improve internet connectivity in certain neighborhoods. 

$8.3 million went to refugees. $10.5 million went to climate-related initiatives: $6 million to plant trees, and $4.5 million to make 200 homes energy efficient. 

Child care-related initiatives received $14.8 million, with the majority slated for airport employee child care and establishing an early childhood education program for 300 children. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Katie Hobbs Looks to Cancel Border Strike Force

Katie Hobbs Looks to Cancel Border Strike Force

By Corinne Murdock |

On Wednesday, Governor-elect Katie Hobbs flipped on her campaign promise to continue providing support for the state’s Border Strike Force (BSF).

Hobbs told AZFamily that she was “taking a hard look” at whether the BSF should continue. Hobbs reportedly expressed doubt that it was an appropriate job for the Arizona Department of Public Safety. 

Hobbs’ latest remarks conflict with her campaign trail promise in June to continue the strike force. Hobbs claimed at the time that she valued the strike force in curtailing drug trafficking. 

“The governor created the Border Strike Force that really in reality is a drug interdiction unit, and so continuing to provide the support so that they’re able to carry out that job,” said Hobbs.

Hobbs also claimed she would continue to support National Guard presence along the border, so long as it was needed.

Governor Doug Ducey established the BSF in 2015. Since its inception, it has received more than $100 million in state funding. This past year, the state budget awarded $11.6 million to expand the BSF, as well as $50 million to improve patrolling, physical barriers, detention, and prosecution efforts.

Since 2018, the BSF seized over 190 million lethal doses of fentanyl, 400 pounds of heroin, $14 million in cash, 700 firearms, and 8,000 prescription pills.

In April, Ducey helped launch a 26-state expansion of his statewide strike force to combat the border crisis, called the American Governor’s Strike Force. Considering Hobbs’ perspective on the state’s BSF, it’s unlikely that this coalition will continue.

That’s not all the border policy that Hobbs has in mind.

Hobbs promised earlier this month that she would remove the shipping containers closing up the border wall gaps. She told reporters that they were an ineffective, “political stunt.” Hobbs said that the state needed to rely more on the federal government rather than taking initiative on its own. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Mom Who Fought For Arizona’s Universal School Choice Named Its Executive Director

Mom Who Fought For Arizona’s Universal School Choice Named Its Executive Director

By Corinne Murdock |

One mother who fought to defend universal school choice in Arizona will serve as its executive director.

On Thursday, Christine Accurso announced that Superintendent-elect Tom Horne asked her to serve as the executive director for the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program. Accurso, a beneficiary of the ESA Program, said that she would do everything in her power to protect school choice.

“Families deserve educational choice to help shape and mold the futures of their precious children,” stated Accurso.

Accurso led the Decline to Sign movement, which opposed Save Our Schools Arizona’s (SOSAZ) ballot initiative earlier this year to overturn universal school choice. 

Not only has Accurso been an advocate for expanding school choice, she’s been a watchdog for the movement.

Accurso discovered that SOSAZ far overestimated their signature numbers when they turned in their signature sheets for the ballot initiative. She raised awareness of the signature shortage, urging the secretary of state’s office to expedite verification of the signature count rather than waiting the 20-day period allowed by state law. Several days after Accurso and other parents petitioned the secretary of state’s office, they confirmed that the petition lacked enough signatures. 

Accurso also publicized recent issues with the ESA Program helpline as parents attempted to join the newly-expanded program. The phone line was busy nonstop, and would hang up on parents without the promise of a call back or an option to leave a message. 

School choice was one of the issues that defined the midterm election. Where some Republicans lost in other contested races by thousands of votes or continue to await final ballot batches to determine the winner, Horne prevailed.

Horne managed a victory over Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman, earning 50 percent of the vote to Hoffman’s 49 percent — just over 9,300 votes. 

Hoffman conceded on Thursday, shortly before Horne tapped Accurso to lead the ESA Program. 

Horne ran against Critical Race Theory (CRT), ethnic studies, and bilingual rather than immersive education. Horne advocated for in-person learning, standardized testing for graduating seniors, state takeover of failing schools, and full in-state scholarships for those who exceed state testing.

Hoffman ran against school choice expansion and bans on CRT tenets in education. She advocated for reducing class sizes, increasing teacher pay, increasing mental health funds for students, and increasing internet access for students.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Public Expresses Outrage at Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Meeting

Public Expresses Outrage at Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Meeting

By Corinne Murdock |

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting on Wednesday included over an hour of public comment on Election Day issues. The majority of the public who spoke expressed frustration over the county’s handling of the election. BOS Chairman Bill Gates asked the crowd repeatedly not to clap, cheer, or issue commentary.

The main takeaway from several commenters and the BOS was that voters dissatisfied with current election processes needed to petition their legislators to change election law.

Several individuals thanked the BOS for their handling of the election. Among them was Ann Wallach, former Maricopa County Democratic Party Chair. Wallach said she doesn’t believe widespread voting suppression or election fraud are occurring. Wallach suggested that those dissatisfied with elections processes petition their legislators. Wallach said that mail-in voting doesn’t increase fraud, prompting angry cries from the audience. 

“If there are people that are unhappy with our present system, I suggest that they take a look at the legislature and see if there’s action taken there that they don’t like,” said Wallach. “We’re all Americans and I think we all want to win fair and square.”

Several poll workers questioned election processes. One poll worker said the election needs to be nullified because of all the problems she witnessed. Another poll worker claimed that her location had 200 more ballots than voters that had checked in, located in Box 3 storage — where Election Day voters dropped ballots the tabulators failed to read. That same poll worker also claimed that the 17,000 voters affected by Election Day tabulation failures was a low estimate. 

Another citizen expressed concern about the impartiality of the county officials, considering that Gates and Recorder Stephen Richer supported a PAC to defeat Trump-backed candidates. 

“It’s not just a conflict of interest, it’s a specific agenda and a pre-bias going into it, so at the very least you should’ve recused yourself from any part of this election having opened that in 2021,” stated the woman. 

Multiple citizens also expressed frustration with how they felt the officials brushed off the Election Day issues. 

Martín Quezada, who lost in the treasurer’s race to Republican incumbent Kimberly Yee, thanked the BOS for their administration of last week’s election.

One voter proposed that the county have a runoff to provide a remedy for those who were prevented from voting due to mass tabulator failures and delays. He also questioned why Gates promised 99 percent of votes would be counted by last Friday, then announced on Thursday that the goalposts had shifted.

BOS Supervisor Steve Gallardo defended the county’s handling of the election, commending the workers. Gallardo added that the voters expressed valid concerns but indicated that these weren’t pervasive. However, he said nullification of an election has no legal pathway under current law. 

“Our election system is safe, secure, and accurate,” stated Gallardo. 

BOS Supervisor Thomas Galvin thanked the poll workers for sharing issues they’d experienced. Galvin said that the state legislature had been “sitting on their butt” when it comes to establishing election law, hence why it takes so long to count the votes. 

“We’re all very disappointed in what happened and we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Galvin. 

Vice Chairman Clint Hickman added that Arizona couldn’t count more quickly like Florida because this state’s laws are different. Hickman told the citizens he was grateful that they behaved better than some anticipated.

“There were certain people and groups that want us to believe that you will come and act up and be ungracious and unhumble. That is pathetic, but we were girded for that,” said Hickman. “I want to thank you guys for coming here and speaking your voice.” 

Gates said that their conduction of elections only took 8 days rather than the historical average of 12 days. Gates said he was disappointed that the audience kept interrupting him. 

“It’s important people know the facts,” said Gates.

Gates promised they would publish a canvass of the votes soon. 

Watch the BOS meeting here:

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Voters Approved Proposition Limiting Voter Initiatives to Single Subjects

Voters Approved Proposition Limiting Voter Initiatives to Single Subjects

By Corinne Murdock |

Voters may now have an easier time deciding on ballot initiatives thanks to Proposition 129. 

The measure, which earned 55 percent of the vote over this past week, amends the Arizona Constitution to limit ballot initiatives to a single subject. It would also require the subject to be included in the title of the measure.

Although this measure may ease voters’ burden, it may require additional work for those launching ballot initiatives since multiple subjects can’t be lumped together. 

Those who petitioned against Prop 129 included the League of Women Voters of Arizona, One Arizona, the Arizona Education Association (AEA), Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), Chispa Arizona, Our Voice Our Vote Arizona, and Mi Familia Vota. With the exception of the AEA, the organizations’ main purpose is advancing left-leaning political interests. 

This opposition argued that the measure imposed a greater burden on voter-led initiatives. They noted that litigation would be too expensive and time-consuming for grassroots efforts, and that signature-gathering efforts would become harder.

The Arizona Republic also published an editorial opposing Prop 129, as well as Props 128 and 132.

Those who petitioned for Prop 129 included the Arizona chapter of the NAIOP, Arizona Free Enterprise Club, Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and Center for Arizona Policy Action. These organizations are a mix of businesses and policy advocates. 

These proponents argued that voters shouldn’t be hoodwinked or confused by an expansive measure, or compelled to vote for something they only support in part. They insisted that simple, single-subject language would best represent the will of the voters. 

According to campaign finance data, those supportive of Prop 129 spent over $554,000 while those opposed spent over $38,000. The vast majority of the funding for the measure came from the Make It Simple Arizona: Yes on 129 political action committee (PAC). That PAC received its funding from the Arizona Pork Council, National Pork Producers Council, Arizona Chamber’s Moving Arizona Forward PAC, and the Arizona Farm Bureau. 

Most of the opposition funds came from Progress Arizona, with the remainder coming from LUCHA and a Washington, D.C.-based PAC, All On The Line, which only became active late last month. Their treasurer, Hayley Dierker, is the chief of staff at the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC). 

The NDRC is a PAC created by members of the Democratic Party and the Obama administration in late 2016. Former President Barack Obama himself is part of the NDRC.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Conservative Parents Find Hope In Superintendent and School Board Races

Conservative Parents Find Hope In Superintendent and School Board Races

By Loretta Hunnicutt |

From the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) to local school board positions, several conservatives are currently leading or have already won key races on the education front in the 2022 General Election.

As of press time, Republican candidate for SPI Tom Horne had increased his lead in his challenge of incumbent Kathy Hoffman. Horne previously served as SPI from 2003 to 2011, prior to successfully running for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. If the results hold up, Horne says his focus as SPI will be on improving student performance and eradicating Critical Race Theory-based curriculum from Arizona’s public schools.

In the Peoria Unified School District race, Heather Rooks won a hard-fought and challenging race. Her efforts to expose the Social Emotional Learning-based policies and practices in the district eventually led her to request an injunction against an activist parent. As reported by the Arizona Daily Independent, Rooks, a mother of four school-aged children, obtained the injunction based on threats from Democrat activist, Josh Gray.

Two other conservative candidates, Amy Carney and Carine Werner, secured seats on the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) Governing Board. Their victories serve as a powerful repudiation of out-going Governing Board Member Jann-Michael Greenburg. Greenburg was sued by parents who accused him of trying to silence them after they exposed his secret Google Drive dossier on them. As AZ Free News reported in April, that dossier included a trove of political opposition research on parents, who opposed the district’s adoption of Social Emotional Learning and Critical Race Theory.

In the race for Flowing Wells School District Governing Board—an area known for being blue—conservative Brianna Hernandez Hamilton is currently holding on to one of two open spots. A mother of three very young children, Hernandez Hamilton ran with the slogan: “Parents + Teachers = Quality Education.”

Kurt Rohrs, a long-time education activist and frequent contributor to AZ Free News, won a spot on the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. Rohrs, like Horne, focused on improving student performance and eliminating the divisive Critical Race Theory from the district’s curriculum. Many see Rohrs’ presence on the board as an opportunity to restore calm to the district which had become the center of controversy thanks to out-going board member Lindsay Love.

In the race for Dysart Unified School District Governing Board, conservative Dawn Densmore was retained by voters. As current president of the board, Densmore successfully led the fight to end the district’s relationship with the Arizona School Board Association (ASBA). Jennifer Drake also won a seat on the board.

Sandra Christensen is set to win a seat on the Paradise Valley Unified School District Governing Board. Libby Settle and Madicyn Reid are in the lead for spots in Fountain Hills. Paul Carver should take a win in Deer Valley. Jackie Ulmer appears to have been successful in Cave Creek as well as Rachel Walden in Mesa and Chad Thompson in Gilbert. In the Higley Unified School District, conservative Anna Van Hoek also won a seat on the board.

In a tweet from earlier this week, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos summed up what many parents have been feeling over the past few years – left out. In response to the National Education Association’s claim that teachers “know better than anyone” what students need in the classroom, DeVos responded, “You misspelled parents.”