In his recent letter regarding Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed capital construction plan, Maricopa Mayor Christian Price makes several important points, including noting the vital link between the state’s public universities and local municipalities.
I understand the mayor’s focus on strengthening our cities and helping our state fully rebound from the Great Recession. However, I believe that the best way to do so is to move forward with Governor Ducey’s university funding plan.
Funding our public universities creates the potential to improve Arizona in a diversity of ways no other investment can.
The governor’s plan will address long-needed maintenance projects and fuel new construction, which will require local labor and products, along with new permanent hires in line with campus expansion, all positively impacting our economy.
The retrofitted and new facilities will enhance the universities’ ability to attract major grants, spurring research and development that will lead to spin-off companies, entrepreneurial ventures and industry partnerships that will not only bolster our local economy but also provide life-enhancing – perhaps even life-saving – outcomes.
World-class research and campus facilities will draw more top-level faculty, researchers, staff and students, further raising our universities’ status, as well as the desirability quotient of surrounding communities.
Helping our state universities operate at an optimal level ultimately allows more students to experience the best higher education has to offer, making them highly marketable and equipping them to fill the needs of tomorrow’s workforce. Because many will choose to make their homes in Arizona and contribute their skills, experience and tax dollars here, our cities and state will be stronger and better able to compete in an increasingly competitive global market.
Governor Ducey’s plan would permit the state universities to recapture the state sales taxes they have already paid, a system that puts us in line with most of the nation, as only six states impose a sales tax on public university purchases. This would provide roughly $37 million that would bloom to $1 billion in bonding capacity when matched with university funds.
The last time sizable funding was granted to the universities by our state Legislature, in 2003, massive benefits resulted. Construction boomed at all three institutions, leading to a 50 percent increase in annual research activity that yielded numerous discoveries and startups, including profound advances in medicine, photovoltaics, communications and more. Academic capacity expanded exponentially, as well. In the last eight years, we have nearly doubled our graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – high-paying fields with a growing local industry presence.
With the proposed funding, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona stand to advance at an unprecedented rate, propelling our state forward. Without it, we will lose footing, and so will Arizona.
There is no quick fix and no magic solution. Difficult choices must be made, but with an eye toward generating the most good for the most people in a sustainable way. I am convinced that Governor Ducey’s proposed plan for higher education provides our best option for creating the future we all want to share.
— Matt Salmon is vice president for government affairs at Arizona State University and former U.S. congressman from Arizona’s 5th District.