If this unfortunate legislative session has to be remembered in years to come, it will be recalled as a time that politicians put sideshows ahead of seriousness. Birther bills, birthright citizenship, and tea party license plates are great at getting partisan activists riled up. They do nothing to address the everyday challenges that are facing Arizonans – a struggling economy, a broken public education system and high rates of crime. It is for their inaction on these fronts that this Legislature will be remembered.
The greatest deficit Arizona is currently facing is in leadership. So it is important that we not only call out Russell Pearce’s Republican legislators for what they did wrong, but show what a mainstream agenda would mean to Arizona:
• A Stronger Economy: After five years of the worst job loss in Arizona history, the Legislature still has not passed a comprehensive economic recovery plan that would help businesses create, not shed, jobs – and a corporate tax cut that takes effect three years from now doesn’t count. With investments, incentives and tax cuts, we could be making Arizona the nation’s “entrepreneurial economy” – the place known for throwing open the door to start-ups and new ventures that are the greatest engine of job creation. We should become the solar state – what Silicon Valley is to computers or Motor City was to cars. Much of this could be done without spending new money. All of it would pay for itself much faster than a new round of tax cuts geared toward the very few.
Unfortunately, the reasonable voices in the business community have been all but ignored in this Legislature. That’s why this week we held the first meeting of our Business and Entrepreneurship Council. We invite business leaders – Democrats, Republicans and independents – to join us in a serious, adult conversation about how we can turn Arizona’s economy around.
• Safer Streets: With Arizona facing the highest property crime rates in America, the Legislature has been forcing our local governments to take cops off our streets. We should instead be making it easier to recruit new police officers and firefighters and give them the tools they need on the job.
• Better Schools: The unnecessary slashing cuts to education – from kindergarten through college – will leave Arizona in an economic hole for years to come. Arizona is already near the bottom on many education measurements. This is a crisis and should be treated as one. We should be working with business, education, and community leaders on an emergency education agenda that combines resources and reform to bring higher standards and more accountability to our schools, more decision-making power to parents and teachers, and a real opportunity to the kids who are our state’s future.
• Fiscal Responsibility and Reform: As the Goldwater Institute’s Byron Schlomach put it, this year’s budget was “long on reshuffling and short on fundamental reform.” Clearly cuts were needed to state government, but rather than using the budget crisis as a smokescreen to pursue an ideological agenda, the Legislature should have used it as an opportunity to fundamentally change the way state government works by making it work better and waste less. Other states have been cutting away layers of bureaucracy, empowering their citizens with more decision-making power and bringing real accountability. We should do the same.
For mainstream and middle-class Arizonans, this session produced very little other than local tax increases, more dangerous communities, higher health care costs, and larger class sizes for their kids. On the other hand, fringe extremists got just about everything on their wish list. That balance needs to change. With redistricting on the horizon, Arizona has the best chance to do so in a generation. A mainstream, big-tent Democratic Party is ready to make common cause with independents and fed-up Republicans to change that balance.
— Andrei Cherny is chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.