Legislators Preview 2004 Session

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"You seldom get so much legislative leadership out of rural Arizona," House Majority Leader Jake Flake said.

Flake, along with the other members of the District 5 delegation, Rep. Bill Konopnicki and Sen. Jack Brown, addressed a crowd of more than 70 at the Jan. 9 Eggs and Issues meeting.

The rural leadership in the Arizona Legislature includes Flake, Senate President Ken Bennett of Prescott, and Brown, who serves as senate minority leader.

"I believe when you're elected, you should work for the good of the state, setting partisanship aside," Brown said. "We have a good team. We have the most solid group working down there."

Flake, Konopnicki and Brown agreed that water will be one of the major issues in the new legislative session, which began this week.

"We will be looking at the water laws," Flake said. "We're pledged to work with you any way possible (to get water), so long as it doesn't come from other water fields."

Brown said he thought it was a big mistake for Payson to sell its Central Arizona Project allocation to Scottsdale in the early 1990s.

"I think you're limited by water and land," he said. "The Forest Service is pretty tough to deal with. The locals are pretty nice, but they get their orders from Albuquerque or Washington (D.C.)."

While he agreed water is a big issue, Konopnicki saw things from a different perspective.

"The biggest issue is the imbalance between metro and rural interests," Konopnicki said. "There are no single issues; all are related."

While the junior representative from District 5 may feel there are no single issues, his senior partners in the delegation said there will be several other big concerns in the new session.

Flake sees transportation and State Trust Lands as two of the dominating issues.

On the matter of transportation, the Legislature must decide if the half-cent sales tax for freeways and transit in Maricopa County will go on the ballot in May.

"It will have to be dealt with early," he said, "It might be Maricopa County's sales tax, but if it is passed, it will mean more transportation money for rural counties."

Flake said there are a number of interests in State Trust Lands.

"It's the schools' land," he said. "We can't lose sight of that. Conservation groups believe parts should be preserved. Other groups believe some of it should be sold to developers, with the money going to the trust for schools."

He said the agriculture industry has been using most of the land and has used it with stewardship practices.

"They have used it, but not abused it," he said.

Other issues of concern for Konopnicki include forest health and the budget.

"There is not a lot the state can do about forest health," he said. "The budget will be a little easier this year, but we have to realize we are just one terrorist attack away from the budget going south again. We haven't funded universities and community colleges. There have been no raises for state employees. The mandatory spending (approved by voters) is growing faster than our economy."

To contact the Legislators:

Sen. Jack Brown

(602) 926-4129; e-mail jbrown@azleg.state.az.us

Rep. Bill Konopnicki

(602) 926-5409; e-mail bkonopni@azleg.state.az.us

Rep. Jake Flake

(602) 926-5219; e-mail jflake@azleg.state.az.us

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