As the nation's economy has worsened, unfortunately, so has Arizona's. Addressing the state's budget shortfall in next legislative session will be paramount and will require the better part of our attention now and in the foreseeable future. However, we need to continue to address other issues that are critical to our state.
Given the state's current economic crisis, we need to create ways to grow and diversify our economy. The creation of high-wage jobs with good benefits in emerging sectors is one way to accomplish this goal. The development of renewable energy sources, such as solar, could provide new opportunities.
The solar panel manufacturing industry is seeing significant growth and Arizona should be a natural location of these businesses. But we are losing these jobs to Oregon and New Mexico because they have been far more competitive in luring these businesses. All things being equal, Arizona would attract these businesses outright. However, we must recognize that all things are not equal. If we want to compete we must look at what needs to be done to level the playing field.
Arizona's Constitution rightfully includes provisions that allow citizens to bypass the legislative process and bring issues directly to the voters. In recent years the initiative process has rarely been the grass roots efforts that the framers intended. All too often, items are placed on the ballot by well-funded (and often out-of-state) organizations or wealthy individuals who are able to advance their personal agendas by "buying" the signatures required to qualify.
People who are paid to gather signatures do not have to know anything about the initiative. Worse, some intentionally misstate what the measure does or the impacts it will have if it passes. The titles given to these initiatives and the campaigns that are conducted are for marketing purposes rather than for providing accurate information. Some campaigns even border on deception. While I have great faith in the voters of the state, they should not have to wade through all of this hype to know what they are voting on.
We must reform this process to return it to the citizens of Arizona.
Over the last several years, I have sponsored legislation to bring greater accountability into what is for many people the most important investment of their lives. One law makes residential mortgage fraud a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Another helps to protect Arizona home buyers by requiring all loan originators - not just mortgage brokers and mortgage bankers - to be licensed.
If this legislation had been in place, perhaps some of the people whose homes are being lost to foreclosure and whose credit is being damaged would not be in such a dire position now. At least we now have these protections in place for the hard-working consumers of the state. However, there is more to be done.
This year I will be examining the new federal law - the Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act of 2008, and its impact on Arizona's new loan officer licensing requirements to ensure we continue to modify our state law to be most effective. Additionally I will begin to look into real estate appraisal reform. This area is long overdue for a thorough review.
STATE TRUST LANDS
State trust land reform is a perennial issue and will remain an important topic this session. We need to find a way to maximize this resource while protecting its purpose - funding our children's education.
One possibility is turning the State Land Department into a self-funding agency. If we sell land more efficiently, we access funds sooner and relieve pressure on the state's General Fund. Stakeholders have been working on this issue long enough. It's time to move forward with the areas of consensus.
As a member of the 49th Legislature, I look forward to serving you and working with my colleagues to balance the budget and employ a program of reforms to address these issues, among others, that will get our state back on track.
Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, R-Chandler, represents District 21 in the Arizona Senate.