Arizona Legislative Leadership Speak on Several topics in the New Year

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau Communication and Organization Director: Every Year, Arizona Farm Bureau reaches out to party leaders in the Arizona Legislature and asks them to share their goals for the new legislative year. This year is no exception.

 

After one of the most contentious elections on record last November, at the end of the day elected Republicans and Democrats must come together and work out our issues that will advance Arizona’s economy, improve education and more. Arizona Farm Bureau is dedicated to advocating for our industry and hearing from our legislative representatives. Senate President Steve Yarbrough, Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios give their top priorities for the year.

By Steve Yarbrough (R-Dist 17)

Senate President

Happy New Year from the State Senate! In a matter of days, Members from all over the state will convene at the Capitol for the beginning of the 53rd Legislature, 1st Regular Session. I am honored to serve you for the next two years as President of the Senate. It is a time of transition in our state and in Washington, and I look forward to the work ahead.

Having grown up on a farm in eastern New Mexico I value greatly our agricultural community and I welcome the opportunity to communicate some thoughts.

As always, the budget is what defines the priorities of the state government. Our growth continues at a steady but modest pace. We are 90 months into the current expansion, and a downturn is certainly possible in the next couple years. Although our Rainy Day Fund is approaching $500 million, it isn't enough to handle even a `1% reduction in state revenue. In addition, formula spending uses up nearly all projected revenue increases. That includes large increases for K-12 education and health care. What it doesn't include is hundreds of millions in requests by state agencies for new spending. It is easy to see why I have been cautioning others to be very circumspect about spending taxpayer money.

So what else should we expect to see at the Capitol this session? I expect Governor Ducey to propose a continuation of his desire to diminish business regulation. The Governor has indicated a preference to reduce taxes every year, so I would expect to see that in the 2018 budget. In education, we look forward to successful reimplementation of the A-F school rating system. This gives parents clear information and helps provide a basis for rewarding outstanding teacher performance.

As Obamacare continues its collapse, we will search for the best solutions to improve health care in America. The Legislature will continue to insist on improvements at the Department of Child Safety. We also need to help make certain the free exercise of religion is not sacrificed as the federal judiciary invents new constitutional rights.

The upcoming session holds great promise. Our finances are largely in good shape, and we have strong leadership in place to work for all Arizonans. I am proud of the collegiality we have in the Senate, and I am confident we will work together to improve life in this great state.

By Katie Hobbs (D-Dist 24)

Senate Minority Leader

Education is the key to Arizona's economic success. It's a simple fact that is backed up by research, the experiences of other states and by history.

Yet for most of the last decade Arizona's priority has been to drastically slash education funding in favor of corporate tax cuts which research, experience and history have shown to have no measurable effect on economic growth. Arizona's economic recovery still trails behind the national average, despite those tax cuts being sold with wild promises of good fortune.

Seven months ago Arizona voters approved Prop 123, the school funding lawsuit settlement that paid school districts only some of what the state owed them. At the time, Governor Ducey promised to work with legislators and school districts to develop a "step two" that would make up more of the funding that was cut. But here we are, with not one word about that next step and with school funding still at 48th in the nation.

Even after passage of Prop 123, polls show that Arizonans overwhelmingly agree that our district schools still deserve more resources to succeed. We have a plan for a next step that would allocate available funds for teacher recruitment, retention and training as well as provide classroom resources to replace outdated materials and technology.

Arizona currently spends more than five times per inmate than it does per student with your hard-earned tax dollars. What does it say about our state when we prioritize prisons over schools? It says we have given up hope for children who are at risk of dropping out. It says we put more faith in locking up our fellow Arizonans than preventing this by providing the skills they need to strive and achieve. This must change.

Irresponsible budget cuts and taxes that overburden the poor and middle class while favoring corporations and the rich have left our state unable to meet the basic needs of our state. Our roads are crumbling, our schools still struggle and preventive services have been cut that keep people and families from needing expensive state intervention like child safety and the courts.

We can change our state's priorities and restore the revenue needed to achieve them - all that's needed is the will to do so. But with an entrenched majority in control of the Legislature, we will need the help of every Arizonan to tell your legislators that you prioritize education over incarceration, prevention over punishment and fair taxes for all, not tax cuts for special interests.

By J.D. Mesnard (R-Dist 17)

House Speaker

Leading the Arizona House of Representatives is a tremendous honor and a serious responsibility, and my legislative goals for the House in 2017 reflect the significant challenges facing Arizona.  Sustaining an environment conducive to economic growth, ensuring the state has a quality education system, and restoring civility to government have been priorities of mine since entering public service, and they will continue to be next year.

By simplifying our tax code and reducing the regulatory burden on small businesses, Arizona can empower the private sector to create jobs and foster innovation.  While Arizona certainly stands out among our neighbors as a good place to invest capital and grow a business, more can be done.  Collapsing Arizona's five income tax brackets down to one will create a fairer, simpler system that encourages, rather than penalizes, success.

In order to ensure that Arizona stays on a prosperous path for decades to come, we need a steady stream of capable and skilled workers entering our labor force.  That will require meaningful reform in how we fund education.  Arizona's K-12 financing system is the most complicated in the country.  Too many dollars never make it to the classroom, and those that do often times come with strings that tie the hands of parents and teachers.  Not only do teachers deserve greater freedom over how education dollars are spent in their classroom, but they deserve salaries that reflect the vital work they do.

Finally, after an unusually acrimonious and partisan election cycle, I hope to restore a sense of confidence in and a spirit of cooperation within our government institutions.  Republicans and Democrats certainly won't always agree on how best to solve the challenges facing our state, or even what constitutes a challenge.  However, there will be many areas where we can work together, and when we must oppose each other, I pledge to do so with respect and civility.

As the Arizona House of Representatives prepares to confront looming challenges next year, we also stand ready to capitalize on the many opportunities that surely await the state.  I'm optimistic and excited about what's in store for Arizona in 2017.

By Rebecca Rios (D-Dist 27)

House Minority Leader

As the new legislative session approaches, Arizona House Democrats are committed to the priorities that will best prepare our state for the future: improving public education and strengthening our economy. As a more than $17 billion industry in Arizona, agriculture plays an important role in the state's economy. In an effort to support Arizona agriculture, and our economy more broadly, we will continue to support policies that foster the state's trade infrastructure.

Arizona must be active in ensuring its competitiveness in the future. The effects of the last economic downturn still linger in this state. Job creation and education must be priorities because, while many Arizonans are prospering, many are still struggling to recover.

Education will always be a top priority for House Democrats because investing in education is crucial for long-term economic strength. Our children will carry our state through the 21st century, and they must be prepared to navigate its increasingly interconnected economy. Arizona needs rigorous standards and common sense accountability in our schools. And our schools need more robust and sustainable funding than they have received in years. Agriculture benefits, along with every other industry in Arizona, from reliable and skilled workers. And the best way to guarantee that Arizona's businesses will have the workforce they need is to ensure that our schools have the resources they need to prepare students for college and 21st century careers. We are encouraged to know that community and business leaders are already working together to support Arizona's schools. House Democrats will continue to work with those leaders to expand sustainable, high-wage jobs in the industries Arizona counts on, and especially those, like agriculture and biotechnology, that thrive in rural areas.

Sensible budget solutions with be the key to safeguarding Arizona's economic strength. House Democrats are eager to work with our colleagues to pass a balanced budget that fosters job growth without hurting Arizona families and businesses by under prioritizing education. We are ready to set aside strict partisanship and focus on common-sense policies because our only goal is to move Arizona forward.