Public Policy in Focus
Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce outlines its most pressing public policy efforts
Virtually any group that has experienced the give-and-take of supporting or opposing legislation at the state Capitol is aware of the truism—half a loaf is better than no loaf at all. Indeed, that’s how the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce views the 2006 regular session of the Arizona Legislature. And for those who didn’t get everything they wanted, there’s always next year.
Todd Sanders, vice president of public affairs for the chamber, sees the organization’s public policy efforts as challenges, not necessarily hits or misses. One of the chamber’s biggest challenges, Sanders says, was and still is the issue of employer sanctions in connection with the growing problem of illegal immigration.
“We believe employer sanctions are necessary,” he says. “But in drafting legislation, it was difficult to put something together that was tough, but fair to employers, something that businesses can implement. There is a federal requirement that we check IDs, but the way the bill was conceived, even if we do that and find someone who is illegal, we could still be subject to sanctions.”
The Greater Phoenix Chamber and other stakeholders representing restaurants, homebuilders, small businesses, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other chambers of commerce worked with legislators trying to craft an acceptable bill. What was drafted was combined into an omnibus bill dealing with illegal immigration that Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed.
The chamber was silent on other parts of the bill, including border security, but Sanders says, “We were in favor of employer sanctions. It was drafted in such a way that it was tough, but our members could still implement it.”
One of the biggest obstacles is that federal law requires employers to check IDs, including Social Security cards and driver’s licenses, but those are easily forged, Sanders says. “Business owners are trying to make money,” he says. “They’re not ID experts or document experts. It’s one of the issues we’ll be looking at in the next session. There is a misperception that we were against employer sanctions, which we were not.”
Regarding border security—a hot topic in the general election—Sanders says, “We need to get this done at the federal level. Fixing it at the state level is very dicey at best.”
Another issue and a top priority for the chamber was property tax cuts. “It was quite a process, a lot of give and take,” he says. “The governor wanted a rebate and we wanted a tax cut. We got the cut. Actually, it’s a suspension for three years, so we’ll probably want to go in again for a permanent elimination of that tax. It was our biggest win, given the valuation increases, to protect taxpayers from massive tax bills in the future.”
Elimination of the property tax doesn’t affect the counties, because programs formerly financed by the tax will receive money from the state’s General Fund, Sanders says.
He recalls the big push at the Legislature for eminent domain reform, which the governor vetoed, and the possibility of such an initiative getting on the November ballot. In her veto message, Napolitano has said the bill would have ended existing slum clearance and redevelopment areas and inappropriately restricted the ability of cities to deal with slums and urban blight. “As a chamber, we favor strong private property rights protection,” Sanders says. “We want to make sure it’s balanced. Protection is very important to us.”
The chamber chose not to weigh in on funding for all-day kindergarten and teachers’ raises. “We have supported all-day kindergarten, but with a full phase-in over time,” Sanders says. The chamber was active in efforts to establish and fund the 21st Century Fund. The money is to be used to build and strengthen medical, scientific and engineering research programs and infrastructure, with a non-profit corporation expected to provide matching funds. “We wanted $100 million, and they came in at $35 million,” Sanders says.
Regarding a constitutional proposal to establish a state minimum wage of $5.95 an hour effective July 1, 2007, to be raised to $6.75 an hour on July 1, 2008, and thereafter adjusted for inflation each year, Sanders says, “It’s a safe bet we will be opposed to that measure. We generally oppose those mandates, when government mandates what to pay someone. It’s got a built-in yearly inflator, and that’s where the real pushback will come. In good times, like now, it’s different and maybe business could absorb it, but in bad times it becomes problematic.”