Ducey touts investments in K-12, rural AZ in State of the State speech




Gov. Doug Ducey addresses a joint session of the Arizona Legislature to give his State of the State speech on Jan. 13, 2020. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Gov. Doug Ducey promised investments in schools, rural counties and tax cuts for veterans in his sixth State of the State speech Monday, but he shied away from criminal justice reform and sex ed changes  – two issues that will be hotly contested issues at the Capitol as the legislature kicks off its 2020 session.

“In total, we’ve pumped $4.5 billion in new investments into Arizona schools. With our latest budget, that figure will rise to $6.6 billion,” he said.

How that will happen remains unclear, though Ducey will release his budget proposal on Jan. 17, which is expected to provide details about spending for education and other priorities he outlined in the speech.

What is known is that Ducey will not add to education spending by increasing taxes. His speech came several hours after public education advocates announced they plan to ask voters in November to approve a tax increase on the wealthy to better fund the state’s K-12 system and increase teacher pay. 

“Let me reiterate what I’ve said in five prior state of the state speeches, and two inaugural addresses because apparently it bears repeating:  No new taxes. Not this session. Not next session. Not here in this chamber. Not at the ballot box. Not on my watch,” Ducey said.

On veteran’s issues, Ducey said his budget eliminates “all state income taxes on our veterans’ military pensions.” For rural counties, Ducey said funds will come to install broadband infrastructure and he said he wants to allocate $4 million to rural community colleges.

Corrections

Ducey didn’t discuss reforms to sentencing laws in Arizona, but he did talk about problems plaguing the Arizona Department of Corrections. He said he is calling on more money to provide additional raises to correctional officers and to perform needed maintenance, including repairing broken locks on hundreds of cell doors.

The agency will also be renamed the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, which Ducey said “more clearly reflects” the agency’s mission.

And a state prison will shut down. In a press release, Ducey’s office said that facility is the Florence State Prison. All employees there will be transferred to the neighboring Eyman prison, according to the press release. Inmates will be transferred to “third-party operators” – private prisons – and county correctional facilities, according to the press release.

Ducey wants sanctuary city ban added to AZ Constitution 

The governor also seized on an issue that has been popular among his Republican colleagues at the Capitol: sanctuary cities. This immigration enforcement topic was brought to the forefront last year by a Tucson ballot initiative that sought to make the southern Arizona city, a liberal stronghold, the state’s first sanctuary city. 

Voters overwhelmingly rejected the measure in November.

To the applause and cheers of Republicans, Ducey urged legislators to back a ballot referral to amend the state’s constitution to include a ban sanctuary jurisdictions. Ducey said this ballot proposal will be introduced by Rep. T.J. Shope.

Shope, a Latino Republican from Coolidge, told Arizona Mirror he is finalizing the legislation. He said it will include a definition for the term, which doesn’t appear in any Arizona statute. 

Other Republican lawmakers, including Reps. Jay Lawrence and John Kavanagh, have plans for bills that crack down on local governments that limit cooperation with immigration officials.

Ducey also teased a renegotiated tribal gaming compact, which for years he has said needs modernization. This agreement between the state and tribal governments regulates gaming and revenues. 

“For months, we’ve been working to develop a modern, updated agreement. One that is regulated, safe and limited. And that preserves the culture of our state,” Ducey said. “It’s been a give and take, and a worthwhile agreement is this close. We owe it to our tribes and our citizens to get this done.”

Democrats present different vision

Several hours before Ducey’s speech, legislative Democrats rallied near the Capitol with supporters to talk about their agenda for 2020 and how it differs from what Ducey and the GOP lawmakers that control the state legislature want.

“Misguided Republican leadership has put us years – actually decades – behind our economic competitors,” said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, a Yuma Democrat. “The backwards looking status quo remains the majority’s primary agenda.”

Democrats said they would push for substantial increases to education funding, as a starting point.

“(Republicans) want us to throw a parade every time we force them to make incremental positive change, but that’s not enough,” Fernandez said. “We’re treading water, but that’s not good enough.”

Charlene Fernandez
House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez discusses the agenda of legislative Democrats at a Capitol press conference on Jan. 13, 2020. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Other Democratic priorities include better wages, paid family leave and an end to decades of continual tax cuts that “erode the rights and financial security of families,” Fernandez said.

“A state that’s good for workers is a state that’s good for business,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said election reforms will also be an area of focus for Democrats, as will online data protection, ensuring LGBTQ rights and criminal justice reform.

Bradley, a Tucson Democrat, said Republicans have been bad stewards of a state that they have largely controlled since the 1960s, and future generations are beginning to realize that Arizona’s history of prosperity doesn’t guarantee a similar future.

“Years of deliberately hollowing out state government through tax cuts and willful neglect have left our state with a tragically underfunded public education system roads in disrepair and rural communities left behind,” he said. “Republicans celebrate a surplus in the hundreds of millions (of dollars), while government agencies struggle to provide the critical services Arizonans need.”

Democrats get behind some of Ducey’s proposals

While his speech this year didn’t encourage bipartisanship as much as it did last year, several issues Ducey raised were applauded by Democrats. One of those included expanding access to mental health care.

“Insurance companies should be covering mental health, just like they cover an annual physical,” Ducey said. “And we’re going to make sure they do.”

This plan had an instant backing from Democrats.

Other Democratic lawmakers approved initiatives Ducey announced, like funding the purchase of 1,267 body-worn cameras for troopers with the Department of Public Safety and expanding the Phoenix-Tucson corridor of Interstate 10.