Jaime A. Molera, who serves as the chairman of the Chamber’s Public Affairs Committee, kicked off the event by providing a brief overview of the committee’s vital work at the Legislature in 2016 and thanked Chamber staff and committee members for their hard work this year.
Molera then introduced Smoldon, of B3 Strategies, by reminding the audience gathered at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Phoenix that Smoldon is as sharp as he is humorous. “He’s one of the funniest guys I know and one of the brightest,” Molera said. “He’s probably forgotten more about public policy than most people will ever know.”
Smoldon took to the stage and set the crowd up for some serious policy talk with an observation about the nature of his state Capitol cohorts. More specifically, he compared the assembled lawmakers, lobbyists and others who work at the Capitol to a group of junior high school girls.
“It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out of session, the first time you get back around, do you ever notice it’s kind of like junior high girls after spring break?” Smoldon said. “You’ve been stabbing each other in the back and stealing each others’ boyfriends the whole time and then when you get back together it’s like you’re best friends.”
The crowd’s full-bellied laughter soon gave way to an insightful panel discussion featuring Senate GOP Majority Leader Steve Yarbrough, Senate Minority Whip Martin Quezada, House Minority Leader Rep. Eric Meyer and House Majority Whip Rep. David Livingston.
The legislative leaders discussed their views on the 2016 session’s successes. Each had something positive to say about the direction of education funding as a whole, including the passage of Prop. 123 and the additional money appropriated to the K-12 and higher education systems enabled by the first state budget surplus in almost a decade.
Yarbrough highlighted several places the Legislature was able to provide additional money including education, infrastructure, transportation, the Department of Economic Security and the Department of Child Safety.
Quezada lauded the restoration of funding for KidsCare at the very end of the session as a bright moment for him while also advocating for a more transparent budgeting process.
Livingston is always looking for opportunities to make a big difference and was pleased with passing a structurally balanced budget while calling for a long-term plan to pay off state debt.
Meyer had hoped his colleagues would allocate more money from the state budget toward education, but was pleased that Prop. 123 was ultimately successful.
“It’s important because there’s a direct link between education and economic prosperity,” Meyer said. “Thank goodness Prop. 123 passed so our teachers can get a raise. Many haven’t had a raise in years. The question now is what will be that next step?”
After the policy talk, Smoldon had the panelists reveal their favorite downtown lunch spots and their guesses on the length of 2017 session. Party leaders Yarbrough and Meyer admitted they both frequently eat lunch in their offices at the Capitol. All the panelists guessed the 2017 session would conclude in approximately 100 days – the gold standard for session length – with the exception of Meyer, who feigned exasperation with his answer of “268 days.”
The event was capped with the awarding of the Chamber’s inaugural Issue Champion Award, which was developed to recognize an outstanding legislator who fights tirelessly for crucial issues impacting Arizona businesses.
This year’s recipient was Prescott Republican Rep. Karen Fann. In 2016 she championed several Chamber-supported bills, including those making critical changes to insurance and workers’ compensation laws.
“Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen her dedicate herself to public service and business in a variety of ways,” said Jason Baran, manager of state government relations for SRP, which sponsored the award. “We see her pragmatic, thoughtful approach in her legislative success time after time.”
The Chamber looks forward to bringing together the Capitol community again in January for the annual Legislative Kick-Off, when the start of the 100- (or nearly 300)-day 2017 session begins!