Attracting high paying jobs and new industry and securing funding for infrastructure projects are top priorities for Arizona’s new U.S. senator, Mark Kelly, who spoke to the real estate community Friday.
At the top of his list, however, is helping to quickly advance a new federal stimulus package to help families and small businesses still struggling from the effects of the pandemic, said Kelly (D), who laid out his priorities at a virtual breakfast meeting of the nonprofit Valley Partnership, the voice of the real estate community in the Phoenix region.
“There’s still a lot or work ahead to beat this virus and rebuild our economy. That’s my focus,” Kelly said. “We need to pass this relief bill quickly. Not only to tackle the virus but also to get our economy back on track. That is critical. We need to do that now.”
The U.S. House approved a $1.9 trillion stimulus package Saturday and now it goes to the Senate where there is pressure to approve a package before enhanced unemployment benefits run out on March 14. But its fate clearly is in question. The House proposal was voted mostly along party lines. The bill would provide funds for vaccine distribution, manufacturing, public health, direct payments to families, relief for small businesses, and resources for schools so they can safely reopen.
Help for seniors in crisis
Many of Arizona’s seniors need immediate help as well, Kelly said. They are struggling with severe isolation and an inability to schedule and get to Covid vaccine appointments. Mobile meal services are overwhelmed.
To address the crisis, Kelly co-sponsored legislation to provide $1.5 billion to the aging network for meal delivery, vaccine outreach, programming, and caregiver support.
More than 180 attendees tuned in to hear Kelly list his goals for the coming year. In addition to Covid relief, Kelly listed a number of priorities to further economic recovery in Arizona including:
Semiconductor manufacturing, military installations
Attracting manufacturing jobs and protecting Arizona’s military installations are near the top of the list, said Kelly, a former NASA Space Shuttle pilot and retired U.S. Navy captain and pilot.
Kelly said he supported the bipartisan CHIPS for America Act passed by Congress in December as part of the annual defense bill. An important piece of the legislation for Arizona are incentives for the domestic manufacturing of semiconductors to compete on the global stage, he said.
“This will help bring high paying manufacturing jobs to Arizona,” Kelly said. “Not only is this important to rebuilding our economy, it’s also a national security imperative to grow American leadership in our semiconductor sector.”
Arizona’s semiconductor industry is an economic engine for the state. In 2020, the industry in Arizona had an $8 billion wage impact and was ranked No. 4 in the U.S. for semiconductor manufacturing jobs, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.
Light rail, freeway to Vegas, border ports of entry
Kelly listed several transportation infrastructure projects he supports including funding for the modernization of border ports of entry in Arizona, completion of the Interstate-11 freeway from Phoenix to Las Vegas, and infrastructure projects for tribal and rural areas.
Another goal is to ensure progress stays on track for a project to extend light rail to connect South Phoenix with the downtown corridor. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration recently approved a $529.8 million grant to go towards Valley Metro’s 5.5-mile South Central light rail extension and downtown hub project.
The grant will cover close to a third of the $1.35 billion project, according to Valley Metro, with another $108 million coming from the Federal Highway Administration. The South Central light rail extension and downtown hub project is scheduled to be completed by 2024.
“Expansion of Valley Metro light rail is going to continue to connect the region with affordable transportation options and it’s going to lead to greater economic growth as we work to attract more companies to come to Arizona, which is a priority of mine,” he said.
Renewable energy, broadband, drought
Other important projects include renewable energy infrastructure and jobs, expanded broadband statewide, and protection and infrastructure for Arizona water supplies, Kelly said.
“We cannot grow our economy without securing the future of water in Arizona and we want to grow our economy. We want folks to come here. We want business to come here,” Kelly said.
Kelly also spoke about his commitment to work with others on Capitol Hill.
“The way we are going to tackle these challenges is by finding common ground and working together,” said Kelly, who was elected in a special election Nov. 3 to finish out the last two years of the vacant seat of Sen. John McCain, who died in 2018.
“The legacy of this Senate seat, previously held by Senator John McCain, is one of independence and integrity and working across the aisle. He was willing to stand up for his country and do what he believed was in the best interest of Arizona and our nation,” he said. “That legacy of service, I don’t think it will ever be matched, but it is something we should all strive for, especially right now.”
Kelly said he will be a strong advocate for all Arizonans and that starts with “listening and learning.”
Sen. Kelly’s committee assignments
As a new senator, Kelly received six committee assignments:
- Armed Services
- SubCommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities
- Special Committee on Aging
- Energy and Natural Resources
- Environment and Public Works
- Joint Economic Committee