Nearly 600 Tucson business leaders have shared their priorities for the 2009 Arizona Legislature with Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, the economic development agency for Southern Arizona.
Those priorities do not center upon tax cuts nor tax climate, survey results show. Rather, business leaders who responded to the Dec. 5-11 online survey believe funding for K-12 schools and higher education should be maintained, and economic development tools should be enhanced. Lower priority was given to transportation infrastructure funding, as well as technology and communications infrastructure funding, the survey results showed.
“Results of the 2009 Legislative Priorities Survey indicate that funding for education and enhancing economic development tools are of great importance to Southern Arizona leaders,” said Joe Snell, TREO’s president and chief executive officer.
Business leaders need a pipeline of workers for skilled positions, and they want public school systems that encourage bright, much-coveted technology workers to move their families to Southern Arizona, according to David Welsh, TREO senior vice president for strategic partnerships. They said as much in the survey, different than others TREO has done because it asked business people to prioritize issues.
“You might assume an answer from the business community might be an answer having to do with taxes, with getting as many tax breaks as possible,” said Laura Shaw, TREO senior vice president for corporate and community affairs. Instead, this survey “clearly showed it was about education,” and “more long-term, systemic fixes to our challenges.”
Through the survey, and through contact with the community and meetings with legislators, Welsh sees “somewhat of a disconnect, from our perspective,” on how business leaders and government decision-makers view the priorities.
“Consistently, we are hearing the number 1 issue for growth and jobs is not necessarily our tax structure, it’s our ability to attract and keep the talent that we have,” Welsh said. “In our conversations, taxation does not come up,” yet “it’s a high priority for legislators.”
Welsh is “a little perplexed by this. Companies we are retaining, and trying to relocate here, it’s predominantly a labor play and a talent discussion, not a tax structure question.”
Survey results “clearly showed the priorities,” Shaw emphasized, “yet when legislators talk about how they’ll prioritize … they’re still talking about cuts in economic development tools, cuts in funding for education, everything we’re saying is the most important seems to be targeted for the biggest cuts.”
Welsh recognizes the Legislature faces a budget shortfall. Arizona may have as much as $1.2 billion in unfunded spending plans as the Legislature prepares to begin its 2009 session.
“This is a difficult year to be getting heard over the cacophony, the beating of the budget drum,” Welsh said. “Clearly, it’s a very interesting time. We have the national situation, we’ve got huge changes about to happen politically for our state, and you’ve got the local economic situation playing out.”
Information in hand, TREO is “trying to assess where we put our efforts to be most effective,” Welsh said.
“We’re convinced these are the times to use agencies like ours to get out of this” by emphasizing how the Arizona economy can look “as we do emerge” from recession, Welsh said.
“TREO will use the survey results to work closely with legislators in the coming year in order have an effect on state budgeting decisions,” Snell said in a release. “In a tough economy, decisions made now by our legislators will be critical to the future of our local economic development efforts.”