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Church State Issues

Christian Grand Canyon University wants a government handout???

Jan 1, 2013

Arizona Republic

I can imagine why the religious folks at Grand Canyon University would love to sucker the government into giving them millions of dollars in government handouts, but the elected officials in these cities should know any government handout to a religious group violates both the U.S. Constitution and the Arizona Constitution.

But sadly most of these elected officials quickly forget what the constitution forbids then from doing when the receive a campaign contribution from someone that wants a government handout.

Cities vow to avoid GCU battle

By By Parker Leavitt The Republic | Tue Jan 1, 2013 12:34 AM

Civic leaders are pledging to resist a regional bidding battle as Phoenix-based Grand Canyon University solicits economic-incentive packages for its planned satellite campus in the southeast Valley suburbs.

The for-profit university plans to build a 75- to 150-acre campus that could eventually boast 7,500 students and 2,000 employees. The school’s main campus is near 33rd Avenue and Camelback Road in Phoenix.

Grand Canyon last month invited five southeast Valley communities to propose sites for the new campus and offer incentives ranging from land giveaways and tax rebates to infrastructure improvements.

Besides asking Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Tempe and Queen Creek to bid, the company invited Las Vegas and Albuquerque to join the competition.

But after years of border fights over coveted economic assets like auto malls and shopping centers, community leaders say the culture of competition is giving way to a spirit of cooperation.

City officials are now more inclined to work together in competing with major markets in California, Texas and overseas rather than fight among themselves, East Valley Partnership President Roc Arnett said.

Arnett said he expects civic leaders to take the same approach in negotiating an agreement for the Grand Canyon University campus.

“In the last two years, I’ve seen more cooperation between cities than I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Arnett said. “I think the cities will avoid at all costs a bidding war, and they’ll communicate together.”

Elected officials and city administrators in the southeast Valley echoed that sentiment.

Chandler Mayor Jay Tibshraeny said he has already spoken “in generalities” about the university bid with the other four mayors and does not anticipate a bidding war.

“We’re in this individually, but we have had some dialogue as a group that it’s not wise to jeopardize taxpayers’ dollars,” Tibshraeny said. “From Chandler’s perspective, it won’t happen.”

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, whose city recently landed five small liberal-arts colleges without offering incentives, said he does not want to be “manipulated” by a for-profit company that’s looking to grow.

“The incentive for them (the five colleges) was that this is a great community where they can succeed,” Smith said.

Mesa will work with neighboring communities to find the best place for the new Grand Canyon campus, which will benefit the entire region regardless of which site is chosen, Smith said.

“We’re always interested when an organization wants

to come and invest in our community,” Smith said. “We’ll work with Grand Canyon and the other cities in a reasonable way to help them find the right place.”

Grand Canyon CEO Brian Mueller said the company is happy to work with a group of cities collectively if officials prefer that approach.

“We want the best location where we can serve the greatest number of students,” Mueller said. “We just think there’s going to be a trend of students wanting to stay closer to home to go to school and wanting to do it in the most economically feasible way possible.”

Grand Canyon officials pointed to several recent examples where public subsidies were used to support higher education, including $14 million from Phoenix for a University of Arizona cancer center and up to $2.5 million from Peoria for Trine University.

Plans for the new Grand Canyon campus include four 80,000-square-foot buildings with amenities such as a student union, laboratories, a recreational center, a bookstore and a library, according to the company’s request for proposals.

The university wants to open the first building in time for classes in fall 2014, company executives have said. The second building would likely open in 2016, followed by a third and fourth by 2020.

Gilbert Mayor John Lewis said civic leaders will want to be “ambassadors” for their own communities but must also realize the campus will be an asset for the entire region.

“Economic development and education go hand in hand,” Lewis said. “A strong workforce is important for retaining and attracting businesses.”

That doesn’t mean incentives won’t be a part of the conversation, however.

Queen Creek Economic Development Director Doreen Cott said the town is working with local landowners to identify potential sites and intends to submit a bid package that could include development incentives.

General tools the town has to offer include expediting plans through its development process, waiving building and permitting fees or helping improve infrastructure, she said.

Chandler Economic Development Director Christine Mackay said officials in her city are still poring through the request for proposals but expressed interest and excitement to “see something new.”

Tempe spokeswoman Nikki Ripley said the city is “staying engaged in the process and evaluating the situation” but declined to comment further.

Grand Canyon initially indicated that cities should respond with a notice of intent by Jan. 7, but Smith said the company should be “more realistic” with expectations.

Mueller, the Grand Canyon CEO, said that the Jan. 7 date is not a hard deadline and that the company does not need “anything substantial” from the cities until later.

The university’s proposal lists Feb. 15 as a deadline for cities to submit bids and says it will notify the winner by May 1.