Down Legislative Way on Chamber Day

March 1, 2014

A delegation of members of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber traveled to the state capitol recently for the annual Chamber Day, the largest gathering of Chambers from across the state at the legislature. Led by Government Affairs Director Mike Sistak, members spent the day in Phoenix hearing from statewide officials and agency directors, then met individually with state senators and representatives.

Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs discussed the importance that chambers of commerce play in decision-making at the capitol. He noted that as the unified voice of the business community, it is important for chambers and legislators to be in constant communication, so that the concerns of business leaders and employees are heard.
The chambers also heard from John Halikowski, the Director of the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and John Huppenthal, the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Halikowski discussed the significant investments ADOT is making in commerce corridors, improving the highway infrastructure that connects us to cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Albuquerque, as well as our international trade routes to various cities throughout Mexico.

It is anticipated that over the next 20 years Arizona’s exports to nearby states such as California and Texas will increase by 280% and 330%, respectively. To Mexico, that export will increase by 410% or $35.6 billion. Halikowski stressed that in order for our state to achieve these expected results that we have to invest properly in our infrastructure to accommodate the increase in highway traffic that would result, coupled with the anticipated population growth of the state. To stay ahead of the need, ADOT anticipates investing roughly $1 billion per year throughout the state for the next twenty years.

Superintendent Huppenthal discussed with the group the recent changes made in the public education system in Arizona, most notably the legislation passed in 2013 that repealed the use of the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test. As a result, the AIMS test being administered this spring will be the last time that the test is given to our states K-12 students. The Greater Flagstaff Chamber’s board of directors endorsed last year the legislation that repealed the use of the AIMS test, which will make way for a new assessment designed to better help prepare our students for a globally competitive workforce. The Chamber has also worked in partnership with several educational initiatives and institutions to see through the implementation and success of Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards (nationally known as Common Core).

After lunch at La Canasta (a Mexican restaurant staple of the capitol area for more than 50 years, where you are almost guaranteed that your table neighbor is a legislator or state official), the group had meetings with individual legislators. With state Senator Chester Crandell, the group discussed the proposal to repeal the sales tax that manufacturers pay for their electricity usage. Arizona is one of the few states in the country to charge this tax and in her State of the State address, Governor Brewer called on the legislature to repeal it to help make Arizona a more business-friendly state. Senator Crandell indicated he is supportive of the measure and wants to help retain and attract businesses to the state, but cautioned such legislation must be done the right way so as not to be seen as making government carve-outs for specific industries. This bill, SB 1413, recently passed out of the Senate Finance Committee on a unanimous 7-0 vote.

Also discussed with the Senator was his bill SB 1227, which would prohibit the adoption of future versions of the International Energy Code by cities and towns. In the summer of 2013, the Greater Flagstaff Chamber was heavily involved in the debate at city hall over the adoption of the 2012 version of the energy code, which was estimated to increase the cost of a 2,000 square-foot home in Flagstaff by as much as $4,300. The Chamber opposed the adoption of the 2012 code and it was ultimately not adopted. Sistak sought assurances from the Senator that his bill would not affect Flagstaff’s Dark Skies ordinance which has recently become a concern. Senator Crandell indicated that it would not and was considering amending the bill to specifically include language to ensure there were no such unintended consequences.

The group also met with Representative TJ Shope of Coolidge, who represents Legislative District 8. Shope serves as the Vice Chairman of the House Commerce Committee and has quickly become a friend of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber. As one of the youngest rural legislators, Shope expressed his understanding of need for rural communities such as Flagstaff and his own hometown of Coolidge to recover the Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF). The state of Arizona collects fees on items such as gasoline and vehicle registrations which is deposited into HURF and then distributed to cities and counties for use in highway construction, road improvements and other related expenses.

However, due to budgetary constraints in recent years HURF has been redirected to other state priorities. For Flagstaff this means either letting our roads fall into disrepair or find a way to fund the project ourselves which results in new local taxes or debt to the city. This legislative session there has been a strong push in the legislature to restore HURF to the cities and counties. The bill, HB 2692, has 56 sponsors, both Republican and Democrat.

The group also met more informally with Speaker of the House Andy Tobin, Senator Don Shooter, and Representative J.D. Mesnard, all of whom expressed their support for manufacturers’ electricity sales tax repeal and restoration of HURF.

For Glenn Leest, a member of the Chamber’s Community and Economic Development Division, it was his first visit to the state capitol. “What I enjoyed most about the visit was just the simple conversations with the legislators and getting to know the real them, beyond what you read about in the newspaper,” Leest said. “They legitimately want to know what your concerns are and how they can address them. I think it’s great too that the Chamber does this visit to Phoenix and I encourage all members to join us next year.”