As the 53rd Arizona legislative session begins, it is time to focus on how we need to be involved in where our state should be headed. Legislators’ jobs are not easy. Day in and day out they juggle complicated issues that may make our future strong or put it in jeopardy.
The recent 109th Arizona Town Hall took on one of the most challenging issues of our day — how to finance the things in our state that we care about, while navigating our precarious funding infrastructure.
The Town Hall is a prime example of outstanding civic engagement, with more than 120 participants from all over the state. As one of those participants, it was the Town Hall process that reminded me all citizens must be engaged, and that elected representatives, as well, must identify and understand the topics that will impact our state now and for years to come.
For more than 50 years, the Town Hall process has worked to address critical issues facing Arizona. Participants receive a comprehensive, fact-based background report compiled by universities and business leaders. Vigorous panel discussions take place, using a consensus-based approach to formulate the final recommendations.
Young and old, citizens from both rural and urban communities, business owners, educators, students and community leaders — those who know the topic well, and others who don’t — make up the panels to craft the final report.
As we spent three days examining our how to finance our state’s future, we learned that 90 percent of its revenue comes from income and sales taxes and that 90 percent of the spending is allocated to five main areas: K-12 education (45.5 percent), AHCCCS and other health care (19.5 percent), prison system (19.5 percent), universities (7.5 percent) and economic security and child safety (9.5 percent).
These facts, coupled with the diversity of voices, led to robust discussions on defining the true priorities for Arizona and what revenue streams should fund the necessary investments needed for our state to excel.
These were the hard-fought recommendations: Over-arching principles should be adopted by lawmaking bodies and include: (a) adoption of principles of sound government financing; (b) investing wisely in education, public safety and preventative services; and (c) stopping our practice of short-term thinking and instead developing a long-term strategic plan that focuses on outcomes and supports spending that invests appropriately for the well-being of the state’s citizens.
If Arizona is to flourish, it is important that:
1) Civic engagement matters. Get involved in Town Hall. It will be extraordinarily enlightening.
2) Get lawmakers involved . Spending three days on key issues would be a gift for them and our state.
3) Embrace the idea of civil discourse. Only through learning more about the issues and peeling back how things actually work — or don’t — will we be able to create solutions to move forward.
Town Hall will be hosting a series of meetings in the coming months to share our recommendations. These meetings invite more input and insight from citizens — and that means you. Civic engagement is not only our responsibility; it is our way of contributing to the growth and quality of our communities.
The next Arizona Town Hall will focus on the complicated formulas for financing education.
You don’t have to be an expert on the topic to participate. If fact, diversity of ideas and varying levels of knowledge or expertise are part of the magic of the process.
The other magic is you — your engagement in planning our future. Let your voice be heard.