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Guest Opinion: State budget, the children my priorities

My priorities for the 2007 session include a balanced budget, strong representation for my district and southern Arizona and a civil and balanced exchange of ideas.

I will focus on children’s issues, as I have for six years in the Legislature.

Our children should be safe, healthy and have access to a good education. But Arizona ranks poorly in numbers of children living in poverty and lacking health care, the amount of per-student funding and the child-care rate for poor families.

We can do better. Much of this agenda will be supported by the Arizona Children’s Caucus, made up of senators and representatives, Republicans and Democrats.

As co-chairman of the Children’s Caucus, I will bring in new legislators to replace those who have left, including our two newest members of Congress, Gabrielle Giffords and Harry Mitchell, who were caucus members.

We are optimistic that this Legislature will cooperate and compromise to solve problems rather than indulge in the harsh partisanship of the past. When ideology and partisanship rule, children’s issues lose.

Specifically, children should be safe – so Child Protective Services must be effective and accountable. Legislative hearings in November focused on improving caseworkers’ training and documentation.

Arizona’s children should be healthy. We have one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the nation.

Our KidsCare insurance has limited capacity to inform parents of its availability. AHCCCS coverage for the poor has barriers that limit enrollment. This must change.

Arizona’s children must have access to high-quality public education. Our parents have more choice, with charter schools and open enrollment, than almost any other state. We must bolster education with more classroom resources and teacher support.

Early childhood development is critical. Support for families, with early intervention and prevention for those at risk, will save lots of problems and money, as well as children and families.

The biggest impact we can have is in early childhood education. We must immediately raise the child-care reimbursement rate for poor families to the market rate. Our children and our society will benefit as a result.

During my six years in the state House, we’ve argued about immigration. We’ve debated legislation that would preclude a woman’s bodily integrity and personal decision-making, and we’ve listened to countless speeches about who should have the right to declare their love and seal it with government approval.

The immigration issue must be settled at the federal level.

The public is exhausted by arguments on reproductive rights; 65 percent of America’s citizens support Roe v. Wade.

And Arizonans’ rejection of Proposition 107 should, but probably won’t, stop the introduction of legislation intended to limit whom a person can love.

All these issues deter the hard work necessary to meet the needs of residents in the second-fastest-growing state.

Such debate during a 100-day session deters progress.

My constituents’ No. 1 concern year after year is affordable and accessible health care.

Yet each year, we pass legislation that pretends to address the issue but is only a cosmetic fix.

It’s like having a car that needs a new engine, so instead you give it a paint job.

Our time would be much better spent resolving this and other urgent issues.

Our primary job is to pass a budget. Again we’re looking at a strong economy with more revenues and a projected budget balance of more than $300 million.

We must first meet our statutory obligations, such as K-12 education growth. But then the battle begins.

Do we invest in infrastructure to support our rapid growth, or do we give tax cuts that are minuscule to the taxpayer but stifle our economy?

I support investment, particularly in our citizens.

I’ll fight to increase the child-care subsidy for the working poor, now at 75 percent of the 2000 market rate.

By not keeping this current, we hurt children, families, child-care providers and employers of low-income parents.

Heed what we do. Insist on work to meet Arizona’s needs, not just blustering speeches about issues that can’t be solved by us or don’t make a difference in your lives.

M oderates now hold the power in Arizona’s Legislature.

Voters in November rejected the status quo, clearly signaling they want officials to govern from the middle.

Extremists will have less power come Jan. 8. The 2007 session will be one in which reason and bipartisanship take precedence over special interests. Mainstream Arizonans will be the beneficiaries.

We will work to make health care affordable and accessible. House Democrats want to expand Healthcare Group to insure more employees of small businesses.

Teacher salaries need to be increased to attract and retain the best educators.

We also will aggressively urge Republican colleagues to finally fully fund English language learning. Arizona has lost a generation of children because Republican lawmakers refused to provide adequate resources to help our children learn. It is time to resolve this crisis.

We will work to reduce our college students’ financial burden. We need to better fund state universities, especially in light of recent tuition increases. We also must increase funding to the Student Financial Aid Trust Fund to help more low-income students.

We believe Congress will pass a comprehensive immigration package. We support President Bush’s call for a guest worker program.

For the state, we need tough employer sanctions to reduce demand for illegal labor. And we need an accurate way to verify employees’ status.

Technological improvements must strengthen our border.

We will introduce legislation to prevent Maricopa County from charging migrants with conspiring to smuggle themselves. The intent of the anti-smuggling bill, approved in the 2005 session, was to go after criminals who abuse migrants.

We also will restrict payday lending, reduce classroom size, continue funding the Arizona 21st Century Competitive Initiative Fund to boost bioscience research, encourage development of alternative energies and preserve water.

With Gov. Janet Napoli-tano’s leadership, the 2007 session will move Arizona forward.

As Tucson aims to create a vibrant downtown, it moves forward, thanks to the Legislature.

In the last session, we extended the Rio Nuevo district for 12 years to let Tucson recapture state sales tax and invest it downtown until 2025.

Our economic development work took many forms. We passed a three-year reprieve from the state property tax, rolled back income tax by 10 percent and invested in education.

The current state budget sought to balance limited government with the need to protect, educate and serve.

We enabled every teacher to receive a raise, committing more than a half-billion new dollars to public education, including $80 million to fully phase in full-day kindergarten.

The permanent income tax cut and suspended property tax put $1.2 billion in your pockets over three years.

We also gave $7 million for autism research and $3 million for Alzheimer’s research.

As the 2007 session nears, much is left to be done.

Voters last month approved four measures on illegal immigration, signaling concern for border security. And while the federal government has stepped up its efforts, the state too must move quickly.

Local law enforcement must be freed from its handcuffs. Last year, the Legislature set aside millions of dollars for officers to address immigration-related crime. The governor vetoed that bill. I hope she will now work with us on border control.

Employers will face consequences for hiring illegal immigrants, though the federal government precludes stiff fines and other penalties.

We are committed to giving another $80 million to complete the phase-in of all-day kindergarten.

The Legislature will be busy. But we will keep in mind that we work for you, and we will do our best to make you proud to be an Arizonan.

I t is my honor and pleasure to help lead the Senate during the 48th Legislature.

The first Senate president from southern Arizona in more than 30 years, I look forward to building on the successes of recent years.

As we develop our majority program for the next two years, it is important to maintain our fiscal restraint.

We have eliminated a $1 billion deficit while cutting taxes, eliminating accounting gimmicks and investing in education.

It is important to continue to foster economic development, provide tools for public safety, address affordable health care and protect our natural resources.

For economic development, it is important to continue retaining tax dollars generated in southern Arizona for investment in southern Arizona.

We can build economic growth by making the property tax cuts permanent.

Investing more to improve our transportation infrastructure is also vitally important for our economy.

Addressing illegal immigration will be an important part of our work, to not only protect our borders, but also ensure the safety of the people and their property in southern Arizona.

While voters strongly supported the Legislature’s ballot initiatives, there is still much we can do – supporting local enforcement and implementing strong employer sanctions to complement the federal approach to this problem.

I am excited about investments in southern Arizona, such as the Tucson Veterans Home and resources for our trauma center. However, investments also can be made in our schools, community colleges and universities.

Investing now will bring substantial returns to our region and our state.

I have enjoyed a fruitful experience with legislative and policy leaders, and I look forward to growing those relationships. Working together will allow us to accomplish much more.

We have a strong foundation, and I am eager and ready to lead us toward an even more prosperous environment.

Through fiscal soundness, economic stimuli and investing in our education systems, we will make great strides.

We must move quickly on immigration problem

Our region won’t be neglected by this Senate leader from S. Az

Pete Hershberger is a Republican and Arizona House representative from District 26 in Tucson.Linda Lopez is a Democratic state representative for Tucson’s District 29.Phil Lopes is leader of the Democrats in the Arizona House and represents District 27 in Tucson.House Speaker Jim Weiers is a Phoenix Republican.Senate President Tim Bee is a District 30 Republican.

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