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A LITTER BIT AT A TIME
City, county, state rely on volunteers for Flagstaff-area road cleanup

Every few weeks, Michael Ferrell and a group of other volunteers from the Flagstaff Unity Church gather along their adopted section of Interstate 40 near Country Club Drive to collect the empty cups, food wrappers and other garbage that accumulates along the freeway.

“For years upon years, I’ve lived by the idea that you should leave a place better than you found it,” Ferrell said.

Courtesy of Hugh Pressman 

Garbage accumulates along the side of Interstate 17 near Flagstaff.

Years ago, he approached church leadership asking about adopting a section of highway to clean. Other members embraced the idea and the group was assigned to a section of Highway 89 near Sunset Crater. After taking care of that section for a while, Ferrell said the need seemed bigger along I-40, so the group took over the mile-long section near Country Club Drive.

“It’s never spotless, but we go out there periodically and we do what we can,” he said.

The group is not allowed to go into the median for safety reasons, but can clean up on either side of the highway, he said.

Sometimes, the group collects “truckloads” of garbage, including pieces of lumber and parts of cars that have broken off.

“Sometimes I’m just amazed when we go out there a month later how much trash is out there,” Ferrell said.

Helping keep his hometown clean is important to Ferrell, who even goes out to clean the section on his own sometimes.

“I don’t want to condemn anyone, because they’re doing the best they can, but I just wish they had more respect for the world we live in,” he said.

While Ferrell and his group clean their section about once a month or once every six weeks, groups that adopt highway sections or sections of city street or FUTS trail are asked to clean at a minimum of three times a year. However, “as it is a volunteer program we are grateful for as often as they’re able to clean up,” Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Ryan Harding said in an email.

Courtesy 

Members of the Flagstaff Unity Church pose after a highway cleanup session.

The city of Flagstaff, Coconino County and ADOT all lean on volunteers for garbage collection along streets, roads, trails and freeways.

“For trash pickup along Flagstaff-area state highways, ADOT primarily relies on volunteers with our Adopt-a-Highway program,” Harding said. “While maintenance crews will respond to litter that creates a hazard for drivers, most of the garbage is cleaned up by volunteers and our crews will come by later and pick up the bags.”

Tom Bean 

Volunteers clean out vegetation and debris to maintain channel of Rio de Flag at I-40 Wetlands, along FUTS Trail, Make a Difference Day event, October 22, 2016, along the Rio de Flag, Flagstaff.

Maggie Twomey, the volunteer and event coordinator for the city of Flagstaff, who coordinates the Community Stewards program, said 111 miles of streets and FUTS trails are adoptable, creating 198 different sections. Of the 198 sections, 186 are adopted.

Most groups that adopted street or trail sections in the city clean their sections five to six times a year, Twomey said, usually when school is in session because many of the groups are from Northern Arizona University.

“It’s a very popular program,” Twomey said. “The citizens of Flagstaff really care about keeping the community clean.”

The Flagstaff Insight Meditation Community is among the participants in the program. The group adopted a stretch of Thorpe Road from Kinlani Road to Santa Fe Avenue about a year ago. 

A member of the Flagstaff Unity Church Adopt a Highway cleanup crew stands with his bags along Interstate 40.

"We wanted to adopt to give back to the community and promote a sense of we're all in this together," said Lizette Melis with the Flagstaff Insight Meditation Community.

Members gather three to four times a year to walk both sides of the road and pick up trash, Melis said. They also use the event as a chance for the community to network with each other and usually have a potluck afterwards, she said.

For volunteers in the city program, the city lends out gloves, trash grabbers and safety vests and provides bags for trash and recycling and a bucket to pick up items like glass that are not safe to hold in a plastic bag. Volunteers pick up and return the items to Twomey’s office when they finish the cleanup.

Trash on private properties can be reported to the city’s code compliance office, which also uses volunteers to clean areas like vacant lots, and also uses adult probation work crews, Twomey said.

Similar to city and state, Coconino County has its own long-running adopt-a-road program. A dozen volunteers have adopted 22 miles of popular roads like Lake Mary, Koch Field, Leupp Road, Silver Saddle and Townsend-Winona roads. Groups usually pick up trash at least twice a year, according to the county.  

Tom Bean 

Volunteer Allen Haden, of Friends of the Rio de Flag and Natural Channel Design, sowing native grass seeds during Make a Difference Day, Oct. 28, 2017, at Willow Bend Environmental Education Center. Volunteers helped to restore Willow Bend habitat gardens, establish native vegetation on slopes, and clean up trash along the Rio de Flag below the gardens in Sinclair Wash along the FUTS. For more photos, see page A7.

In addition to volunteer work, ADOT utilizes prison labor as they are available to clean highway sections when state crews can provide traffic control. Lately, the North Central district, which includes most of Coconino County and parts of Navajo, Yavapai and Mohave counties, has been utilizing prison labor to clean freeway sections two times per week, but there is not a scheduled frequency, Harding said.

“Last year, the 89 volunteer groups with adopted highway stretches in the North Central District spent nearly 2,900 hours picking up almost 1,700 bags of trash,” Harding said. “That translates to a cost-savings of nearly $70,000 for the state.”

Tom Bean 

Volunteers clean out culvert to maintain flow to I-40 Wetlands, along FUTS Trail, Make a Difference Day event along the Rio de Flag, Flagstaff.


Matt Rourke 

Philadelphia Eagles fans celebrate the team's victory in NFL Super Bowl 52 between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots Monday in downtown Philadelphia.


NEWS ANALYSIS
K-12 education budget touted by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey fails to restore recession-era cuts

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has repeatedly presented his most recent budget proposal as restoring recession-era cuts to K-12 education, when in reality, it doesn’t even restore the Ducey-era cuts.

The governor’s $10.1 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2019, which begins in July, represents a spending increase of $315 million from the current budget, including $190 million in discretionary K-12 spending increases.

In his state of the state address, Ducey declared the budget would “restore longstanding cuts from the recession made before many of us were here.”

His marquee policy item, and single largest discretional increase in education spending, is an additional $100 million in capital funding known as District and Charter Additional Assistance, which district and charter schools can use to cover everything from textbooks to school buses.

In 2015, his first year in office, Ducey cut District and Charter Additional Assistance to the tune of $116 million — a cut he has never restored.

District and Charter Additional Assistance was once one of the main funding sources school districts and charters tapped to pay for ongoing maintenance needs — fixing air conditioning units, repaving parking lots, repairing busted pipes and buying classroom supplies like textbooks, computers and desks.

But when the recession gripped Arizona, lawmakers slashed that funding in 2009, and continued to cut it through the administration of former Gov. Jan Brewer.

By law, school districts and charters are supposed to receive a certain amount of District and Charter Additional Assistance from the state based on student enrollment. In three years of Ducey’s governorship, schools have missed out on more than $1 billion that they were entitled to under that funding formula.

Ducey authorized $348 million worth of that $1 billion cut. The other reductions were made before he took office, but continued under his administration.

Ducey’s 2019 budget proposal came with a promise to, within the next five years, restore District and Charter Additional Assistance to roughly the same level it was a decade ago. But it will never come close to restoring the more than $2 billion of District and Charter Additional Assistance funding that schools lost since 2009.

MAKING DO

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato acknowledged that neither the budget proposal, nor the five-year plan, would return all the money schools have missed out on over the last decade.

“We can’t go back. All we can do is deal with what lies ahead. So what we want to do is get that number back to what it would be had those reductions not been made. This plan does that,” he said.

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He noted that school groups are suing the state for back payments on capital funding that they missed during the recession. And while the administration has called on those groups to end the lawsuit in light of the governor’s proposed increase to capital funding, the legal battle continues.

Critics say Ducey’s budget and the talking points surrounding it conform with the pattern he has created since becoming governor.

The governor has repeatedly cut funding, then taken credit for partially restoring it — as he did when he slashed JTED funding by $30 million in 2015 and proposed restoring $10 million over three years starting in 2016 (lawmakers went higher and restored $28 million in 2016).

And Arizona school finance gurus say while the budget is an undeniable increase in K-12 education, it’s far too little to solve schools’ capital funding problems.

Scarpinato said the governor is doing what he can with available dollars, and noted that the vast majority of the new spending in the governor’s budget is targeted to K-12.

He said if revenues increase in the future, the governor will invest those funds into education as well.

He said that critics who argue that the governor is taking credit for restoring cuts he made seem to be forgetting the financial mess Ducey inherited, when the state was facing a projected shortfall of $1 billion.

“Look, we came in with a billion dollar budget shortfall. The budget is now responsibly and structurally balanced, which allows us to make investments. And this is where we’re going to make the investment going forward, because it’s the right thing to do and it will make a difference for schools,” he said.

Scarpinato said when the administration talks about “restoring the recession-era cuts” they mean returning schools “to where they need to be on this one piece of the education formula.”

School districts are still grappling with what the governor’s budget proposal will mean to them — if it becomes law. That isn’t a sure thing, as the governor’s budget proposal is predicated on higher revenue projections than the Legislature expects, and lower student population growth than the Legislature estimates.

And while several said they appreciate the increased capital funding, local school officials say even the governor’s five-year plan doesn’t “get them where they need to be."


US economy fundamentally strong despite stock market plunge

WASHINGTON (AP) — A wave of fear about inflation and higher interest rates has sent stock prices tumbling and raised concerns about corporate profits. On Monday, a plunge of over 1,100 points in the Dow Jones industrial average capped two days of losses that have erased the stock market's gains for the year.

Yet the rush of anxiety has obscured a fundamental fact about the U.S. economy: It's healthy.

Nearly nine years into the expansion that followed the Great Recession, the job market is strong. So is housing. Consumer confidence is solid, and manufacturing is rebounding. Households and businesses are spending freely. Personal debt has lightened since the financial crisis a decade ago. And major economies around the world are growing in tandem.

After Monday's stock market swoon, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the spokeswoman for President Donald Trump, who has frequently boasted about the stock market's gains under his watch, said in a statement:

"The president's focus is on our long-term economic fundamentals, which remain exceptionally strong, with strengthening U.S. economic growth, historically low unemployment and increasing wages for American workers."

That very economic vigor, in fact, is a key reason why investors anticipate higher inflation and interest rates. Higher borrowing rates over time could undercut corporate earnings as well as stock prices. And some fear that the Federal Reserve might miscalculate and raise rates too high or too fast.

But no one is sure that will happen. And for now, the economy remains on firm footing, even with the prospect of somewhat higher inflation. The inflation concerns escalated after Friday's monthly U.S. jobs report showed that average wages surged 2.9 percent in January from 12 months earlier — the sharpest year-over-year gain since the recession.

"What we're seeing right now is an economy overall that is doing quite well and has strong fundamentals," said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. "The economy remains on track to expand at a fairly solid pace, and along with that comes inflation."

Here are some key reasons why the economy remains robust despite the jitters on Wall Street:

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JOBS AND WAGES ARE PICKING UP

The job market is in its best shape in a decade or more. Businesses continue to hire at a pace that could drive the unemployment rate — already at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent — even lower. Some economists think the jobless rate by year's end could reach 3.5 percent, which would be the lowest level in a half-century.

With relatively few job seekers, many businesses are struggling to fill open positions. To attract and keep workers, many are finally offering higher pay, which helps explain why the January jobs report showed such a sharp pickup in wages. A separate measure of wages and salaries rose in the final three months of 2017 by the most in nearly three years.

———

CONSUMERS AND BUSINESSES SPENDING MORE

With more solid job security and rising pay in some industries, Americans as a whole are growing more optimistic about the economy's direction. And their confidence has fueled consumer spending, the primary fuel of the U.S economy. In the final three months of 2017, consumer spending rose at its fastest pace in a year-and-a-half.

Their willingness to spend has led many to make big purchases, too: Sales of existing homes in 2017 reached their highest level in 11 years. The demand for housing helped accelerate home construction last year to its fastest annual pace in a decade.

Businesses, too, are buying more computers, machinery and other equipment. Such purchases increased faster in the second half of last year than in any six-month period since 2014. Companies typically accelerate their investments when they foresee an improving economy.

"This not only points to stronger demand today but also says that firms are becoming increasingly confident about the future," said Paul Mortimer-Lee, an economist at BNP Paribas.

———

HOUSEHOLD FINANCES IN DECENT SHAPE

Americans generally haven't been running up heavy debts. U.S. household debt — everything from mortgages and credit card debt to student and auto loans — equaled 95 percent of disposable income in the July-September quarter, according to data from the Fed. That compares with about 120 percent right before the recession.

Still, their willingness to spend has raised one concern: Savings have fallen. In December, the nation's savings rate fell to its lowest level since 2005. Over the long run, a low savings rate can diminish the ability of households to withstand a financial shock.

———

GLOBAL ECONOMY

The U.S. economy now has something supporting it that it hasn't had for nearly a decade: Solid growth around the world. Roughly 120 countries experienced faster growth in 2017 than in 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund. That's the most since 2010.

The 19 European nations that share the euro expanded 2.5 percent in 2017, the most in 10 years and faster than the United States, which grew 2.3 percent. Japan's economy has expanded for seven straight quarters, the longest such stretch since 2001. All that global growth tends to benefit the U.S. economy, the world's largest.

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SO WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE?

Even good economic news can prompt some troubling concerns. As companies raise pay, they typically increase prices to help cover their extra costs. That cycle can speed inflation. The Fed is then likely to raise the key short-term rate it controls to help reduce borrowing and spending and hold inflation in check.

Fed officials have indicated that they expect to raise rates three times this year. But after Friday's robust report on jobs and wages, some economists think the Fed might accelerate its rate hikes. Economists at BNP Paribas and Macroeconomic Advisers now forecast four rate increases this year.

A key source of anxiety among some investors is that the Fed or other central banks might end up tightening credit so much or so fast as to trigger an economic downturn.

There are also the wild cards of a possible government shutdown, President Donald Trump's efforts to restrict global trade and the potential sour investor reaction if the federal budget deficit tops $1 trillion next year because of tax cuts and increased funding for the military and disaster relief, among other expenses.