Policy goals, optimism dished up at Arizona Chamber’s 2021 Legislative Forecast Luncheon

Supporting small businesses still struggling during the pandemic, bolstering the state’s stressed healthcare system, and reducing the influence of out-of-state interests on Arizona’s ballot initiative process are some of the top items on the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s wish list for state legislators this year.  

The Chamber revealed these and a host of other policy recommendations Friday during its annual 2021 Legislative Forecast Luncheon. Governor Doug Ducey and legislative leaders also discussed their priorities at the event.

“The health crisis has upended not only the Arizona economy but the entire world in this global pandemic,” said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber. “Arizona has weathered this pandemic downturn just about better than any state and, as I’ve said many times, our governor has had just the right touch as we have weathered this once-in-a-century event.

“But some of our industries like tourism and hospitality continue to struggle.”

Hamer praised “heroic” healthcare providers and workers in saving lives. He also decried the violent protest that took place at the nation’s Capitol last Wednesday, resulting in five deaths. 

Almost 900 attend event to hear recommendations from business, lawmakers 

The Chamber and the Arizona Manufacturers Council hold the event every year to release their comprehensive guide of policy recommendations as well as hear from the governor and legislative leaders about their priorities for the legislative session that kicks off today. 

Almost 900 people attended the virtual event including dozens of local, state and federal elected officials and business and community leaders. Hamer thanked the sponsor of the event, Cox Communications, for providing the internet infrastructure that has proved essential for thousands of job creators and their employees to continue thriving during one of the “most disruptive economic periods in history.”

Gov. Ducey calls on everyone to prevent the spread   

This year’s short-term priorities were quite different from last year when state leaders grappled with topics like how to keep up with mushrooming population growth and the booming economy. 

This year, ensuring Arizona citizens receive Covid-19 vaccines quickly and bringing the economy to full recovery were top goals of all who spoke. 

Governor Doug Ducey made several remarks about his priorities for the session. Arizonans’ health is the number one priority now. Getting Arizona citizens vaccinated is critical, he said. 

“This is a modern medical miracle that I don’t think anyone could have foreseen in March,” Ducey said about the successful race to get a vaccine for the deadly virus. “Not only do we have the vaccines here from Pfizer and Moderna and others on the way, they are in the state and they are going into people’s arms.”

Ducey, whose 97-year-old grandmother just received her vaccine, said elderly citizens and health care and essential workers will be vaccinated first before the general public at large. 

Government will also focus on helping the underserved populations in tribal and rural areas.

Communicating that this vaccine is safe and effective is another priority to “get us back to normal as quickly as possible,” the governor said.   

Catching students up post pandemic 

As vaccines roll out, providing resources to education to bring children back up to speed in academics is another important step for economic recovery, Ducey said. Jobs and the economy will naturally follow, he said, and “no state is better positioned than the state of Arizona” to succeed.

Other priorities mentioned by the governor were to continue to work to strengthen relations with Mexico, secure public safety and commerce at the border, and champion Arizona tourism and exports on the world stage. 

Legislative leadership focused on covid, education, small businesses, jobs 

The event also featured a “fireside chat” with Senate President Karen Fann, Senate Minority Leader-elect Rebecca Rios, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, and House Minority Leader-elect Reginald Bolding, who spoke about what their priorities will be for the session. 

All stated that helping citizens and businesses recover from the pandemic is a major goal. Pressing issues include helping the unemployed get back to work, preventing families from being evicted from their homes, attracting and retaining business and industry, supporting education, and funding infrastructure like broadband access and highway construction.  

Chamber business agenda unveiled 

At the event, the Chamber and Manufacturers Council provided digital copies of comprehensive policy recommendations for the year. Hundreds of goals with business in mind include topics around education, free trade, civil justice reform, workforce development, the environment and water resources, transportation, tourism and much more. 

Dawn Grove, chair of the Chamber’s board of directors, said that “first and foremost” priority will be recovery from the pandemic and mitigating the impact from Proposition 208. 

The proposition, adopted in November, 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 dampen investment here, Grove said. 

Among measures being proposed to help the small business community and keep the state a desired location for new industry are reductions in commercial property taxes. 

Chamber officials will also be pressing state lawmakers to enact laws to protect employers, cities and towns, and organizations from “predatory” Covid-19 lawsuits. 

Reforming state ballot initiative process another high priority

Chamber officials also will be calling on the Legislature to continue to work in a bipartisan manner, pass laws to promote educational excellence in schools, and to reform the state’s ballot initiative law that has been overtaken by out-of-staters, Grove said. 

“Arizona’s propositions, as you know, once passed can almost never be changed even when they cause the opposite of their intended results,” Grove said. “We can and we must do better together. Our second priority will be to advance reforms to protect our initiative system from out-of-state agendas and enhance the credibility of the system. 

“While recent reforms have added some rigor to the citizen initiative system, Arizona’s system remains attractive to out-of-state groups to use our ballot box to implement policies not in Arizona’s best interest, in part because they know it’s so easy to pass here and so hard to change.”

To read the full business agenda from the Chamber and Manufacturer’s Council, go to:  2021 Business Agenda

Victoria Harker

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