Friday, March 28, 2014

Sen. Flake joins us at the Chamber for a special roundtable

The Arizona Chamber this morning was privileged to host U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake for a roundtable discussion on issues important to the Arizona business community. Sen. Flake has been an avid supporter of the state’s job creators and a leader in addressing some of the most critical issues of the day.

Not the least of which is the current international environment. Sen. Flake recently joined Sen. McCain and a bi-partisan delegation of five other Sen.s on a trip to Ukraine to meet with top political leaders and show support for the Ukrainian people. Last night, the Senate passed a bill to provide $1 billion in aid to Ukraine, a measure Sen. Flake supported. (I felt the need to ask, but Sen. Flake assured me that he has not yet been sanctioned by Russia.) Sen. Flake also touched on the administration’s interim agreement with Iran to halt nuclear exploration.

Today’s discussion focused primarily on immigration reform, water, trade and federal agencies.


Both Sen. Flake and Sen. McCain have led the charge on immigration reform, participating in the “Gang of Eight” Sen.s who last year proposed comprehensive immigration reform legislation that ultimately cleared the Senate. The Arizona Chamber has been very vocal about our support for the Senate effort, and immigration reform in general, but the legislation has stalled in the House. House Republican leadership announced a set of principles in January that they wish to see reflected in any immigration legislation their chamber considers. Sen. Flake noted that he supports these principles, was encouraged to see fresh efforts to find common ground in recent weeks and promised to continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform.

Sen. Flake has been working on immigration reform since 2004, when he first introduced a comprehensive reform bill with Congressman Jim Kolbe and Sen. McCain.


As Sen. Flake mentioned, when Sen. Kyl retired from the Senate in 2012, he took with him an enormous amount of institutional knowledge on national and Arizona water issues. Fortunately, Sen. Flake picked up some of Sen. Kyl’s key staff, and continues to work closely with Sen. Kyl to ensure that Arizona has the water supply it needs to support projected growth in the coming years. Sen. Flake noted that Arizona has planned well over the last few decades, and has become a model for other states in this regard. As we look to the future, we will need to look at augmentation or conservation, and Arizona is in good hands with Sen. Flake leading on this issue.


Sen. Flake gave an update on another important priority of the Arizona Chamber: securing Trade Promotion Authority for the Administration. He noted that nearly every free trade agreement in the last three decades has been negotiated under Trade Promotion Authority, and urged stakeholders to reach out to the Administration to encourage its continued engagement.

We were very encouraged to hear Sen. Flake predict that the Miscellaneous Tariffs Bill will be reauthorized this year. The bill expired on January 1, 2013, and failure to reauthorize would result in decreased competitiveness for Arizona and U.S. manufacturers.

Federal Agencies

There was a lot of praise around the room for Sen. Flake’s leadership to ensure Arizona’s voice was heard on commonsense reforms to the EPA’s Exceptional Events Rule. Last fall he was able to secure an unprecedented Arizona-only listening session with the EPA where a wide range of industries were able to share their concerns with the Exceptional Events Rule with the EPA. Last year the EPA issued interim Exceptional Events Implementation Guidance to help air agencies manage air quality data recorded during exceptional events.

As a result, the EPA just recently proposed approval of the Five Percent Plan for the Maricopa County PM-10 Nonattainment Area. We thank Sen. Flake for submitting comments to the EPA urging them to issue final approval of the plan.

Moving forward, Sen. Flake noted that Congress must return to business as usual in passing a federal budget. When the House and Senate are able to go through their appropriations processes, which require agencies to make the case for their funding, Congress has more oversight and ability to reign in overzealous agency regulation. We applaud Sen. Flake for his continued efforts to reduce regulatory burdens for businesses.

I want to thank Sen. Flake both for his leadership and for taking the time to sit down with us this morning. Arizona is fortunate to have such a sharp, thoughtful, committed leader representing us in DC.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Arizona business community not going to party like it's 1999

Here they go again. For the second time in as many weeks, the state Senate today will consider two pieces of legislation that will dramatically weaken Arizona's ability to give its students a world-class education defined by rigorous standards.

The Senate is set to take up SB 1395 and SB 1396, which would allow local governing boards and charter holders to opt-out or opt-in of our state's higher standards and a corresponding assessment. Schools can already exceed the minimum standard. These bills would let them achieve below the minimum and allow schools to opt in to old academic standards from the 90’s.

If these bills were to become law, it would open the door to opting out of standards that will allow our students a chance to compete for tomorrow's jobs. Instead, the bar for our kids would be lower; much lower.

Don't like today's standards? Then you can party like it's 1999, and revert back to the standards from 15 years ago. You remember 1999: Ricky Martin was Livin’ La Vida Loca, Keanu was in The Matrix, Bill Clinton was in the middle of an impeachment trial and Google turned 1.

These bills harm Arizona's reputation as a state where school choice thrives. If every school district has its own standards, the ability to compare schools across districts goes away. Without uniform, rigorous standards, parents won't be able to make apples to apples comparisons that help them determine where to send their kids.
Today's exercise is another attempt to lower the expectations for our kids and  deny them the high quality education they deserve.

Please take thirty seconds to watch this video that shows the resounding business community support for higher standards.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Teachers, education advocates and business leaders gather to hear Michael Petrilli discuss Arizona’s new education standards

Today, the Arizona Chamber partnered with the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and Expect More Arizona to host “Phoenix Forum: Our Classrooms, Our Workforce, Our Future.” The event was attended by nearly 300 business leaders, education advocates, teachers and elected officials. The featured keynote speaker was Michael Petrilli, of the conservative education policy think tank the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Petrilli spoke of the bold vision that Arizona has for its education future; and how improving our educational standards and adopting a quality, aligned assessment is a critical first step towards this vision. The Fordham Institute looked at Arizona’s current standards back in 2010, and graded them a B in math and a B in English Language Arts. The new Arizona College and Career Ready Standards received a B-plus in math and an A-minus in English Language Arts. It’s clear we’re heading in the right direction.

But the real problem with Arizona’s old standards was less in the content of the standards themselves and more in the assessment we used to measure those standards, the AIMS test. As Petrilli shared, AIMS defines third grade reading “proficiency” as being at or above the 23rd percentile. What Arizona needs to move forward and be competitive both nationally and internationally is a test that keeps us honest, and doesn’t allow us to lower the bar again.

Pearl Chang Esau, President and CEO of Expect More Arizona was on hand to share the story of one Arizona school district in a high poverty neighborhood who have embraced the new standards, and as a result have seen more than two years of academic gains in only half a school year. Many teachers were also in attendance, and were acknowledged by the crowd with a thunderous applause for the great work they do for Arizona’s kids. Their overwhelming support of the standards for the freedom it allows them to teach the way they know works for kids was a frequent topic of discussion today.

        Four of the teachers in attendance today to support Arizona’s new standards

Superintendent Huppenthal was also in attendance, and deserves many thanks for his unwavering support of these standards that we know are working in our classrooms today. Three former Arizona Superintendents were also in the crowd- Lisa Graham Keegan, Jaime Molera and Carolyn Werner- to express their support for Arizona’s new standards.

I was glad to be a part of such a wonderful event, honoring the great work that Arizona has done in education over the last 20 years, and setting a vision for where we can be in the next decades.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Bill to repeal new Arizona standards fails in Senate

Today the Arizona Senate rejected a measure that would have caused chaos in Arizona classrooms. Thanks to Senators Driggs, McComish, Pierce, Reagan and Worsley and all thirteen Democratic Senators, the efforts of Arizona’s teachers and school leaders will not be interrupted.

SB 1310 failed to pass 18-12, but would have prohibited Arizona schools from implementing or “effectively implementing” the Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards (Common Core). These standards were adopted in 2010, and schools have been diligently working to implement them ever since. And, as the five recent Arizona Educational Foundation Teachers of the Year testified before the Governor’s AZ Ready Council this morning, the standards are working.

As the 2013 Teacher of the Year Nancy Lindblom said, “we have never seen a set of standards that challenges students and offers them the education they deserve like the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards do.”

The battle isn't over- there are other bills that would threaten the progress we've made, and we still need to secure funding for a new assessment aligned to the standards. But for today, we thank the 18 members of the Arizona Senate who supported the efforts of teachers and schools over the last four years by voting “No” on SB 1310.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tchaikovsky is Commerce

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to testify before Representative Tom Forese’s House Commerce Committee, in an informational hearing on the impact of music on Arizona’s economy. As always, we appreciate Rep. Forese continuing to use this forum to highlight all the innovative and interesting things happening across Arizona’s economy.

The music industry is making deep impact – and has made a deep impact – on our state.

Nationally, a new analysis just released in December 2013 shows that the total contribution of arts and culture sector to the economy in current-dollar GDP is $504 billion, or 3.2 percent of GDP. This compares favorably to tourism nationally which represents 2.8% of GDP.  A conservative estimate from Dun and Bradstreet identifies more than 17,000 creative industry businesses in Arizona, employing more than 56,000 individuals, and representing almost 5% of the workforce.  Of those, 1,077 are categorized in “music,” with 3,595 employed.  Recent data collected from the 219 non-profit arts and culture organizations participating in the Arizona Cultural Data Project accounted for more than a half billion dollars in direct and indirect spending in the economy.

Our state has produced a number of recording artists, from Stevie Nicks to the Gin Blossoms to our Heritage Award honoree from last year, Alice Cooper. The industry is also wide in its scope: from the “Soul of Tone,” Fender guitars to “A”-rated Charter school, the Arizona School for the Arts, we cover the full spectrum of music performance.

We’re also very fortunate to have a world class symphony and opera, led by Chairman Bob Stump. Last Friday, the Arizona Chamber was lucky enough to welcome the Phoenix Opera’s Johnny Huerta to sing the national anthem at our Heritage Award tribute to Governor Brewer last Friday. Let me tell you that the crowd was blown away by his performance.

And I want to congratulate Jim Ward for the recent hiring of the Phoenix Symphony’s new musical director, Tito Muñoz. I know the community is excited about his arrival and we look forward to his debut. As Jim mentioned in his testimony, it is absolutely critical that we work to bolster our cultural economy. A vibrant cultural economy is an important tool in our economic development toolbox.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the great work of Carrie Heinonen, at the world-class Musical Instruments Museum. I recently had the chance to tour the MIM and was incredibly impressed by everything it has to offer. It is no wonder that in its short history it has received so many accolades.