As we learned, the economy is roaring! Schools are getting boatloads of money! Jobs are everywhere! The average Arizonan earns $70,000! (The governor failed to note this claim refers only to select, high-income jobs that qualify for state tax incentives.)
Gov. Ducey needs us to believe this fantasy is reality.
Because otherwise we’d see through the pretty images and fancy talk about how Arizona is a leader among states. We’d realize the governor isn’t setting forth a bold, new vision for Arizona’s future, but rather placing us on a path to move back in time, specifically one more in line with the budget priorities of 2008, when a Democratic governor led the state.
I can’t say I blame the governor for wanting to rewind the mistakes of the last decade. I miss the days when schools had a teacher in every classroom and students didn’t exceed the number of desks.
I just find it completely duplicitous that Ducey would use the first part of his speech to chastise the so-called “spending lobby” for wanting a return to pre-recessionary spending, then use the rest of his speech to tout all the ways he plans to get us closer to a pre-recessionary budget.
As evidence, look where Ducey indicated plans to spend most of this year’s surplus dollars. He isn’t launching a host of new programs, but rather attempting to make old priorities and agencies whole.
In other words, to move forward, we must first move backwards.
In education, Ducey wants to restore funding Republicans cut from district and charter school additional assistance, flexible money schools can use for things such as textbooks or technology, as well as the cuts his administration made to career and technical education programs.
He’s also proposing to give rural community colleges a partial restoration of monies for workforce development, though he’s still committed to zeroing out funding for urban community colleges.
Pay increases are once again expected for corrections officers and teachers in hopes another round of raises will ease the shortages.
But what Ducey and his allies fail to understand is that this crisis is about more than subpar salaries. Educators and corrections officers are also dealing with deteriorating working conditions that include overcrowding, lack of adequate resources, crumbling buildings and broken cell door locks, and dangerously high levels of lead in school drinking water, among other things.
Ducey’s willingness to spend money on roads and bridges is another attempt at calming the waters. Our roadways are in such a state of disrepair that some Republicans last year were willing to spurn the party’s unofficial dogma against tax increases to support a hike in the gas tax. Restoring money to the state’s highway user fund should keep these Republicans in line.
While I’m happy the governor is finally seeing the importance of investing in infrastructure and people, I can’t help but wonder how much better off this state would be had our Legislature and Republican governors taken a more responsible approach to the recession.
Imagine if, instead of slashing taxes and creating more carve outs for corporations and special interests while also slashing critical services and programs, our leaders had attempted to balance both sides of the ledger.
Instead of using this year’s surplus to backfill cuts, we might be talking about programs to help ease our affordable housing crisis or help our most vulnerable adults and children find safety and shelter outside of a prison cell.
Instead of talking about how to keep teachers in classrooms, we might be talking about how to compete with classrooms regionally and nationally.
The miscalculations of our past are still costing us today, and I shudder to think what will happen if another recession hits in the next year or two. How do we weather a storm when we’re still working to clean up the mess created by the last one?
Let’s hope voters pay closer attention to the decisions being made at the state Capitol. Let’s hope next election they choose decisionmakers capable of moving us beyond 2008.