Immigration and infrastructure reform were focal points at this year’s Statespersons’ Luncheon, where U.S. Representatives Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., shared their insights from the nation’s capital.  

Around 100 people – including legislators, local officials and business professionals alike – packed into the East Valley Institute of Technology’s Culinary Arts School last week for the PHX East Valley Partnership’s annual luncheon.

Moderated by Arizona Public Service President Jeff Guldner, the annual event is designed to connect East Valley business leaders with two Congressional representatives to learn more about how they’re advancing Arizona’s business interests in Washington, D.C.

Guldner kick-started the discussion by asking Biggs and Stanton for their opinions on the current political landscape in Congress and how they think it will affect Arizona industry.

Both politicians, who share seats on the Judiciary and Transportation and Infrastructure committees, agreed that immigration and infrastructure improvements are critical for aiding the state’s burgeoning economy.

Stanton said infrastructure improvements across the country would help Arizona continue to thrive as an economically competitive state.

“The best thing we can do, in a bipartisan way, is pass an infrastructure package,” said Stanton. “It’s great for jobs and makes sure people get paid good wages – it will help rebuild the economy,” he said. “The best thing we can do is invest in ourselves.”

Back in January, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Peter DeFazio set a goal for a $500 billion infrastructure package from the House by June this year.

Stanton explained that Congress is looking at increasing passenger facility charges as a way to fund airport improvements. Public transportation investments are also in the bill, including light rail and bus rapid transport.

Internet accessibility is also crucial for successful businesses and fair competition, he added, especially for the state’s tribal communities.

“Internet and internet accessibility, particularly in some of our poorer neighborhoods, is important,” Stanton said. “The digital divide is real and there’s a federal role to make sure some of our lower income neighborhoods have access to high-speed internet and rural high-speed internet – including the tribal communities.”

The House recently passed a net neutrality bill, “Save the Internet Act,” to which Stanton added an amendment that would guarantee tribal communities access to broadband capabilities. More than 20 Native American tribes inhabit Arizona.

Biggs echoed Stanton’s opinions on the importance of the infrastructure bill, but pointed out that there is still no clear way to pay for it.

“The questions are ultimately, ‘what will be in the package and how are we going to pay for it?’” he said.  “I would say we’re still in an uphill climb position. I think that it is very important that we contextualize any major spending packages going forward.”

There was initial talk of raising the federal tax on gasoline and diesel, but so far, no long-term funding sources have been identified. Biggs added that the current national debt is $22 trillion.

On top of infrastructure improvements, Stanton said immigration reform is another top-tier priority.

Through a new and improved Dream Act, Arizona would strengthen its location and relationship advantages with its Latino population, he told the audience.

“What needs to happen is we need to pass a clean Dream Act so that young Dreamers have the opportunity to have affordable higher education,” he said. “Instead of using young Dreamers as pawns for larger efforts on the border wall, we need to provide those young leaders a path to citizenship so they can take a rightful place as leaders in our community.”

The new proposal includes a path to permanent citizenship for many Dreamers, which are undocumented immigrants who arrived as minors, but doesn’t include provisions on border security or immigration enforcement funding.

While Biggs said he believes the bill will pass on a party-line vote through the House floor, it won’t make it past the Senate – an obstacle the Dream Act has faced in the past.

Future trade with Mexico though, he said, is looking optimistic.

“When you talk about trade with Mexico, the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) is still being re-worked, but I believe it’s going to be passed and it will improve the economy immensely,” Biggs said, adding:

“It’s going to make trade fairer so we can compete with imports coming into this country and we are also going to be able to compete with exports.”

Toward the end of the luncheon, the moderator opened it up to audience questions.

One woman asked the representatives if they have suggestions for ensuring that the leadership in the East Valley is more representative of its diverse population – especially when it comes to women.

“I think just we have to continue to reach out and I think it’s moving that direction now,” said Biggs. “It may not be happening as fast as maybe as you want it to, but I think it’s moving that direction. I think there’s good news ahead of you.”