Arizona State of the State: Confidence and Conviction, Promise and Possibility
Continuation of streamlined government, regulatory reform, low tax burdens, and cutting-edge education policies
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey delivered a sunny State of the State address, highlighting the “capacity of our state, and its people, to always be ahead of the curve – knocking down barriers and breaking with conformity.” He celebrated that Arizona now has “the highest percentage of female legislators of any state in the nation.” Leading the way on smashing the glass ceiling is nothing new in Arizona. As noted by the governor, Arizona has “more women governors to date than any state in American history…and two decades ago voted women into every single statewide elected executive position.”
Ducey commended the legislature for their bipartisan pursuit of solutions, boasting that “more than 90 percent of the legislation we passed together was bipartisan” last year. He declared, “We enter 2018 with confidence and conviction, promise and possibility. The state of our state is strong, and our future is without limits.”
One of the areas troubling policymakers from both parties is opioid abuse, a scourge that claimed more than 800 lives in the state over the past year (according to the governor). The state has already curbed “Doc shopping” and made Naloxone for overdose victims available. But the governor promised a “more aggressive approach” going forward: “All bad actors will be held accountable – whether they are doctors, manufacturers or just plain drug dealers.”
This strong law enforcement stance extended to other matters as well. He commended the Border Strike Force for seizing 283 guns, nearly 48,000 pounds of marijuana, and 11 million hits of heroin over the past two years. He also called for strengthening DUI laws, to make it a felony with prison time with “no exceptions.”
At the same time, he emphasized the importance of rehabilitation of convicted criminals. He explained the need to teach “life and career skills to inmates who are scheduled to leave prison soon…. Let’s get people off the streets; and in a job – with the goal of shutting down prisons, not building new ones.” His vision is already becoming a reality with “Arizona is experiencing the largest drop in the number of inmates” since 1974.
Ducey outlined plans for increasing education spending. But rather than present funding as a cure for failing schools, he stated, “The most compelling argument for investing in our public schools is that they are improving and getting better.” He listed evidence, including the fact that “Arizona students continue to lead the nation in improvements in reading and math.” “We know how to educate a child in the state of Arizona. We need to do it more often and in more locations across our state,” said the governor.
As a counter to those suggesting his administration has shriveled funding, he noted that “overall per-student spending is up 10 percent since 2015 – that’s adjusted for inflation. Over the last three years, we’ve committed 1.7 billion new state dollars to K-12 education.” And this capital is largely flowing to teachers, as “school districts have increased their investment in teacher salaries by nine percent” since fiscal year 2015.
Ducey promises “to increase spending on K-12 education, above and beyond inflation” every year he’s in office. This includes a proposal to “restore long-standing cuts from the recession” of nearly a decade ago. In particular, he wants to provide all-day kindergarten and expanded career and technical education.
Arizona now ranks first place on state education policy, including private school choice programs, charter schools, and state academic standards. The competition provided by the choices provided to parents certainly pays dividends.
On an education matter unrelated to funding, the governor reminded all of the importance of “diversity of thought.” Although many college campuses increasingly allow a “heckler’s veto” to shut down controversial or unwanted speech, “Here in Arizona, on our campuses, debate is encouraged; free speech is protected, and diversity of thought isn’t just a platitude – it’s alive and well in lecture halls, on debate stages and in the pages of college newspapers.”
Turning to economic matters, Ducey announced the state “wiped out” 676 needless regulations” last year saving $48 million in compliance costs. He spoke out harshly against licensure requirements that serve only to block out competitors and entrepreneurs, such as the 1,000 hours of training required to “make a living blow-drying hair. No scissors involved.” He pointed out fewer hours are required to be certified as an EMT, Certified Nursing Assistant, or a truck driver.” To those opposing the governor’s efforts of “cutting red tape, chipping away at regulations and opening up economic freedom,” he offered this word of advice: “The train is leaving the station. Get on board, or you’re going to get left behind.”
“We know the recipe for success,” said the governor. This recipe includes “lower taxes, light regulation, [and] great public schools.” In fact, as taxes declined, Arizona “went from a billion dollar budget shortfall three years ago, to discussion today over where to spend our additional dollars.” Companies and people are flocking to Arizona.
It’s no surprise that 2017 marked the sixth consecutive year of ranking in the top 10 for economic outlook, according to the Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index. The state has the 14th lowest top personal income tax rate, a top corporate tax rate that has dropped from near seven percent to under five percent since 2013, and a declining property tax burden.
Indeed, “people vote with their feet.” A continued commitment to streamlined government, regulatory reform, low tax burdens, and cutting-edge education policies will assist the governor in his mission to make Arizona “the Entrepreneurial Capitol of the US.”