When we citizens passed an initiative to raise the minimum wage, that was the final straw that got the Arizona Legislature to introduce a flurry of bills this year to curtail the ability of Arizona citizens to refer issues to a vote of the people. When I saw coverage in the Star of the role of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce in pushing this legislation, my interest in their motivation was piqued.
I found it curious that the members of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce support this anti-democratic stand on citizen initiatives, as well as others the Chamber takes that are ultimately detrimental to the state. Their legislative agenda also fully supports Gov. Doug Ducey’s education budget that is starving our public school system of needed funding.
Examining the membership section of the Chamber’s website for clues, I saw a lot of huge corporations, like the Corrections Corp. of America (private prison industry), Pfizer (drug company), Resolution Copper (mining), Western Refining (a Texas-based Fortune 200 and Global 2000 crude oil refiner), Steptoe and Johnson LLP (an international law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C.), and many more. I wondered why they are against voters’ rights to citizen initiatives.
The Chamber’s corporate member list also contains some surprising names, such as the Arizona Cardinals and Diamondbacks, Tucson Medical Center, AARP and some private educational institutions. Surprising, because I could not comprehend why those companies would support efforts to rein in citizen initiatives, let alone reducing funding to public schools.
Most incomprehensible was finding that the corporate membership of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce includes the Arizona Board of Regents, ASU and NAU, and the Maricopa Community College District — given that last year’s budget slashed university budgets and completely eliminated state funding to the Maricopa and Pima community colleges.
Research by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) on the political influence of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce provides some revealing insights into why the Arizona Chamber is engaging in such dishonorable political lobbying efforts: “On April 4, 2016, the Center for Media and Democracy … released documents that it obtained from a top GOP polling firm which show widespread support from the Chamber’s members for policies such as an increase in the minimum wage, paid sick leave, paid paternity and paid maternity leave.
“The polling showed that 80 percent of the state Chambers’ own business members supported minimum wage increases, while 73 percent support paid sick time. Yet over the last three years, 48 state chambers have publicly opposed minimum wage increases. And in the last five years, 75 percent of the country’s state Chambers have opposed paid sick-leave policies. Both measures are explicitly opposed in the U.S. Chamber’s 2016 policy platform.”
The Arizona Chamber is a member of the Council of State Chambers, which according to the CMD “helps the top lobbyists for state chambers of commerce get on message about the national political agenda of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”
In stark contrast to the Arizona Chamber’s legislative agenda, the local Tucson Metro Chamber’s legislative agenda is mostly positive and progressive, including: increased education funding, more funding for roads and infrastructure, increased child-care subsidies and opposition to reductions in the state Medicaid program. There’s no mention of citizen initiatives. However, they have long opposed any hikes in the minimum wage and mandatory paid sick leave.
Perhaps we should be asking members of the Arizona Chamber if they completely support its legislative priorities. Is gutting the right of citizens to bring initiatives to the ballot, along with having an underpaid, uneducated workforce in their best interest?