Maintaining Arizona’s reputation as a “go-to” state for businesses and expanding school choices for parents are top priorities for the new chair of the Arizona House Ways and Means Committee.
Rep. Shawnna Bolick (R-Phoenix) is the new chair of the committee, which is important to business and industry, having jurisdiction over taxation and other revenue-raising measures.
Bolick, who is the outgoing vice chair of the committee, spoke to Chamber Business News about what she foresees as priorities in 2021.
As an advocate for small businesses, Bolick said she will continue to support legislation that is focused on lessening or eliminating taxes, attracting and keeping businesses, and helping companies still struggling from pandemic disruptions.
“We’re discussing how we build our path forward to make sure Arizona remains a go-to state. I come from a mindset that we really need to reform the state tax code. It would be really ideal if we were a state without a state income tax state. Obviously, that will take a few steps to get there,” Bolick said.
A school choice advocate, Bolick’s career includes consulting for nonprofits like the Alliance for School Choice, the Arizona Charter School Association and Arizona School Choice Trust. One of her top priorities will be making sure Arizona families continue to have many options for their children to give them the best education possible.
Lessening impact of new tax on small business top concern
As the legislative session starts this month, Bolick said her top concern is to find ways to reduce the negative impact on businesses from Proposition 208. The proposition created a new tax for top earning individuals and couples but also is expected to affect tens of thousands of small businesses. These are “pass through” entities, meaning they do not file their income taxes as corporations. Instead, they file under the individual tax code.
Under the new law, Arizona’s top income tax rate has jumped from thirteenth lowest in the nation to the ninth highest, going from 4.5 to 8 percent, a 78 percent increase, affecting individuals who earn $250,000 and joint filers who earn $500,000. Small business owners who file under the individual tax code are subject to the tax as well.
The new tax rate could not only hurt Arizona’s small businesses — companies with 500 or fewer employees — but it could act as a deterrent for new growth, Bolick said. If measures aren’t taken to mitigate the damage, Arizona could become a “flyover state” for businesses looking for a new place to land.
“I’m very focused on ensuring Arizona becomes a destination to capture businesses and individuals fleeing high tax states like California. I believe we need to make sure companies at least consider our state before they head to Texas or Florida to do business,” she said.
Bolick has been meeting with other lawmakers, business groups, taxpayers and other stakeholders taxpayers to find solutions. Some options include property tax relief for businesses, flattening tax brackets, and tax incentives.
More education choices, more control for parents
Another top goal will be to expand education choices for families, whether they choose a charter, district, private, online, home school or other option for their children, she said.
Covid-19 has highlighted the stark disparities among socioeconomic classes, she said.
Charter schools often have smaller class sizes and can be a better fit for some students.
“Obviously, affluent families have the means to enroll their kids in private schools and hire tutors,” Bolick said. “Lower income students need to have school choice options. I don’t think many even know they exist even though there’s a private school or charter school up the street that is open and has been open the entire semester.”
As a parent during Covid-19 school shutdowns, Bolick has seen firsthand how difficult learning has been for families. One option is to create more learning pods and “micro” schools where students can excel in small group settings, she said.
“As a parent of two children, one in high school and one in college, I’m seeing exactly how they are learning and where they’re learning has truly changed.”
One benefit from the pandemic is the realization that children can learn anywhere, she said.
“Fortunately, we reduced some of the regulatory barriers for online learning and now that districts and charters have an appetite for some of that, we might see some new models coming forth,” she said. “Kids can learn from anywhere now. It shouldn’t be relegated to one or two buildings.”
Expect legislation on initiative reform
Bolick also expects bills coming forth to reform the state’s ballot initiative process.
In recent years, special interest groups and individuals outside of Arizona have waged expensive campaign battles to get initiatives like Proposition 208 passed, she said. Often, these campaigns are not fully thought out when it comes to what is best for Arizona.
“Businesses are not going to keep coming here if we continue to allow out-of-state groups and individuals to basically run our state,” Bolick said. “I believe Arizona has so many untapped resources and so much potential, I want to make sure that we’re not getting in the way of growing business.”
Public policy background
Bolick is currently serving her second term in the state House of Representatives. Bolick graduated from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs with a B.A. in policy studies. She completed her Masters of Public Policy graduate coursework from American University in Washington, D.C. She interned in the New York State Assembly one semester and later worked for former Texas Lt. Governor Rick Perry on his high-tech council.
Bolick also is an education advocate, having served as a member of the Arizona State Board of Education’s Academic Standards Development Committee as a public high school parent and as an appointee to Arizona’s Early Childhood Education and Health Board by Governor Doug Ducey.