In January 2016, the progressive oriented Arizona Center for Economic Progress formed under the umbrella of the Children’s Action Alliance. Located in central Phoenix, this organization, with ties to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Ford, Anne E. Casey and Arizona Foundations, has already impacted the public policy arena with Democrats (and some Republicans) like Senate Minority Leader Steve Farley and other Legislative District Candidates drawing on the progressive ideas and solutions championed by the Center’s 15 member staff.
The founding and current Director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress is attorney, child advocate, educator (he was a founding principal for ASU Preparatory Academy), former State House Democratic Leader and State Senator David Lujan. On December 18, Mr. Lujan sat down with Blog for Arizona to discuss the purpose of the Center, its accomplishments and impact, and what projects it would like to pursue over the next two years.
Please tell the readers the purpose of The Arizona Center for Economic Progress?
“ The Center advocates for those strategies that will create better economic conditions for all Arizonans. Arizona has one of the highest rates of poverty. How are we going to turn that around? The economy is doing well but how do we make it good for everyone? We need (economic and job) expansion outside of Phoenix (Maricopa County) because economic growth is slow elsewhere. We need to invest in (K12) education and community colleges.”
Please describe at least two ways this organization is different from other progressive organizations?
“We use data and analysis to produce reports and use those as tools to advocate at the state capital. We bring together people to advocate for solutions at the state capital. We produce information as well as advocate.”
A link to the Center’s report for 2019 where the staff outlines issues the state faces and their progressive ideas and legislative solutions to them is https://www.azeconcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/State-Budget-2019-web_12-19.pdf
What were at least two policy/electoral areas from 2017 and 2018 that your organization successfully participated in helping to make law?
“Blocking $200,000,000 worth of tax cuts in 2018 with help from (organizations) like Red for Ed such as a capital gains bill that would have primarily benefited 800 millionaires. We brought attention to how tax cuts are draining revenues for education. This also played a big role in Red for Ed”.
What were at least two policy/electoral areas from 2017 and 2018 that your organization was not able to help make law?
“Reform tax credits (private school tuition tax credit cap that rose automatically without legislature acting on it). If we don’t address it, it will eat up all corporate tax revenues. I think this year with new Democrats (in State House), we may be able to act on it.”
Will your organization be developing a New invest in Ed proposition?
“We are working with a number of organizations (including some that worked on Red for Ed). We want the legislature to refer something to the ballot. We want a measure that is preferably not regressive. If the legislature is unwilling, we are prepared to get signatures. The biggest criteria are not to rely solely on regressive sales taxes. It (Invest in Ed) would have passed if it stayed on the ballot before the court took it off. We would work towards (putting the proposition on the ballot) in the 2020 election. We are not going to wait until the last minute.
What policies will your organization pursue in reference to the policy areas of:
1) Education: “At least half of the available billion dollars in one-time revenue should go to school facilities. We want to create jobs for infrastructure especially in rural areas as well as expanding Wi-Fi (in the schools and rural areas)”
2) Health Care: “The Children’s Action Alliance advocate for Kids Care. We have a bill to take the trigger out that would freeze enrollment if the federal funding match is not 100 percent (it will be 90 %). We also support expanding Medicaid which has led to expanding thousands of jobs.”
3) Children: “ We want to bring back the $53,000,000 left on the table (by the Republicans at the end of the 2018 state legislative session) to help fund childcare.”
4) Combatting Poverty: “Everything we do is to reduce that like funding post-secondary (start funding the community colleges, to begin with.) The first step is to restore state funding and make post-secondary education more affordable without going to debt. We also want to promote justice reform and (end the) cycle of incarceration by going after the private prison system and their lack of incentive to rehabilitate.
5) Affordable Housing: “Funding the affordable housing trust fund which provides grants to help fund affordable housing.”
6) Revenue “In the long term, we need to address the pitfalls of Proposition 108 and asking voters to revisit it because it ties the hands of the legislature to address the priorities of the legislature.
7) To what extent have other local and statewide candidates subscribed to the ideas offered by the Center?
“In regard to candidates and elected officials, it has been very encouraging to see many candidates and elected officials talking about the need to stop cutting taxes and stop creating new tax credits and loopholes, as well as connecting-the-dots between the past tax cuts and the lack of investments in public education, post-secondary education, and other priorities. I think we saw examples of that from just about every Democratic candidate for the legislature this past election cycle and even a few Republicans.”
Mr. Lujan and his team at the Arizona Center for Economic Progress have correctly emphasized issues such as child poverty, affordable health care and postsecondary education, growing inequality, social groups and classes being left behind (even in a good economy), and the need to revitalize our states rural areas that many have not given proper attention. All public servants who want to study more of these issues and examine potential solutions should visit the centers’ website at https://www.azeconcenter.org/ to learn more about this organization and use its staff and resources to help formulate their ideas to make Arizona a better place for everyone.