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Jan 14, 2013 12:36 AM by Sam Salzwedel

Legislators ready to fight for Tucson in Phoenix

TUCSON - Southern Arizona lawmakers think they will have a good legislative session when it comes to fighting for Tucson.

Steve Farley, a Democrat from District 9, is about to start his first term as an Arizona Senator. He has already spent 6 years in the House of Representatives.

"The longer you spend time up there, the more you start to get to understand how things work in the Capitol," Farley said. "You start to get to know people."

The Republicans still have a majority in the House and Senate, but it is not as lopsided. Farley says Democrats will have more influence than before.

"If we can stay off the front page of The Daily Show web site, we will have done something good," He said. "I think we've seen enough embarrassment cast upon Arizona because of what some of this bunch has done in Phoenix."

Ethan Orr is also from District 9, but the Republican will be in the House of Representatives. He is new to the Capitol. He says he will have to work with other Tucson politicians even though they are mostly Democrats.

"Maricopa County controls the legislature," Orr said. "That's where the population center is, and that's why it's so important for those of us from Southern Arizona to stick together."

Orr thinks the Phoenix politicians will listen to more Tucson issues if they come from a fellow Republican. He also says he is getting great treatment for a freshman lawmaker.

"My party wants to hold on to this seat," Orr said. "Tucson is important to them, so I've gotten very good committee assignments, and they're being very receptive to my bills."

Steve Farley wants to focus on education and health care during his term. The state has more than $1 billion in surplus, but many lawmakers want about half the money to stay in a rainy day fund, according to Farley.

Farley wants to spend $500 million on the state health care system. If the state invests that money, they would get $20 billion from the federal government, according to Farley.

"Make our health care system healthy. Make people in poverty healthy, and make our economy healthy at the same time," Farley said. "We didn't pay our tax money to the state of Arizona for them to just put in a lockbox. We want that money spent on our behalf to get our economy going and create jobs."

Ethan Orr is skeptical about spending the budget surplus but says he would consider it.

"I'd be very nervous just to dip in a rainy day fund," Orr said. "That's important to our bonds and our future."

A 1-percent sales tax earmarked for education also expires in May. That will cost about $1 billion, according to Farley.

Orr will be the Vice Chair of the Higher Education Committee. He wants high schools and community colleges to work together more.

He will also be on the Energy and Natural Resource Committee. He wants to strengthen the State Parks.

Orr and Farley both mentioned getting more money for Tucson streets.

"They seem to like stealing our money for our roads," Farley said, "and that's one of the things that I've been standing up against every step of the way."

Farley said he would not be surprised if somebody introduced a bill to allow guns in schools again.

"We can really help make our entire community more solid and more secure without arming everybody and creating an arms race," Farley said.

Orr talked about a system that split the cost of campus officers among the state, municipalities and school districts.

Farley said Tucsonans' concerns would be considered more seriously if they got involved. He said people visiting Phoenix can influence opinions.

"We got to make our presence known up in the Capitol," Farley said, "so they don't kick us around anymore down here."

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