Governor Doug Ducey’s seventh State of the State address was delivered under the most difficult circumstances the state and nation have faced during his tenure as governor.
The January 6 invasion of the United States Capitol, something that hasn’t happened since 1814 when the U.S. was at war with Britain, shocked all Americans.
The country is in the grips of a pandemic that has spared no state its wrath, including Arizona. More than 10,000 Arizonans have lost their lives to this terrible disease.
The task before the governor was to convey a message that all Arizonans, regardless of political affiliation, age, or zip code could unite around. He delivered. The governor used his speech to present a thoughtful, soberminded policy response to the pandemic that has affected every facet of life in Arizona.
Job 1 is to ensure the vaccines get into the arms of as many Arizonans as quickly as possible. The state is rolling out the vaccine to sites urban and rural, including a massive 24/7 site at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. Thanks to the healthcare professionals whose work over the past year has been nothing short of heroic, as many as 6,000 Arizonans each day will get a jab in the arm at that location alone (including my mom, who just got her first dose).
The governor and legislative leaders are rightly focused on restoring Arizona’s health. But there are some, unfortunately, who would choose to use this period as a chance to make a quick buck.
The Chamber agrees strongly with Gov. Ducey that this statewide emergency shouldn’t be leveraged by trial lawyers to file frivolous Covid exposure lawsuits. Employers large and small, cities and town, schools and universities, hospitals and healthcare providers, and nonprofits that are responsibly adhering to all applicable public health protocols should be lauded, not punished. We’ll be leading the coalition to ensure a smartly tailored liability protection bill gets to the governor’s desk, just as other states have done with bipartisan support.
Not only is the governor focused on restoring Arizona’s health, but he also wants to ensure Arizona bounces back strongly from the pandemic-induced economic downturn.
We’re in better shape than much of the country, but there is still work to do. Our important hospitality sector, for example, is still struggling. Small businesses have been particularly hard hit. Not only are they grappling with the fallout of the pandemic, but many of them could be hit with one of the highest small business taxes in the country due to the narrow passage of Proposition 208 in November.
The new tax is facing a legal challenge due to its apparent violation of the revenue expenditure limit in the state constitution, something the nonpartisan Legislative Council identified before petition signatures were gathered. If the tax stands, though, it will only reinforce the need to “think big” on tax reform this year, as the governor said.
Just as the governor and the Legislature have been able to count on the Arizona Chamber to lead the business community in previous efforts to enhance Arizona’s competitiveness, we’re ready to roll up our sleeves on tax reform in 2021.
The pandemic has also dramatically affected Arizona’s school-aged kids. From Kindergarten to higher education, too many students haven’t been inside a classroom since last March.
Some families have been able to adapt with online learning or have pivoted to charter schools, private schools, homeschool pods, or have taken advantage of other options on the state’s school choice menu. For many families, however, the pandemic’s effect on their child’s education has meant nothing but frustration and worry.
The governor wants to help, and so do we.
In 2021, we’re ready to partner with Gov. Ducey and the Legislature to bridge the digital divide exacerbated by the pandemic, as well as ensure there are resources to support kids who’ve fallen behind academically. We look forward to building on our record of a relentless pursuit of increased funding for education as evidenced by our support for initiatives like the 20×2020 teacher pay raise plan, Proposition 123’s infusion of $3.5 billion from the state Land Trust into the K-12 system, the Results Based Funding plan to reward schools producing outstanding results, and more.
As a result of our efforts and the hard work of Gov. Ducey and the state Legislature, Arizona is now spending more on K-12 education on a per-pupil basis from all sources than at any time in the state’s history.
Like Gov. Ducey, what we cannot support, however, is an erosion of school choices. Due to the educational disruptions wrought by the pandemic, many parents are taking advantage of the choices Arizona affords for the very first time. These options have proven a lifesaver for some families. We should increase Arizona’s choices, not roll them back. For example, the governor has identified transportation an area ripe to help increase choice.
Similarly, we will continue to champion accountability for educational dollars. Employers have demonstrated a willingness and desire to back increased funding for education, but they expect results and wise stewardship.
The governor and Legislature begin their work in 2021 amid significant challenges. But thanks to the deployment of lifesaving vaccines and with more in the pipeline, each day is a little bit brighter. No matter what happens this legislative session from a policymaking perspective, let’s heed Gov. Ducey’s counsel to approach this year with a spirit of unity and compassion.
Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.