Arizona House Speaker J.D. Mesnard welcomes attendees to the Greater Phoenix Chamber's 2017 Legislative Kick-off event at the Phoenix Art Museum on Jan. 12. (Photo by Ashley McKnight/GPCC)

Arizona House Speaker J.D. Mesnard welcomes attendees to the Greater Phoenix Chamber’s 2017 Legislative Kick-off event at the Phoenix Art Museum on Jan. 12. (Photo by Ashley McKnight/GPCC)

More than 400 political, business and community leaders filled the Great Hall at the Phoenix Art Museum for the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce 2017 Legislative Kick-off on Jan. 12. With Gov. Doug Ducey’s education-centric State of the State speech fresh in attendees’ minds and the legislative session just starting, talk of increasing funding to Arizona students, teachers and schools dominated many of the evening’s discussions.

Arizona’s 53rd Legislature started recently with two new leaders taking the helm of their respective chambers. New House Speaker Rep. J.D. Mesnard and New Senate President Steve Yarbrough, both Republicans hailing from Chandler-based Legislative District 17, told the crowd in separate addresses that they are already working on session-related business including tax reform, maintaining a balanced state budget and funding the state’s school system.

“The governor has clearly made education a priority for this session and that is something that the House is in agreement with,” Mesnard said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues and each and every one of you as we make the upcoming session a productive one.”

Yarbrough, a steadfast champion of Arizona business, acknowledged the Chamber as a partner in much of the work he’s done at the Legislature during his 14-year career.

“I look forward to continuing that relationship for the next two years in my new role,” he added.

Both legislative leaders also reaffirmed their intentions to not only keep Arizona’s budget structurally balanced, but also open the process to the public as much as possible.

Other lawmakers and elected officials shared their priorities for the upcoming year during the event.

Rep. Maria Syms
Republican Rep. Maria Syms, who was elected to her first term in the Arizona House this year to represent Legislative District 28, says she will focus on education and job creation.

Syms is an assistant attorney general in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and has served as a Paradise Valley town councilwoman and former assistant U.S. attorney. She wants to give the economy a boost by focusing specifically on small businesses, especially those in her district, which includes parts of north central Phoenix, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.

“I’m hoping this session we can remove some of the barriers small businesses face,” she said.

On the education front, Syms’ priority is to attract and retain top-quality teachers and provide every child in Arizona access to a great education.

Sen. Steve Farley
Longtime Arizona lawmaker Sen. Steve Farley, a Tucson Democrat, says he has lots of priorities, but when pressed to narrow it down a bit, he ceded that getting Arizona’s education system “funded where it should be funded” is a major priority.

He lauded Ducey’s ambitious education funding plan as described in his state of the state address and agreed that the priority is well-placed, but wondered whether the money to fund his plans would materialize in the final budget.

“We’ve got to invest in education infrastructure,” Farley said. “We’re going to need a whole new paradigm as our economy transforms. Automation and globalization are taking away a lot of jobs. People are going to need to train for new careers throughout their lives.”

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates
Newly elected District 3 Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates just finished an esteemed eight-year career representing the people of Phoenix City Council District 3.

During his time on the council, he chaired the city’s Finance, Efficiency, Economy and Sustainability Subcommittee, where he worked with city department heads and private industry leaders to identify and implement innovation and efficiency measures, eventually reaching $100 million in city taxpayer money saved.

He’s taking a similar approach to his work at the county.

“We can utilize technology to become more efficient in operations of Maricopa County and also use technology to do a better job of providing services to residents,” Gates said. “Lots of people are used to accessing services through mobile devices, so we want to see if we can do the same sorts of things.”

Gates began his initial term on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors this month.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes
New Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes ran for the office because he was frustrated with the long lines encountered by many voters during the Presidential Preference Election on March 22, 2016.

A cornerstone of his approach to running the Recorder’s Office, which conducts and certifies elections in Maricopa County and maintains documents including those regarding property ownership, is transparency.

“I’m looking to increase transparency significantly to maintain the integrity of this incredibly important office,” he said. “I want to be really open and approachable to help folks be comfortable with what we do in this office.”

He also has plans to improve operations, efficiency and bolster public trust.

He’s asking the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors for funding to hire more people and to make technological advancements. He also dismisses the notion of voter fraud in the county.

“I’m hoping to dispel myths that exist by inviting the public in. There’s a five-step process that we use to verify ballots. That’s a pretty rigorous process,” he said.

Given the security and verification processes of the Recorder’s Office, he’s confident in the integrity of county elections.

“If there was voter fraud at the County Recorder’s Office, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you,” he said. “I am evidence that there’s no voter fraud in Maricopa County.”

The Chamber wishes all of our elected officials much success in 2017.

– Written by Josh Coddington, marketing and communications manager, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

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