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Arizona cannot delay education finance reform much longer

MArizonans went to the polls earlier this month to elect a new governor and decide who would represent them in many state offices and the United States Congress. Of the 35 legislative candidates that the Chamber’s Political Action Committee endorsed in the General Election, 34 won their races and will join or re-join the Arizona Legislature when the session begins in January. These candidates are committed to the same economic initiatives as the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce: economic growth, job creation and business retention.

While the campaign season is over, the real work is just beginning. So what’s happened since the election? We now have more clarity on the newly elected leaders in the House and Senate, both in the majority and minority. We also welcome Doug Ducey as he takes office in January as Arizona’s twenty-third governor. Ducey’s strong leadership will be crucial to kick-starting the state’s economy. As 2015 fast approaches, we must focus on the key issues that lie ahead.

When the Arizona Legislature returns to session in the new year, education finance will be just one of the key issues the Chamber’s public affairs team will be working on with our lawmakers. Education finance reform will require balance and input from all stakeholders, but cannot be delayed much longer.

Education finance is very complex and is an issue of high concern for many stakeholders, including educators, legislators and the business community. As the largest consumer of state funds, K-12 education funding is a topic that continues to be passionately debated. All stakeholders want a school system that is adequately and fairly funded. However, the existing regime is brimming with exceptions and there are far more points of contention in the K-12 funding debate than agreement. Why is this important to the business community? Through our numerous points of payment, the business community is the largest taxpayer funding the existing system.

Bringing the hotly debated topic of education finance to the forefront will hopefully help lead the community at large into a more informed discussion about the future of education finance in Arizona. But simply stated, an educated workforce translates into more qualified workers, which in turn creates a better environment for business growth and expansion.

It is also critical that a sustainable fiscal path is charted for the state as a whole, without negatively impacting our hard-fought upward economic trajectory forged in the wake of the Great Recession. The state of Arizona is facing a $1.5 billion deficit over the next year and a half. We would love to see a projected growth for the state, which in turn means more revenue for state needs.

We all benefit and share in the value of predictability and stability. It’s good news that our business environment in Arizona remains stabile from a tax and regulatory perspective. And it’s important that taxes remain predictable. However, some changes still need to be addressed. During the recession, extraordinary measures were implemented to raise revenue. These fees should be reviewed and reevaluated. We will continue to support a regulatory environment that helps businesses of all sizes thrive and create jobs.

In addition to serving the business community, the Chamber is also a valuable resource for lawmakers. More than 70 percent of Chamber members are small business owners who serve as the voice of business. As the largest most established business organization in the state of Arizona, it is the Chamber’s mission to ensure the voice and positions of the business community are heard on critical issues that impact local businesses and our economy.

With the election behind us, citizen and business owner involvement doesn’t have to end at the voting booth. The Chamber’s public affairs committees are a great way for business owners to help shape the direction we take as an organization in the public policy arena. I encourage business owners of all sizes to get involved in the process, whether it’s by participating in one of our public affairs committees or just by letting the Chamber know where they stand on issues affecting their business. Many people think, “Oh, I don’t have the time” or “I can’t make a difference” but the truth is, business people from all industry sectors devote the time and do make a difference. In addition, business owners can engage elected officials directly to make further progress on important issues like a qualified workforce and an appropriate tax and regulatory environment that enable business to flourish.

The Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce looks forward to collaborating with all of our elected officials on these important issues in 2015 to do what they do best — lead and govern. And these issues require real leadership. Together, we can foster constructive dialogue to continue to move Arizona forward. Our business community and our state will be better for it.

– Todd Sanders is president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

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