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PHOENIX -- Two new reports Tuesday show some bumps in the state's recovery from the recession.
One finds that Arizona consumers are spending more, at least in certain areas. But not a lot. The other shows that, for the first time in three years, Arizona is not among the Top 10 states in job growth.
Reports from retailers, released Tuesday by the state Department of Revenue, put total taxable sales at $4.47 billion. That figure comes from reports filed last month which actually reflect sales made in August. That is up 5.2 percent from the same time a year earlier.
But economist Dennis Hoffman from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said it's hardly a number to cheer about.
"It's OK,'' he said. "It's not gangbusters.''
He said a state such as Arizona should be showing year-over-year growth in the 7 percent range.
The numbers represent more than just an academic exercise.
Close to half of the state budget is built on taxable retail sales. And when these figures lag, so do state revenues -- and the ability of lawmakers to meet the spending demands.
In fact, the staff of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which advises state lawmakers, is predicting that, for the entire fiscal year, retail sales will grow just an anemic 3.7 percent.
The job-growth figures come from a separate study by Lee McPheters, also an economist at ASU.
There are signs the state is making some progress at recovery.
Sales at motor-vehicle dealers hit $719.9 million in August. That's 8 percent higher than the same time a year earlier. But it's still far below the $833.8 million figure for August 2005, even with vehicles now costing more than they did back then.
Sales of furniture and other home furnishings increased just 3.1 percent from 2013 and also remain below pre-recession levels. Purchases of clothing and accessories actually dropped by nearly 1.6 percent year over year.
Hoffman said the really shocking number is in the category of residential construction. Total sales there for August tallied $285.5 million. In August 2004, the same category posted $604.7 million in sales. "And that was before the real ratchet-up that we had,'' Hoffman said, with the real estate bubble reaching its peak in 2006 before it burst.
That lack of home construction is reflected in the separate employment report by Lee McPheters, also an economist at ASU. He said that so far this year, the state's already beleaguered construction industry has lost jobs. That sector of the Arizona economy remains at half of what it was before the recession. Manufacturing employment also has shed jobs so far this year.
He did find some bright spots.
For example, for the first nine months of the year, only two states hired a greater percentage of new workers in the health-care field than Arizona. And Arizona is No. 5 for jobs in the financial sector. But that was not enough for Arizona to maintain its Top 10 status of job growth.
McPheters puts year-to-date job growth at just 14th in the nation. And when government jobs are removed from the picture, the state drops to 15th.
"And it appears that unless something very unusual happens, we're going to end up this year as not a Top 10 growth state,'' he said. "That's just one other disappointment to go along with the fact that the economy is losing construction jobs.''
McPheters said the state will likely add no more than 55,000 jobs this year, about the same as last year.
"So that means we're kind of in a three-year period where the economy appears to have plateaued and we're just waiting for something to happen to either spur population growth or get some other sectors to drive the economy,'' he said.
Hoffman said, though, that the sales figures may not be as bad as they seem -- if not from the perspective of state revenues, then at least in terms of the strength of the economy: The numbers reported by retailers to the Department of Revenue obviously do not reflect some purchases made by consumers online or by phone.
Online retailers who have a physical presence in Arizona, like Target.com or Walmart.com, are required to collect the state sales tax. But those based solely elsewhere do not.
Arizona law technically requires buyers to report these purchases and pay an equivalent "use tax'' to the state. But with no real enforcement mechanism for the average consumer, that law goes largely ignored.
September reported taxable sales in billions of dollars
(Reflects August sales)
2004 -- $3.51
2005 -- $4.22
2006 -- $4.44
2007 -- $4.27
2008 -- $4.02
2009 -- $3.53
2010 -- $3.45
2011 -- $3.75
2012 -- $3.87
2013 -- $4.25
2014 -- $4.47
-- Source: Arizona Department of Revenue
Key elements of taxable sales
Element / Amount in millions of dollars / Year-over-year change
Motor vehicle dealers / $719.9 / 8%
Furniture and home furnishings / $274.3 / 3.1%
Building materials, lawn & garden / $270.7 / 2.3%
Taxable food and liquor / $288.3 / 1%
Miscellaneous retail / $684.1 / 10.3%
Clothing and accessories / $235.4 / (-1.6%)
Bar and restaurant sales / $896.3 / 7.1%
Hotel and motel rentals / $157.7 / 14.9%
Residential construction / $285.5 / 9.2%
Nonresidential construction / $192.2 / (-6.4%)
Heavy construction (roads, bridges) / $65.6 / (-4.9%)
-- Source: Arizona Department of Revenue
Private sector job growth, first 9 months of 2014
Rank / State / Number of jobs added / Growth percentage
1 / North Dakota / 19,590 / 5.4%
2 / Nevada / 41,270 / 4.1%
3 / Texas / 329,780 / 3.5%
4 / Florida / 221,520 / 3.4%
5 / Utah / 34,660 / 3.3%
6 / Oregon/ 42,280 / 3.1%
7 / Colorado / 59,510 / 3.0%
8 / Delaware / 9,980 / 2.8%
9 / California / 327,890 / 2.6%
10 / Georgia / 83,970 / 2.5%
11 / North Carolina / 83,000 / 2.5%
12 / Tennessee / 57,690 / 2.5%
13 / Washington / 59,790 / 2.5%
14 / Arizona / 49,630 / 2.4%
15 / Oklahoma / 29,400 / 2.3%
-- Source: W.P. Care School of Business, Arizona State University
Q: Why are you running?
Facing a lawsuit they appeared to be losing, state prison officials have agreed to improve health care for the more than 34,000 inmates in their custody.
PHOENIX -- Facing a lawsuit they appeared to be losing, state prison officials have agreed to improve health care for the more than 34,000 inmates in their custody.
The stipulation filed Tuesday in federal court here requires the Department of Corrections to live up to more than 80 specific performance standards for how it handles medical issues. These range from staffing requirements and emergency response times to ensuring that inmates get their medications in a timely fashion.
Potentially more significant for those affected, the stipulation also requires the state to revamp its rules on solitary confinement of inmates -- the department calls it "isolation'' -- with serious mental illness.
Where current regulations keep those prisoners in their cells all but six hours a week, they will now have at least 19 hours a week elsewhere. And that time also must include mental health treatment and other programs.
And the Department has also agreed to use chemical agents like pepper spray on inmates classified as seriously mentally ill "only in case of imminent threat.''
That is defined as situations that jeopardize safety or security like an attempt to escape or active physical resistance. But it specifically precludes pepper spray for things like "passive resistance to placement in restraints or refusal to follow orders.''
Don Specter, an attorney with the Prison Law Office, said this deal, which must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa, is more than just his organization and the American Civil Liberties Union accepting on faith that things will get better.
"We will be able to tour the prisons to check ourselves to see whether they're providing adequate care,'' he said. "And we will also get a lot of documentation.''
The deal comes four months after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave the go-ahead for the case, alleging inadequate health care, to be handled as a class-action lawsuit.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt, writing for the appellate court, said the attorneys for the inmates provided detailed allegations of everything from "outright denials of health care'' to improper isolation policies. And they also had information on how spending on certain services dropped by more than a third over a two-year period even as inmate population did not.
But Reinhardt, in refusing to require each inmate to prove his or her rights were violated, said the claims alleged "systemic failures'' in the prison's health care system "that expose all inmates to a substantial risk of serious harm.'' And if that is the case, Reinhardt said that would require a wholesale revamp of the agency's policies -- and not simply correcting the problems of the 13 inmates who filed the original 2012 lawsuit.
That paved the way for a trial to begin Monday.
No one from the Department of Corrections would agree to be interviewed about the decision to settle after two years of disputing the allegations. Instead, the agency issued a prepared statement from Director Charles Ryan calling the deal "positive news'' for his agency -- and essentially claiming victory.
"On the eve of trial, the plaintiffs in this case have essentially agreed that the department's current policies and practices, along with recent enhancements to programming opportunities, adequately addresses the plaintiffs' concerns relating to constitutional healthcare and conditions of confinement for maximum custody mentally ill inmates,'' the statement read.
But agency spokesman Doug Nick refused to detail what changes the department has made since the lawsuit was filed and why, if there were no problems, it took two years to settle.
The department's statement, however, suggests that money was a consideration in opting not to go to trial where a judge might have ordered some more extensive -- and expensive -- changes in inmate health care.
It says that California is spending nearly $18,000 per inmate for health care following two decades of litigation brought by the same organizations who are representing inmates here. "By contrast, Arizona spends nearly $3,800 per inmate in health care costs,'' the statement says.
The allegations made -- ones that Nick will not address -- were serious.
They include "lengthy and dangerous delays'' and "outright denials of health care,'' failure to provide necessary medication, a practice of "`employing insufficient health care staff,'' substandard dental care and denial of basic mental health care to suicidal and self-harming prisoners. The lawsuit also said that inmates in isolation units were denied adequate recreation and nutrition, constant cell illumination and inadequate mental health care staffing and treatment.
To prove their case, the inmates presented evidence of the agency's policies, internal communications and reports from four experts in prison medical care and conditions of confinement. And they provided specific incidents.
One involves an inmate who collapsed in his cell from a heart attack but where the lawsuit says officers told prisoners who asked for help to "wait and see what happens.'' While the inmate was taken, eventually, to the medical unit, he was told he had a medical appointment in a few days.
But the inmate, according to the lawsuit, had another heart attack the next day and died.
The legal papers also cite a prisoner, four months pregnant who experienced painful contractions and spotting blood. But a staffer at the medical unit told her it was nothing serious and "all in her head,'' refusing to allow her to see someone for evaluation.
She eventually miscarried.
State health officials are facing a new legal challenge over a provision in the voter-approved Medical Marijuana Act that bars those who live within 25 miles of a dispensary from growing their own plants.
Congressional hopeful Adam Kwasman formally disclosed Thursday he has a type of blood cancer but denied the timing of his press conference is political.
State judges cannot bar those placed on probation from using medical marijuana if they are otherwise eligible, the state Court of Appeals ruled Friday. And that even includes those who were convicted for drug offenses.
A Pima County Superior Court judge may have paved the way for the state's more than 52,000 medical marijuana users to get into business of selling the drug, at least to each other.
his July 4, Americans again celebrated our nation and its organizing principle: Liberty. We know that our founding document establishes our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. We’re proud to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave” and to pledge “liberty and justice for all”.
Saying the elderly can be abused anywhere, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday that hospitals can be sued under special laws designed to protect vulnerable adults.
Allegedly professionals at the Phoenix Veterans Administration Hospital knowingly and willfully delayed, misled, and maltreated our nation’s veterans, and that infuriates me and it should infuriate every American.
In a ruling potentially affecting thousands of Arizonans, a federal appeals court on Tuesday voided a cost-saving bid by the state's Medicaid program to deny incontinence briefs to some adults who need them.
Citing everything from protecting women's health to God's opposition to the procedure, state senators gave final approval Wednesday to legislation allowing unannounced warrantless inspection of abortion clinics.
Supporters of medical marijuana research have targeted a Republican state senator for recall because she is blocking a measure that could fund it. But the measure could be more public relations than actual political power.
If you are currently out of the workforce or looking for a new job, there are hundreds of employers looking for workers in the Valley. We found these companies and more on indeed.com , simplyhired.com and jobing.com .
Cops take your pot?
Republican lawmakers asked the state Court of Appeals Wednesday to give them a chance to prove that hundreds of millions of dollars being used to support an expanded Medicaid program are being collected illegally.
A Phoenix Republican lawmaker is using her power to single-handedly kill a House-passed bill that could provide the necessary funds to finally have a study of possible beneficial effects of medical marijuana.
Libraries in Mesa will host workshops to provide information on the Affordable Care Act, Healthcare Marketplace and Healthcare.gov.
Proponents of a change in laws on religious freedom get a last chance today to convince Gov. Jan Brewer to sign the legislation.
Bryan University is opening a new education and broadcast center in Tempe on the corner of Mill Avenue and Washington Street. The university will celebrate the opening of the center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Feb. 20 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
The parents of a brain-damaged Mesa boy have a right to ask court permission to be able to buy and administer marijuana extracts for their child, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled late Friday.
A lawsuit challenging Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's Medicaid expansion plan that was filed by fellow Republicans in the state Legislature was dismissed in a ruling released Saturday, handing Brewer a major victory in her battle against conservative members of her own party.
Federal officials on Friday poured cold water on Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin's plan to force Medicaid recipients to get a job and to limit their insurance to a maximum of five years, saying the proposals likely run counter to federal law and won't be approved.