State lawmakers brainstorm on creating jobs, improving economy

Photo courtesy Les Stukenberg<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Arizona State Senate President Steve Pierce, right, gives an update as Arizona Speaker of the House Andy Tobin and Rep. Karen Fann listen at the Arizona Association for Economic Development legislative update in Prescott Valley Friday.

Photo courtesy Les Stukenberg<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Arizona State Senate President Steve Pierce, right, gives an update as Arizona Speaker of the House Andy Tobin and Rep. Karen Fann listen at the Arizona Association for Economic Development legislative update in Prescott Valley Friday.

Improving Arizona's economy and creating more jobs are the top priorities of the state Legislature, three District 1 Republican lawmakers who represent the tri-city area said Friday afternoon.

They talked about measures to improve the business climate, such as increasing incentives, expanding tax breaks and establishing more partnerships with the private sector.

"We are going to put some more tools in these toolboxes," House Speaker Andy Tobin of Paulden said during a legislative update of the Arizona Association of Economic Development.

The session, which lasted an hour and a half, drew about 70 people to the golf-course clubhouse at the StoneRidge subdivision.

Tobin, Senate President Steve Pierce of Prescott and Rep. Karen Fann of Prescott outlined their legislative agendas amid fears that healthcare could cripple the state budget. Pierce said healthcare mandates will exceed 55 percent of the state budget.

Arizona lost 330,000 jobs since the national recession struck in 2007, Chris Camacho, board chairman of the association and executive vice president of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, said before the lawmakers spoke. He added the state regained about 27,000 jobs in 2011.

Pierce said Gov. Jan Brewer supports "good, solid reforms."

He commented about a conversation that he had with a reporter who drew similarities to legislative measures in Arizona to anti-union decisions that sparked a recall drive against Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker.

"Arizona is not Wisconsin. We are a far better state," Pierce said to laughter.

Fann followed Pierce, and she talked about legislation she sponsored, House Bill 2519, that cleared the House Thursday. She said the Unemployment Omnibus Bill would empower the Arizona Department of Economic Security to deny unemployment benefits for a job candidate who fails a drug test.

The prospective employer would notify DES if the bill were to become law, Fann said.

The bill also requires unemployed people to look for a job at least four days during a week and make at least three contacts, Fann said.

Fann, who owns a highway sign business in Chino Valley, said she has rejected applicants because they tested positive for illegal drugs. One rejected job applicant reported being eligible for 22 more weeks of unemployment benefits.

"I have a zero-tolerance drug policy," Fann said.

She also co-sponsored HB 2362, which would enable state parks to keep gate fees and fees that they collect from concessionaires. The Legislature previously raided the revenues, and state parks closed.

Fann also called for creating more public-private partnerships, and cited an as example a proposal to build a toll road that the private sector finances. The private sector would receive a return on its investment once motorists pay tolls.

Partnerships can begin with a handshake, Tobin said.

Tobin cited positive economic signs, including a decline in the unemployment rate and an increase in capital investment. He called for giving Arizona businesses tax credits to offset the cost of federal regulations that do not involve public safety.

Tobin and the other speakers had a receptive audience. US. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, spoke briefly.