Things are better now than they have been at any point since Gov. Jan Brewer took office in 2009 amid a crippling recession and fiscal crisis. But the governor said they can be better still, and stressed the need for Arizona to be more competitive.
In her fourth State of the State address, and fifth speech to a joint session of the Legislature, Brewer emphasized the need for Arizona to be more competitive in the realms of economy and education.
“We have just celebrated all of the achievements of Arizona’s first 100 years, and we were reminded of Arizona’s five C’s – copper, cattle, cotton, citrus and climate,” Brewer told the hundreds of people on the crowded House floor. “I am here to tell you that our second century will hinge on another C – competition.”
The speech marked 30 years in elected office for Brewer, who was sworn in for her first term at a House representative in 1983.
Brewer said Arizona must compete not only for the most desirable jobs, but the best teachers and most talented students.
With Arizona’s budget stable and state revenue on the rise, many at the Capitol are looking to increase K-12 funding. And Brewer made it clear that it will be one of her top priorities.
Brewer said she will propose the nation’s first comprehensive performance funding plan for Arizona’s districts and charter schools. The plan will not eliminate the state’s attendance-based funding formula for schools, she said, but will augment the system “with an innovative approach to promoting school performance, while maintaining local control.”
She also said her budget plan, which she will release on Friday, will include increased funding to implement the new standards known as Common Core, a nationally standardized system that Arizona State Board of Education adopted for K-12 schools in 2010.
“It’s not enough to install a new curriculum, raise standards and hope for the best. I’m committed to helping schools and teachers make this transition a success,” Brewer said.
Despite modest funding increases after years of deep cuts, K-12 schools have not yet received any extra money to implement the mandate. It is unknown how much the program will cost.
Brewer vowed to take action on another K-12 issue – school safety in the wake of last month’s mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. The governor said her budget plan will restore funding for school resource officers.
The governor and Legislature cut $6.7 million in funding for school resource officers in the 2011 fiscal year, and some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are clamoring to restore it as a response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Brewer did not say how much funding she will include in her budget.
But the governor, who has loosened Arizona’s gun laws during her time on the Ninth Floor, rejected the calls for stricter gun control that followed the shooting.
“Crime and violence in Arizona continue to trend downward. Arizonans have reduced crime by punishing criminals, and not by infringing on the rights of law-abiding gun owners,” Brewer said.
Brewer also said she would protect children by increasing funding for Child Protective Services. A task force the governor established improved the oft-maligned system, she said, but more must be done. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who spearheaded the task force, sat in the front row for the governor’s speech.
Brewer said her executive budget plan will add 150 CPS caseworkers while strengthening foster care, adoption services and emergency placement of at-risk children. In addition, she said she will seek an emergency budget request for 50 new caseworkers immediately.
In what is probably the biggest policy agenda of her administration for the coming year, Gov. Jan Brewer said she is prepared to fight for Medicaid expansion.
And on the economic side, the governor touted her plan to simplify Arizona’s transaction privilege tax system, which she described as one of the most complicated sales tax systems in the United States. A Brewer-appointed task force recommended a series of changes, including standardized licensing, state-run tax collection, centralized auditing by the state, and a change in the way taxes are collected on construction materials.
Arizona’s sales tax system is an “accountant’s dream,” she said, but a nightmare to business owners like Linda Stanfield, the owner of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing and a member of Brewer’s Transaction Privilege Tax Simplification Task Force. Brewer had Stanfield stand for applause in recognition of the “tireless efforts” of small business owners whom the governor said make up the backbone of Arizona’s economy.
“But we must do more than simply thank our small business owners,” Brewer said. “We can adopt the concrete steps outlined by Linda, Senate Majority Leader John McComish, House Majority Whip Rick Gray and other members of the special task force, steps that will simplify our sales tax code, remove one more barrier to economic growth and make Arizona even more competitive.”
Brewer boasted of Arizona’s economic recovery, which she credited to tax cuts and limits on regulation. She praised the work of the Arizona Commerce Authority, which she said has already helped bring 6,000 jobs and $680 million in capital investment to the state.
“In the new economy, talent is king. Creativity is the new capital. And competition is worldwide,” Brewer said.
She also praised the work of TGen, the Translational Genomics Research Institute, and introduced Shelby, a 12-year-old girl who suffered from a rare neurological disorder that TGen created a treatment for.
“Amazing things happen in Arizona when we work together as leaders, marshal available resources and encourage innovation and partnership,” Brewer said.
Brewer, who’s earned a national reputation as a committee adversary to President Barack Obama and a frequent critical of the federal governor, took a few shots at Washington, D.C., as well. She said Arizona has limited regulations and enacted strategic tax cuts, “unlike our ‘friends’ in Washington, D.C.”
The governor waded into the long-running dispute over federally controlled land that rages in Arizona and other Western states. She announced in her speech that she issued an executive order establishing the Arizona Natural Resources Review Council, which will create a plan to protect Arizona’s interests on the 30 million acres of land in the state that is controlled by the federal government.
And with comprehensive immigration reform on the front burner in Washington, D.C., Brewer, who gained national fame for signing the anti-illegal immigration law SB1070, once again called on the federal government to gain operational control of Arizona’s border with Mexico, specifically in the Tucson sector, before tackling immigration reform.
“I’ve heard earnest calls for immigration reform. I agree our nation’s system is broken and has been for decades,” Brewer said. “To the reformers, I say this: demonstrate your stated commitment to a secure border by making that your first priority.”
In the meantime, Brewer said, she will issue an executive order to create an anti-human smuggling task force. Cindy McCain, the wife of U.S. Sen. John McCain, sat in the front row. Brewer praised her as a leading voice in the fight against human trafficking, and said she will work with McCain to combat the problem.
Brewer also praised recently retired U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl and thanked him for his service.
“Sen. Kyl leaves behind a lasting model of quiet, dignity, grace, and something those of us in the West used to call ‘horse sense,’” Brewer said.