With the Second Regular Session of Arizona’s 51st Legislature less than a month away, we asked for perspective from Rep. Heather Carter (R-District 15), who represents Cave Creek, Carefree, North Scottsdale and North Phoenix. She is Chair of the House Health Committee and a member of the House Education Committee. She offers her take on the key objectives ahead in the upcoming session.
If you ask anyone around the Capitol lately, “What will happen in the next legislative session?” The general answer is, “I don’t know!”
When asked that same question before last session, as Health Chair, I knew that we would face some of the most important healthcare decisions we have seen in the past 30 years. I’m proud to report that we were able to pass Governor Brewer’s Medicaid restoration plan. I want to personally thank the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce for their support throughout the process. Ultimately, this was the most fiscally responsible decision for our state because healthcare is a major economic engine in Arizona. Restoring Medicaid brings billions of dollars to the Arizona economy, protects our rural safety-net hospitals, saves high paying jobs throughout the state and prevents 60,000 people from losing their healthcare coverage at the end of this year. It was the right thing to do for Arizona.
But headed into the 2014 session, things are much more unpredictable. We are coming out of one of the biggest economic crises of our lifetime. What I do know is that Arizonans need a predictable, stable economy. We should do what we can at the Capitol to help stabilize and build Arizona’s economic recovery.
We need to focus on economic development efforts that meet our funding needs. Through the hard work of the Arizona Commerce Authority, we will improve our economy and bring jobs back to Arizona. We need to attract new businesses to our state while supporting those that are already here providing jobs for Arizonans.
Education is also a top priority for Arizona and for business. During the economic downturn, the state had to make dramatic cuts to both higher education and the K-12 system. Fortunately, last year, we were able to re-invest dollars to help transform both systems to meet 21st century workforce needs.
Our colleges and universities serve a critical role in our economic recovery. The three state universities and 20+ community colleges provide innovative research and development, along with important job training, to ensure a well-prepared workforce. One important issue related to this work is to finish funding the parity issue, thereby leveling the playing field among the three universities and allowing us to implement the performance-funding model. This will create a new system ensuring the results we expect from our institutions, such as increasing the number of degrees awarded, increasing transfers from the community colleges and increasing our research and development efforts.
The K-12 education system is also an integral part of preparing our 21st century workforce. Last year, we reformed our state statutes to reflect the adoption of the Arizona Career and College State Standards and the next step is to invest in an updated assessment to measure student achievement using the new standards. Also, the governor will put forth a funding model based on student academic performance. We want to pay for measurable results and reward those schools and districts that achieve them. We are also facing a teacher crisis that needs to be addressed. We need to attract and retain quality teachers in Arizona and utilize programs like Teach for America to bring top talent to rural areas. All of these reforms, and the reforms we have already passed, require continued investment in a statewide longitudinal data system. The Arizona Education Learning and Accountability System (AELAS) is a vital piece of the system and will allow us to access accurate and timely data for student performance and school accountability.
Constitutionally, the state legislature is charged with presenting a balanced budget each year. We must be innovative and realistically conservative in preparing this and future budgets. Simply going back to the old way of doing business is no longer feasible.
Overall, while signs are showing that Arizona’s economy is improving, it isn’t happening fast enough. There are a myriad of other worthy budget items that we must consider. But at the end of the day, we must remember that Arizona Constitution requires that we produce a balanced budget.
So now is the time to work together and put Arizona on a positive course for the next generation.