Biden Admin Gives Tucson $900k For Equity-Focused Bike And Pedestrian Bridge

Biden Admin Gives Tucson $900k For Equity-Focused Bike And Pedestrian Bridge

By Corinne Murdock |

The Biden administration gave the city of Tucson $900,000 to build a biking and pedestrian bridge. The city’s initiative is one of 45 projects nationwide to receive a portion of $185 million in funds, the only one in Arizona to receive this round of funds.

The bridge would provide a pathway over the I-19 highway to Nebraska Street, as part of the Atravessando Comunidades Project. The funds will cover approximately 56 percent of the total project cost: $1.6 million in total. 

The funds come from President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funds allocated to the Department of Transportation (DOT) Reconnecting Communities Program (RCP). In a press release issued on Tuesday, the DOT revealed that it prioritized projects it perceived as benefiting economically disadvantaged communities, as well as engaging in equity and environmental justice. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) assisted DOT in selecting which projects should get federal funding. 

10 other Arizona cities, counties, and one nonprofit were denied the IRS funds. 

The city of Winslow petitioned for $377,200 for a transportation study on railway-created barriers to mitigate lack of access and opportunities for impacted communities; the city of Eloy petitioned for $400,000 to plan for the revitalization of the Sunland Gin Corridor; Apache County petitioned for $1.28 million to reconstruct Stanford Drive (County Road 8235); Native Promise, a tribal advocacy nonprofit, petitioned for over $1.75 million to reconnect Navajo relocatees through the Pinta Project; the city of Buckeye petitioned for $420,000 for an overpass at Durango Street, over $1 million for road and bridge construction along Watson Road, and $724,000 to plan for Rooks Road and Baseline Road; the city of Bullhead petitioned for $1.6 million to improve a multimodal parkway; the city of Phoenix petitioned for over $5 million for a “cultural corridor”; the city of Kingman petitioned for over $40.8 million for a Rancho Santa Fe Parkway traffic interchange; and the city of Eloy petitioned for over $24.3 million for Sunland Gin Corridor construction.

The DOT explained that Tucson received the funding because of the project’s focus on equity. The project description stated that the predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods of South Tucson were cut off from the Santa Cruz River and the rest of Tucson by the I-19 highway in the early 1960s. The DOT claimed that these neighborhoods experienced over 60 years of air and noise pollution, surviving a food desert, and struggling from more limited economic opportunities. 

This isn’t the first round of funding Tucson has received for a bridge. The Biden administration awarded the city $25 million to rebuild the 22nd Street bridge last August. 

Last August, Buttigieg used the city of Tucson as the location for his major reveal of $25 million in funding through Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grants. At the time, Buttigieg also cited equity as a reason for choosing Tucson as the recipient of these exclusive funds.

“It’s also important from an equity perspective because it connects the downtown Tucson and the communities and opportunities there to historically underinvested in communities to the east,” said Buttigieg.

Phoenix also received RAISE grants last year: $25 million for a bridge over the Rio Salado river connecting downtown Phoenix and South Phoenix, spanning along the river from Central Avenue  to State Route 143 near the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. 

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

Arizona Senate Passes Bill Requiring Transparency Of Inaugural Funds On Unanimous Vote

Arizona Senate Passes Bill Requiring Transparency Of Inaugural Funds On Unanimous Vote

By Daniel Stefanski |

Republicans and Democrats might have had different motives for supporting a bill that would require Arizona governors to operate with more transparency with their inaugural funds, but they managed to come together to overwhelmingly pass the new policy out of the Arizona Senate.

SB 1299, which was sponsored by Senator Wendy Rogers, passed the State Senate on Monday with a 29-0 vote – with one Democrat not voting (Eva Diaz). Senator Diaz had previously voted for the bill when it unanimously passed the chamber’s Government Committee earlier in the month.

Senate Republicans were extremely pleased with the progress of the legislation. Soon after the bill’s passage in his body, President Warren Petersen tweeted, “Democrats and Republicans just voted out unanimously that the Governor needs to be transparent with her inauguration funds!”

The Arizona Senate Republican Caucus victoriously stated, “In an effort to address the shady practices of @GovernorHobbs with regards to her handling of her Inauguration Fund, @WendyRogersAZ sponsored SB1299, which would require the Governor’s Office to publish on its website, within 15 days after the inauguration ceremony, information detailing each organization that organized, supported or funded the ceremony.” The Caucus also touted the bipartisan support for the bill.

Bill sponsor, Senator Wendy Rogers, tweeted, “Proud to sponsor this vital bipartisan SB 1299 bill promoting #TRANSPARENCY.”

Democrats had no choice but to support a bill aimed both at transparency and at their same-party chief executive, whose actions around the fundraising, reporting, and future use of her Inaugural Fund generated red flags and questions around the state since the start of the year. Legislators in both chambers have sent letters to Hobbs about her Inaugural Fund – most recently about what her intentions might be when it comes to spending the massive amount of excess funds not used from the early-January inauguration events.

The headlines have not been gentle when it came to Hobbs’ actions (or lack thereof) with her Inaugural fund. On January 5, Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic wrote an opinion piece entitled, “Katie Hobbs keeps donations secret. Is this what she calls ‘transparency’?” And on February 2, Roberts wrote another opinion piece with the headline, “Gov. Katie Hobbs still hasn’t come clean on her inauguration fund.” Roberts wrote, “While governors always have raised money to help defray the cost of their inaugurations, Hobbs is the first to keep the leftover cash. Usually, it’s transferred into a public protocol fund, to be used for public purposes. Hobbs, instead, established a nonprofit account where the money can be used to fund political campaigns. A state government website was employed and now mum’s the word on how she intends to spend the $1.6 million or more in leftover funds…. Hobbs promises to be a ‘champion for everyone’ but my guess is that, as with all politicians, some ‘champions’ will have more access and influence than others.”

SB 1299 now heads to the Arizona House for consideration before a potential showdown with the inspiration for the bill herself: Governor Katie Hobbs.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Toma, Petersen Try Again To Reach Accord With Hobbs

Toma, Petersen Try Again To Reach Accord With Hobbs

By Daniel Stefanski |

Legislative Republicans continue to search for avenues to reach an accord with the Governor’s Office on the new fiscal year budget, and on Tuesday, the leaders of the House and Senate took a new approach to bring Arizona’s chief executive to the negotiating table.

House Speaker Ben Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen sent a joint letter to Governor Hobbs, requesting a meeting with the Ninth Floor over the stalled budget negotiations. After receiving the Governor’s budget proposal in January, both the House and Senate passed a budget that was then vetoed by Hobbs.

Toma and Petersen’s letter references the vetoed budget and the Governor’s actions to bring Arizona dangerously close to a shutdown: “The Legislative Budget you vetoed on February 16th represented shared, ongoing funding priorities. That budget would have prevented a government shutdown, while leaving the available one-time funds untouched for executive and legislative negotiation of priorities. Our budget was the responsible approach to governing in a time of economic uncertainty.”

The legislative generals struck a balanced and reasonable approach in their letter to Governor Hobbs, highlighting an alleged unwillingness to negotiate by her office: “In our first and only meeting to discuss the budget, your office stated it was unwilling to receive feedback or take questions. Obviously, we need some level of agreement to pass a budget. We believe we can achieve most of our priorities and include yours that are reasonable. For example, we have several members who support additional funding for School Facilities Building renewal, the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), and transportation projects.”

Tuesday’s letter is the latest salvo in a continuing saga between the two sides on the budget negotiations. Both parties remain far apart on key details needed to forge an agreement before the June 30th deadline.

Daniel Scarpinato, one of former Governor Doug Ducey’s Chiefs of Staff, responded to the allegations of Hobbs’ refusal to negotiate with Republican legislators: “I cannot imagine inviting legislators up to the 9th floor and refusing to take questions. We always took questions from Republicans, Democrats and the media. They didn’t always like the answers – but I just can’t imagine saying something like this to elected leaders.”

In a press conference shortly after the receipt of the letter, Governor Hobbs was asked about the request for enhanced negotiations and what her response would be to President Petersen and Speaker Toma. The governor inferred that her office had, in fact, reached out to legislative leadership after her veto of the budget, saying that she saw the letter “as a response to (her office) reaching out,” and that she was “encouraged that we can move forward on a process of negotiating a budget that we can all agree on.”

Hobbs’ characterization of her office reaching out to Republicans in the state legislature appears to correspond with a line in Petersen and Toma’s letter that outlines “a request from (Hobbs’) office to discuss priorities and identify differences to avoid a government shutdown.” However, as the letter highlights, this request came one day after Hobbs “created and committed funding to her ‘Flip the Leg Fund,’” which took place on the heels of unanswered legislative questions about her controversial Inaugural Fund. This announcement from Hobbs’ political operation left Republicans in no mood to work with a governor who is simultaneously financing election challenges to vulnerable legislators at the state capitol.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Gilbert Leaders Apologize For ‘Enemy List’ Ranking Residents

Gilbert Leaders Apologize For ‘Enemy List’ Ranking Residents

By Corinne Murdock |

Last Wednesday, the town of Gilbert apologized for creating a document ranking residents based on their support or opposition of a road widening project. 

Maricopa County island resident Rich Robertson presented the document to the Gilbert Town Council during last week’s meeting item discussing the project. The document listed the affected homeowners, their parcel, their address, the landowners’ stance on the project, and a “vocal level” of 1-4. A rating of “1” indicated the resident was among the most vocal in opposition, while a rating of “4” indicated that the resident was reasonable.

“The town of Gilbert has created, effectively, an enemies list,” said Robertson. “Why are we as residents — who are trying to exercise our rights — being ranked by your staff on how compliant we are with you? This is, I suspect, not how the council really wants its residents to be treated. I think it’s outrageous.”

The city issued an apology statement last Wednesday from Public Works Director Jessica Marlow. 

Marlow apologized for using the “vocal level” category, and said that the intent wasn’t to label anyone. She explained that the intent was to prepare city leaders for meetings with affected homeowners last October. Marlow admitted that the document should’ve been named differently, in hindsight. 

“It was meant to help staff better understand how to address concerns ahead of the meetings,” wrote Marlow.

Awareness of the issue was made possible due to three freshman council members who placed the item on last week’s agenda: Jim Torgeson, Chuck Bongiovanni, and Bobbi Buchli. The trio and Mayor Brigette Peterson vocalized their dismay over the document. The mayor noted that she wasn’t aware of the document before the meeting, and apologized.

“I don’t know anything about it, and I am just appalled that something like that might be going around,” stated Peterson. “I do believe that you don’t deserve any of that. I apologize for that.”

Robertson, who was rated a “2,” rejected the city’s claim that the classification wasn’t intended as a list of enemies.

“I think that’s what leads to those kinds of characterizations,” said Robertson. “It certainly wasn’t inadvertent. It was clear that it (the document) was intended to identify the people who were problems and to steel themselves against those people.”

Robertson speculated that he received the “2” ranking due to writing letters frequently to the council. 

The project that inspired so much controversy about residents intended to widen Ocotillo Road into a 110-foot right-of-way. The expansion would require several new bridges to span a section of missing roadway. It was included in the FY2023-2032 Capital Improvement Plan, with funds from 2022 General Obligation (Transportation) Bonds.

Watch the discussion of the “vocal level” controversy below:

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

WESD Accepts LGTBQ Community While Devaluing Christians

WESD Accepts LGTBQ Community While Devaluing Christians

By Terri Jo Neff |

At a time when one-fourth of all educator positions are vacant statewide, one Arizona school board has voted to reduce the number of university students pursuing education degrees who can do their on-site training in their district.

Washington Elementary School District serves a diverse population of K-8 students in north central Phoenix and east Glendale. It is the largest elementary school district in Arizona with 32 in-class schools and one online school, and has a highly promoted districtwide LGTBQ-acceptance policy.  

For more than a decade, several degree students from Arizona Christian University (ACU) have done their student teaching and other practical coursework at one of WESD’s campuses. But in recent weeks, Tamillia Valenzuela has twice urged her fellow four WESD board members to end the district’s arrangement with ACU and another area university.

During a Feb. 23 board meeting, Valenzuela expressed concern that ACU’s mission prioritizes the teachings of Jesus Christ, values which she does not believe are “aligned with” WESD’s priorities. She said she was “really disheartened” to see district staff was asking to renew its long-running arrangement with ACU.

Valenzuela, who describes herself on the WESD website as a bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer Black Latina, cited no documented examples of how any WESD student, parent, or teacher has been negatively impacted over the last decade by the personal Christian values of any ACU student teacher.

However, the board voted 5 to 0 to end its arrangement with ACU at the completion of this school year. About 16 ACU students are currently involved with WESD.

Although several of the board members expressed concern with what they see as ACU’s rigid anti-LGBTQ philosophy, it was Valenzuela’s comments that were interpreted by many parents as pushing “no Christians welcomed” agenda for WESD.

Two WESD parents spoke to AZ Free News on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation against their children; both provided documentation of having students currently enrolled in the district.

“Clearly Ms. Valenzuela believes having Christians involved at Washington Elementary’s schools is unacceptable, whether those people are from Arizona Christian University or simply Christians in general,” one parent said. “Ms. Valenzuela actually said she has personal concerns with feeling ‘safe’ within WESD due to the presence of devout believers in Jesus Christ. What’s next? A religious litmus test for public school employees and teachers?”

The other parent found Valenzuela’s comments about values to be highly hypocritical.

“Tamillia wants to deny student teaching opportunities to ACU students because of her personal dislike of the university’s religious tenets,” the parent noted. “She cannot point us to one incident in all of these years in which any university student shirked their duties toward any WESD student. Yet Tamillia openly wants to discriminate against Christians. Really, who has the values problem?”

At a Jan. 12 board meeting, Valenzuela led a similar attack on the District’s practice of having students from the Grand Canyon University (GCU) social work program serve as interns at various WESD campuses. GCU, based in Phoenix, is one of the largest private Christian universities in the world.

Valenzuela alleged that GCU as an institution has acted in a harmful manner to a low-income community, and thus is not a good philosophical fit for WESD to partner with on social work and mental health. She also expressed concern with having Christian organizations affiliated with the district.

“I am wondering if there’s other options available, one so we are not actively engaging with an institution that’s causing harm and also so we can have options that are not based on a certain faith,” she said.  

Lisa Mora, WESD’s assistant superintendent, pointed out there are a limited number of accredited social work university programs for WESD to work with. Many of them are offered through private colleges, and if district officials wish to continue prioritizing social and emotional services for students, “these universities have the ability to work with us directly.” 

Valenzuela was the only “no” vote on renewing the relationship with GCU.

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.

ASU Also Paying For Children’s Gender Transitions

ASU Also Paying For Children’s Gender Transitions

By Corinne Murdock |

Arizona State University (ASU) began paying for children’s gender transitions at the start of the year, as part of a health care plan similar to one provided by at least one other state university. 

ASU offers up to $10,000 in tax-free reimbursements for these treatments, which it dubbed “gender-affirming” medical care. Both employees and their dependents are eligible for the reimbursements. 

ASU isn’t the only university to offer this benefit. The University of Arizona (UArizona) is also paying up to $10,000 for gender reassignment surgeries for employees and their dependents. 

Employees or their dependents are eligible for these reimbursements if the gender transition services aren’t covered by the Arizona Department of Administration’s health care plan. 

Reimbursement is available for gender-affirming medical care services not currently covered by the Arizona Department of Administration health care plan.

Minors may not receive gender transition surgery in the state, according to a bill codified in April of last year, SB1138. The legislation nearly died in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee. Former State Sen. Tyler Pace initially refused to support the bill. Pace changed his mind after reviewing the standards of care issued by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH) at the time. 

Last September, WPATH modified their standards of care to declare that minors are capable of giving informed consent through a legal guardian. 

Federal policy doesn’t address gender transition procedures as part of Medicaid coverage. In 2021 the Biden administration began enforcing a rule modifying the Affordable Care Act (ACA) non-discrimination provisions to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. 

In November, a federal court rejected the Biden administration’s attempted expansion of sex-based discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity. 

ASU’s Educational Outreach and Student Services provides a “trans-specific” resource page, which includes an 11-page guide informing faculty on proper transgender student inclusion in the classroom. Their advice included using pronouns in email signatures, attend training workshops to receive an “ally” placard and image to include in their communications, vocalize their pronouns on the first day of class, using gender-neutral terms on class documents, requesting pronouns from students prior to class, and establishing anti-bullying policies.

The guide characterized bullying as any negative commentary and the intentional use of incorrect pronouns.

“Blatant misgendering and transphobic comments create an unsafe and hostile learning environment for all students,” read the guide. 

ASU also offers a $79, four-hour course for K-12 teachers to address the “social, emotional, and educational needs” of transgender students. Behind the course is the program manager for the Transgender Education Program (TEP), Cammy Bellis, who’s work at ASU over the past decade concerned establishing safe and affirming K-12 environments for LGBTQ+ students. TEP has existed for nearly seven years. Bellis was formerly an education training coordinator and board member for the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) chapter in Phoenix. 

GLSEN is a national organization pushing LGBTQ+ ideologies onto minors.

ASU disclosed that their surveys revealed an increase in transgender or LGBTQ+ students over the years, with an estimate that there would be one or more transgender or LGBTQ+ student in every classroom. 

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