Democratic state Sen. Martín Quezada, who represents Glendale and west Phoenix, recently announced plans to introduce census legislation that would have an unfair and costly impact to our community.
The United States Constitution mandates that a census be conducted every 10 years to get a complete count of everyone living in the country. Census data is used by the state to redraw accurate and fair congressional and legislative districts and ensure that regions get their fair share of funding for issues like public safety, infrastructure and health care based on their populations through state-shared revenue.
Sen. Quezada’s legislation will require that prisoners be counted where they’re from rather than where they live. He justifies the bill by saying, “Obviously most of these individuals are going to be released at some point as well, and they will be returning back home to those same communities.”
This legislation is purely parochial and politically motivated, and it should be dismissed as such by the Legislature. Sen. Quezada concedes that his district may have the most people incarcerated and counting them as his constituents would certainly benefit his district. Moving residents out of Republican districts and into Democratic districts could alter the balance of power in the Legislature. The fact that Democrats didn’t push this proposal when they represented Legislative District 8 leads me to believe that this is more about politics than policy.
Sen. Quezada’s proposed legislation ignores the state’s historic bargain with our region. The town of Florence stepped up and agreed to house our state’s prisoners over 100 years ago, and we need to be reimbursed for the additional costs that come with that duty. Our region incurs additional transportation costs due to traffic to and from prison complexes. Local paramedics respond to medical emergencies at prisons, local firefighters put out fires at prisons, and local law enforcement officers investigate crimes at prisons. Local electric, water and sewer utilities experience additional costs providing regular maintenance and repairs associated with prison complexes.
Arizona’s state-shared revenue program uses census data to return revenue to local governments to fund public services. Cities with universities are reimbursed for the local costs associated with tens of thousands of students, cities with military bases are reimbursed for the local costs associated with tens of thousands of members of the armed forces and their families, and cities with prison complexes must continue to be reimbursed for the local costs associated with tens of thousands of prisoners.
Without state-shared revenue that accurately reflects the true population of our community, local taxpayers would be forced to shoulder the additional costs that come with housing our state’s prisoners.
Politics shouldn’t drive policy. Sen. Quezada’s legislation is bad public policy for the state and unfair to the residents and taxpayers of Legislative District 8. As the speaker pro tempore in the Arizona House of Representatives, I will do everything in my power to ensure that the census takes an accurate count of everyone living in our community.
Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, represents Legislative District 8 in the state House.