Jan. 19, 2005 - As the state Legislature jumps into its new session, areas across the cities and towns also begin their own work to figure out how they can maximize their slice of the pie this year and have their issues heard over requests from often louder voices.
In the Northwest, both Oro Valley and the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce say they have been active politically for years and will continue this year to watch priority issues as they wind through the political process.
Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis said working with the Legislature is an "exciting" part of the job, that often is not recognized.
"It's one of those things that happens sort of behind the scenes," Loomis said.
The town has been active in state politics for years, he said, backing the formation of the Regional Transportation Authority, supporting the Save-a-Plant program and encouraging that Help loans be made available to municipalities to aid road improvements.
About six years ago, the town was paying a lobbyist who "watched out for the town's interests," in Phoenix. But since then, Loomis said the town has been fortunate to have council members who have volunteered their time to serve as government liaisons. This council's appointee is Helen Dankwerth.
"They haven't hesitated to go up to Phoenix and meet with a legislator," Loomis said, which is important in getting the town's concerns heard.
Loomis said Oro Valley also is fortunate to have the legislative team of Representatives Pete Hershberger and Steve Huffman and Senator Toni Hellon in the same district as the town.
"All three of them work well together and have been very proactive in working with the town," he said.
Councilmember Conny Culver said the town is not taking any priorities of its own to the state capitol this year, although she would like to see the town work on developing a stance on tort reform. However, with the legislative session already started, she sees it as too late for this year.
"For 2006, hopefully we can move forward with this. I see it as a real local crisis," she said. With the opening of Northwest Medical Center Oro Valley, Culver said it will be important to find a way to keep doctors in business, and she hopes the town will be able to take a local lead on the issue.
But as for this year's priorities, Oro Valley will take the strength in numbers approach, joining with other Arizona municipalities to support several issues.
According to Oro Valley Public Information Officer Bob Kovitz the council and its representatives participate in the League of Arizona Cities and Towns annual legislative priority setting and therefore, take their lead from the league, supporting the agenda that it is proposing.
That agenda it reached through collaboration of Arizona's 89 cities and towns, according to league Legislative Director Kevin Adam. This year, 29 resolutions of issues to support were passed and those were then boiled down to a list of five priorities.
According to the league's web site, those priorities include:
€ Urging the Legislature to enact legislation that would reduce the requirements placed on municipalities when annexing unincorporated areas including county enclaves.
€ Urging the Legislature to pass amendments to the Arizona Constitution and Arizona statutes that provide for coordination of Arizona State Land Department land management plans and land disposition processes with local land use plans and allowing cities and towns to obtain land to be designated as open space.
€ Urging the Legislature to support efforts to preserve and fully fund the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund through full allocation of state lottery moneys to the fund as directed by the voters.
€ Urging Arizona's Congressional Dele-gation, the Governor, Legislature, state committees and agencies and local governments to maintain and develop policies that preserve the mission viability of Arizona's military facilities by limiting encroachment of all types, supporting compatible land uses around such facilities and ensuring the capability for future mission expansions.
€ Urging the Legislature to provide local governments with the much needed tools to encourage economic development in cities and towns, including tax increment financing.
Adam said after this agenda-setting work is done, the league then works on behalf of the cities and towns actively seeking out legislators to sponsor bills and working to get those bills passed, and sometimes "being on the defensive," acting as the eyes and ears of the municipalities and monitoring what happens in Phoenix.
Oro Valley did support a couple of resolutions that did not get the support of the league this year, according to Loomis, including one that would allow police officers to pull over drivers if they do not see the shoulder strap of the seat belt fastened and another that would require car seats be used.
While Oro Valley does not have a legislative agenda separate from the league's, Loomis said that on certain occasions, it will step forward to support an issue or piece of legislation.
"We do continue to watch for items that are going to impact the town," he said. "If the league or a legislator needs help, we will testify and identify the impact on Oro Valley."
The Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce also has supported political issues in the past, and will continue to have priority issues this year, but also now hopes to be able to put its money where its mouth is.
The chamber's board of directors voted unanimously in December to form a Political Action Committee to help further its legislative agenda.
According to the chamber's Web site, the purpose of the chamber PAC will be to "financially support business issues and pro-business candidates that share an understanding of business philosophy, and ultimately influence the outcome of elections."
Chamber Director Jerry Bustamante said formation of the PAC is something that has been discussed in the past, but now that the organization's governmental affairs committee is solidly in place and watching issues, the "timing was right to form a PAC."
No chamber membership fees will be used to support the committee, which will be funded completely by individual donations.
Bustamante said the chamber has always been politically active when it comes to writing letters, showing up at meetings and giving verbal support of issues. Now it hopes to be able to purchase advertising, and signs, and make campaign contributions to further that support.
It also has identified a list of legislative priorities to watch this year.
Tort reform is one of those issues, although the chamber would like to see it called "medical malpractice reform" so more people will understand what is being talked about.
Bustamante said the issue is important to business because when a company is looking at coming to Arizona, it wants to know there will be quality healthcare available to its workers.
"It is no longer feasible for physicians to be in practice in Arizona," Bustamante said, because there are no caps on damages that can be sought in malpractice suits, causing the cost of physicans' malpractice insurance premiums to skyrocket. This rising cost of insurance is causing some doctors to leave the state, and in some cases the medical profession.
Bustamante said that, from the chamber's perspective, it will be important this year to raise awareness of the problem and start more of a dialogue at the state level with legislators. He also anticipates partnering with other chambers, hospitals and that medical society, to present a more unified voice on the issue.
Along with healthcare, education is the other big factor that individuals and businesses look at before they move to an area, and so Bustamante said education funding is another issue the chamber will support this year.
"It's a big component of economic development," he said. "You have to have a qualified workforce, and that really comes down to resources."
The chamber also hopes to work with Huffman, R-26, to gradually decrease the amount of taxes business pay, which is now two and a half times that of what homeowners in the state pay.
Transportation will be another issue the chamber will continue to follow, encouraging the state to fund Pima County projects.
"Ultimately, we need to have a dedicated revenue source for transportation, like what they have in Maricopa County," Bustamante said.
He said the chamber has supported many annexations in the past because, when an area becomes incorporated into a town, it then receives that town's services, which often includes road improvements. Better infrastructure also encourages new businesses to locate in the area, he said.
He said partnerships, such as that formed with the Regional Transportation Authority and the Pima Association of Governments, continue to be steps in the right direction.
While the chamber has not taken an official stance on the idea of a graduated license program for Arizona, it is an issue they also continue to watch. He said that after the recent deaths of Northwest teenagers in automobile accidents, the issue began to really "hit home."
"While not directly tied to business, it's a community issue that affects all of us," he said.