Friday, February 20, 2009

No matter how much we resist, politics' impact unavoidable

Adapted from a guest column by Farrell Quinlan provided to the Arizonan quarterly published by the Arizona Capitol Times for the Arizona Contractors Association.

One fact of life that the Panic of 2008 or the Great Financial Meltdown (or whatever historians end up calling it) has reminded us is that no matter how hard we might try to ignore it, sooner or later, the consequences of government policy impacts everyone.

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you,” commented Athenian statesman Pericles 2,500 years ago in the cradle of democracy.

Today, with trillions of dollars flowing from Washington in various bailout schemes and billions of dollars in red ink here in Arizona – for good of for ill – politics has decided to take an obsessive and maybe even oppressive interest in you.

Here’s were a lobbyist might come in handy.

Sure, we all have a general sense of what a lobbyist does. Lobbyists serve special interests and get things from government that the rest of “us” can’t – if it were only as easy as that.

First off, everyone is a member of a “special interest.” Often, we are special interests many times over. Small business owners, teachers, construction workers, taxpayers, Social Security recipients, youth sports coaches, gun owners, nurses, doctors, lawyers, firemen, dog catchers, morticians, circus performers and a thousand other designations are all special interests who have lobbyists dedicated to looking out for their concerns.

We tend to see our own lobbyists as virtuous knights fighting the good fight against the despicable forces of the special interests when, in all candor, we’re all equally virtuous and despicable when it comes to influencing public policy.

We call them “special interests” for a reason. Human nature dictates when it comes to our own circumstance, there really is a special case to be made for our interests.

Some of the most important but difficult to quantify benefits a trade association membership provides its members are public policy representation and advocacy – otherwise called special interest lobbying.

During the first four to six months of every year, the Arizona Legislature meets in regular session to consider hundreds of pieces of legislation as well as produce a state budget that conforms to the constitutional mandate of being balanced. A typical session sees more than 300 bills pass out of about 1,200 introduced.

Part of the job for a trade association’s public policy team is to know the issues confronting their industry and making sure that the Legislature takes appropriate action on them. That can take the form of drafting legislation to address an issue, recruiting a legislative sponsor and supporting the legislation through committee hearings, amendments, passage by both chambers and signing into law by the governor. It can also mean opposing bad measures and/or offering amendments to improve legislation sponsored by other interests, special or not.

Trade associations also promote their industries by providing opportunities for direct contact between their members and the policymakers that have considerable power over their member companies and jobs. Either through face-to-face interaction with politicians by the association’s membership or through political action committee efforts to support pro-industry lawmakers, the trade association’s public policy team’s advocacy continues long after the conclusion of any legislative session.

“Having knowledge but lacking the power to express it clearly is no better than never having any ideas at all,” to again quote the ancient Pericles. In this spirit, a trade association works to give its members the power to express the interests of their industry, especially the special ones.

Renewable Energy Manufacturing a Key to Revive, Diversify Arizona’s Ailing Economy

Adapted from a guest column by Farrell Quinlan provided to the six member chambers of the West Valley Chambers of Commerce Alliance for publication in their newsletters.

First the bad news, it’s been a tough year.

It started with unprecedented high gasoline prices. Then followed the realization that the rising mortgage crisis wasn’t going to ebb or be contained. Instead, its “toxic assets” surged into a general credit and financial tsunami that engulfed the banks, crashed the stock market and plunged the nation and world into a deep recession.

Arizona, long the state on the leading edge of growth during the fat times, has been hit harder than most. Our economic fortune was tied to the mast of new home construction. The perfect storm of the mortgage and financial crises has exposed how narrowly dependent we have been on “growth” in general to support our economy.

Simply put, Arizona’s economy is not diversified enough. Our state spending appetite mirrored the unsustainable appreciation in our home values. We have a larger state budget deficit on a percentage basis than any other state, including the basket case of California.

Unemployment is rising. Arizonans are worried about their futures.

Something has to change to break this depressing cycle. We need to revitalize our economy, attract new capital investment and take advantage of our natural advantages to create jobs and diversify our portfolio.

The good news at the Arizona Capitol is a groundbreaking approach to incentivize the creation of new, high-paying manufacturing jobs throughout Arizona by attracting to our state one of the few remaining growth industries, renewable energy development and generation.

Sen. Barbara Leff’s SB 1403 would accomplish this through state income tax credits for renewable energy manufacturers that bring to the state new capital investment (plant, equipment, land and infrastructure) and job creation. It would also temporarily reclassify real and personal property for qualified projects with over $25 million in capital investment to help mitigate Arizona’s uncompetitively high and burdensome property tax on businesses.

And these aren’t just any jobs. A majority of jobs must meet or exceed 125 percent of the state’s median wage. Employers must provide health care coverage and pay at least 80 percent of employees’ premiums.

Haven’t we heard all these promises before?

Arizonans possess a well-earned skepticism for incentive programs to promote one industry or another. Many feel such programs over-promise and under-deliver. That’s why SB 1403 has been crafted to avoid past pitfalls and guarantees that not one dime of tax credit is realized until capital investments are made, jobs are created and the project is operational.

Taxpayer safeguards in SB 1403 abound. The total and annual amounts for the tax credit program are capped. It positions rural communities to be competitive in attracting new industries and high-wage, high-tech jobs. Companies must commit to at least ten years of operations and if a company tries to reverse course, SB 1403 includes tough “clawback” provisions that refund all incentives and credits to Arizona taxpayers.

Moreover, a detailed analysis by the eminent economist Elliott Pollack demonstrates that the program’s aggregate revenue impact is positive to the state General Fund. The bottom line, it’ll make the state money.

With all of these taxpayer safeguards and a solid “if you build it, only then will the tax credits come” requirement, SB 1403 establishes a new gold standard for economic development incentives that should serve as a model for any future incentive programs.

But the greatest benefit of SB 1403 is that is directly addresses Arizona’s stubborn lack of economic diversification by promoting the development of clean, sustainable, 21st Century technology industries.

There is a consensus that America must become more energy self-sufficient and wean ourselves off imported petroleum, especially from parts of the world where terrorists and dictators might enjoy a chokehold on our national security and economic well-being. Renewable energy generation is a key component of any energy independence policy.

The massive federal- and state-level support for renewable energy production that we’ve all read about means someone, somewhere has to make the billions of dollars in materials and equipment necessary to generate that renewable energy. Why not Arizona?

With SB 1403 on the books, Arizona will again be at the leading edge of job growth and have a more diversified and stable economy.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Say It Ain't So, [Another] Sad Day For Baseball

I have been a fan of Alex Rodriguez since he was the the top draft pick who was a sure fire superstar like Ken Griffey, Jr. I never understood the hate that he drew from fans and some in the media. He was too perfect (re: insincere) in interviews and you just knew he wasn't being square with you. Or that was the knock against him. I never begrudged him his 10-year, $252 million contract. Many succumbed to ugly jealously and criticized him for the money and his prickly perfectionism. The glare and scrutiny increased exponentially when the Texas Rangers dumped his contract on the only team that could handle its size, the New York Yankees.

A-Rod has been the most talented and arguably best player in baseball for the last decade. Now we learn that his best just wasn't good enough. He admitted today to using performance enhancing drugs during the 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons. A reason he gives was the stress brought on by The Contract.

I haven't yet fully processed the impact of this revelation. But the sadness and deep melancholy among the baseball press is palpable. In a few short years, A-Rod was to be "The One" who would cleanse the sport of its most egregious embarrassment, Barry Bonds' holding of the All-Time Home Run Crown.

That can't happen now.

Now all of us who love the game must come to grips with the fact that steroids, HGH and other performance enhancing drugs were not the exception but the rule in baseball since at least the early 1990's. Whatever innocence we thought an A-Rod assault on Barry Bonds' record could restore is gone forever.

Major League Baseball will never be the same to its fans. They're all suspect now. They're just like the rest of us. Flawed, prideful and all too human.