The Arizona Small Business Association hosted a luncheon at the Westin La Paloma on March 22, where Arizona Rep. Steve Farley, Sen. Al Melvin, and Senate President Steve Pierce outlined their 2012 legislative efforts to support small businesses in Southern Arizona.
Farley, of District 28, said as a business owner himself, he understands the importance of small businesses in Southern Arizona.
“We are what drives Arizona forward,” he said. “We are key to economic development.”
Farley said he and other Democrats have worked to introduce a number of bills to help ease the challenges faced by small businesses, such as limited health care benefits options and a burdensome tax code, but has only seen such bills overlooked, to which he blames partisan bickering.
“Unfortunately, helping small businesses has not been one of the priorities this session at the capital,” he said. “To illustrate this point, none of the bills I’ve mentioned have even been given a hearing in a committee. The committee chairs have unilaterally taken away their chance to be passed into law.”
Farley criticized the House and Senate bills currently taking priority in the legislature.
“The legislature has instead focused on bills that would repeal the Gun-Free School Zone Act, creating untrained volunteer military force with powers to arrest and use deadly force, take away birth control from women, shut down astronomy and optics industries, destroy our statewide water system, and dismantle the voter-mandated independent districting issue.”
Senator Melvin refuted the claims by Farley that jobs are not a priority by the GOP, as he carried a sign to the stage reading “Jobs are Job #1,” and told the audience that despite the rhetoric, jobs are in fact the first priority of Republicans in the Senate and House.
Melvin said he is currently working with Tucson businessmen to create a state-of-the-art deep water port in Sonora, Mexico, which he believes will bring economic prosperity to Arizona and Mexico, and help solve illegal immigration problems by creating jobs near the border.
He also went on to dismiss Farley’s call for the creation of a bipartisan budget.
“Arizona has a balanced budget, and we will have a balanced budget for years to come, as long as we keep the conservative, Republican majorities in the Senate and the House,” said Melvin.
Melvin said not only have the Republicans maintained a balanced budget, but in the process, have protected key parts of the budget, specifically education.
“We literally moved heaven and earth to make that happen,” he said.
Melvin said as a result, Arizonans have more school choices in the state than anywhere else in the United States, more charter schools, tuition tax credits, and are enabling every parent to send their children to the school of their choice.
Melvin and Farley also disagreed on whether or not Arizona should use prison labor to benefit the community.
Melvin highlighted the benefits of using prisoners to do such tasks as filling potholes, pulling buffelgrass, and caring for sheltered animals, while Farley said such jobs detract from the economy.
“There are companies that fix potholes,” said Farley. “There are small businesses throughout the state who are paid to fix potholes. The money they are paid to fix potholes has been taken away by this legislature for the last three years.”
Pierce reassured the audience that many good things are going on at the Senate level to help Southern Arizona businesses, which support about 97 percent of Arizona’s revenues.