Yuma legislators prepare for upcoming session
Public education funding, job creation and a balanced budget will be the focus of Yuma's legislators in the upcoming year.
State Senators Don Shooter (R-Yuma) and Lynne Pancrazi (D-Yuma) and Rep. Lisa Otondo (D-Yuma) reflected on the issues they consider will be the most important during a recent visit to the Yuma Sun. Rep. Juan Carlos Escamilla (D-San Luis) was unable to attend.
Pancrazi said she has been crisscrossing District 4 to learn the issues important to constituents. She pointed out that D4 incorporates four of the state's counties and two Native American reservations.
“That's my job, to show up and learn all about it,” she said. “I'm all about representing my constituents. All the bills I have proposed have come from constituents.”
Pancrazi believes the two biggest issues facing her district are education funding, both for K-12 and university, and economic development, especially in rural areas.
“With Yuma's 29 percent unemployment, it's a big deal. We have to look for ways to provide jobs,” she said.
Otondo agreed that public education funding for K-12 and jobs are the most pressing issues.
“You can't separate the two,” she noted.
As chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Shooter's goal is to produce a balanced budget.
“We will have a balanced budget this year, and it will be balanced out for three years. But it's difficult because the economy is going down again. It will be a way frugal budget,” he said.
Pancrazi disagreed about the state of the economy. “We're coming out of the recession. We can see it by the number of businesses who are looking at coming here, to the state,” she said, adding that the housing market also indicates a recovering economy.
Otondo said her research also shows the economy is recovering. She pointed out that they all agree the budget has to be prepared in a “fiscally responsible manner.”
“The bottom line is we're all looking for a decent budget,” she said. “The difference is on how ‘decent' is defined. Where should the emphasis be on?”
Shooter promised to support education. “We will be doing something for education – the question is how much – to support K-12,” he told Pancrazi and Otondo, both former educators.
However, Shooter added, the budget has to stay “within the bounds of fiscal reality. It's easy to be a hero, everyone would like to be that. It's easy to give someone's money away, but that's not living in reality.”
“There are other ways to budget without killing education. It takes redoing the tax code. But people are not willing to do it,” Pancrazi countered.
She noted that Gov. Jan. Brewer will have a task force look into tax code revisions and it will be making recommendations.
“We'll have to see if it's something we can support,” she said.
The legislators noted that, in spite of political differences, they have a history of working together for the good of Yuma.
“When it comes to our district, at least Yuma and our district, we work together, we go across party lines. We will do our best to work together,” Pancrazi said.
Pointing to Shooter, she quipped, “He comes over when he should.”
“If someone can make a case, I'm willing to listen and look at it,” Shooter replied.
This is especially true when it comes to job creation. Shooter said he recently met with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council about an initiative designed to lure California businesses wary of that state's tax laws to Arizona.
“I told them that Yuma is perfect for this,” Shooter said. “It makes a lot of sense to divert California businesses to Yuma.”
Pancrazi announced that Chris Camacho, former executive director of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation and now executive vice president of business development for the GPEC, had already referred two businesses to Yuma in the last couple of weeks.
Otondo is also looking forward to representing her constituents when it comes to her committees. She has been assigned to the Education and Technology and Infrastructure committees in the state's House of Representatives.
Although Otondo, a farmer's daughter, was not able to get on the Water Committee, she will nevertheless continue to push rural issues, she said.
She also noted that Escamilla will represent Yuma County well in the Water and Agriculture and Transportation committees.
“For Juan Carlos, that was a good choice. It's a great opportunity for someone who has a lot of knowledge of border issues,” Otondo said, pointing to the area's agriculture industry and the accompanying cross-border transportation of produce.
The 51st Arizona Legislative Session will start Jan. 14