January 13,2020 | TRIADVOCATES
January 13, 2020
This afternoon, Gov. Doug Ducey delivered the 2020 State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate. In his 64-minute speech, the governor laid out his priorities for the upcoming session—his most robust and aggressive policy agenda since taking office. Dubbing it “The Arizona Way,” Gov. Ducey called on lawmakers to build on the state’s growing momentum with a continued focus on lowering barriers to work, growing jobs in rural Arizona, honoring our veterans, maintaining fiscal responsibility, ensuring public safety, securing our water future, and investing in key priorities like teachers and students, infrastructure and child safety.
Here are the highlights:
The governor is seeking to exempt military pensions from the state’s income tax, a move that would cost $45 million but save an average military retiree about $900 a year.
The governor said he plans to boost funding for K-12 schools, including a full restoration of flexible funding, and wants more money to fund school counselors and campus police officers, and to increase funding for career and technical education (CTE) and trades. He announced an expanded effort to scale a pilot program aimed at closing the achievement gap for struggling schools (“Project Rocket") and called for new efforts to build on Arizona’s leadership in civics education. During his address, Gov. Ducey highlighted a $165 million proposal from the Arizona Board of Regents – the “New Economy Initiative” – which calls for targeted money for engineering programs at Arizona State University, high-demand healthcare fields at Northern Arizona University and medicine at the University of Arizona.
Citing the need to fill vacant jobs in rural Arizona, Gov. Ducey unveiled a new Rural Jobs Initiative focused on providing new funds for training programs at community colleges, aligning workforce training with industry needs in rural areas and boosting tourism to state parks. The governor’s budget recommendation will propose an additional $1 million to expand rural tourism development efforts at the Arizona Office of Tourism, building on the $100,000 appropriated last year to promote Arizona’s local wine industry. As part of the new initiative, in partnership with the Local First Arizona Foundation, additional dollars will go toward efforts to better engage rural employers in the development of locally trained workforces and get more people from those areas into jobs being offered by small businesses. The governor also announced tens of millions of dollars in new rural broadband investments to connect rural Arizona to fast, reliable internet. Nearly $50 million in funding for Smart Highway Corridors will enable the Arizona Department of Transportation to install more than 500 miles of broadband conduit and fiber optic cable along designated highway segments throughout rural areas of the state. The new corridors will improve highway safety while providing future broadband capacity for smart infrastructure projects in Arizona’s rural and tribal areas.
The governor touted infrastructure projects he wants to fund, including $78 million for a new I-10 bridge over the Gila River along the highway between Tucson and Phoenix, and an additional $28 million to help accelerate the complete widening of the route to six lanes across the Gila River Indian Community. The investment signifies a broader focus on the Phoenix-Tucson corridor as an economic artery for the state, with notable emphasis from Gov. Ducey on connecting Arizona’s two largest cities.
Cutting the Red Tape
As part of his push to cut government regulations, the governor announced a new executive order that any new regulation must repeal three others. He also wiped out 18 boards and commissions he considered unneeded, vowed to sign legislation requiring boards that oversee professions to have a majority of public members instead of insiders, and proposed that any licensing board with a major budget surplus should be required to suspend its fees—for both new licenses and license renewals.
Mental Health Access
The governor called on insurance companies to improve coverage for mental health as the state faces a growing number of suicides among young people (with one of the highest teen suicide rates in the country, Arizona has seen a 50% increase in suicides by people younger than 18 in the past two years). He also announced the development of a Suicide Prevention Action Plan that includes three main goals: 1) improve the mental health of individuals and communities; 2) collect new data to monitor suicide in Arizona and identify the most affected demographic groups; and 3) ensure treatment and support services are available to clinicians, communities, families and survivors.
Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry
In a rebranding effort aimed to highlight a new focus on rehabilitation and an emphasis on preparing inmates for life after incarceration, the state prison system will now be called the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry. Gov. Ducey said he wants to give the department $10 million in state money to help staff counselors and start up drug rehabilitation programs to help reduce prison recidivism rates. In addition, corrections officers will get a raise, following up on the 10% increase they got last year—assuming lawmakers give it the green light. He also said the state will, at some point, shut down Florence Prison, which would save nearly $275 million over three years. According to the governor, the 2,000 inmates in Florence will be moved to other prisons or jails throughout the state (state-run, privately owned or county jails), and Death Row, which is currently housed there, will be moved down the road to the Eyman prison. Notably missing was any mention of sentencing reform, as some Republican lawmakers and all Democrats are pushing a revamp in state law to cut sentences for non-violent offenders.
On the heels of the City of Tucson’s overwhelming rejection last November of becoming a sanctuary city, the governor wants to put a ban in state law. He’s calling for the Legislature to refer to the 2020 ballot a referendum allowing all voters to decide whether sanctuary cities should be legal in Arizona. Plot twist: sanctuary cities – which restrict cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities – are already illegal across the state, but the enforcing language is not voter-protected, meaning that this vote would potentially put that decision in the state constitution.
No New Taxes
It wouldn’t be a State of the State without a good ol’ fashion pledge to oppose tax increases. Drawing applause from Republicans, the governor reiterated what he’s said in his five prior State of the State speeches and two inaugural addresses: "no new taxes; not this session, not next session; not here in this chamber, not at the ballot box, not on my watch." That promise will be a little easier to keep given that Arizona is expecting a $700 million budget surplus this year. While only about $170 million of that can be committed to ongoing spending initiatives, a big chunk of change is on the table for one-time funding. Translation: this will undoubtedly intensify what’s already expected to be a short, ugly legislative session, as lawmakers will be fighting for district-specific spending priorities before returning to the campaign trail in an election year.
And there you have it.
Keep an eye out for another special edition of The Navigator later this week—we’ll provide our analysis of the governor’s spending plan when he releases his Executive Budget proposal on Friday.
For a primer on the governor’s policy agenda, click here.
For the full transcript of the governor’s remarks, click here.
And if reading all 5,500 words sounds like a special kind of torture, fear not. You can watch it here (first pitch is right around the 31-minute mark).