Our new governor has been sworn into office and the legislative session has begun.
We know that Arizona’s budget is facing a $1 billion shortfall and the state has been court-ordered to pay $317 million to schools. We also know that while other states are rebounding from the recession, Arizona’s employment rate and economic recovery continue to lag behind others.
During his State of the State address, Governor Doug Ducey committed to more of the same. There will be no new revenues, no delay of corporate tax cuts, nor a temporary way to deal with the $1 billion budget deficit. “Not on our watch,” he said.
Our new governor likes sports analogies so I will describe his address as being cut from the same three decades old Republican playbook – a losing strategy that has prevented Arizona from performing at a championship level.
During last week’s Chamber of Commerce presentation, Republican Senate President Andy Biggs accused Democrats of not being good cheerleaders. Does he really think that if we just adopted a more rah-rah attitude this pesky $1 billion deficit would disappear? There aren’t enough pom-poms in the state to do that.
Democrats will not stand on the sidelines and cheer for bad game plans. The Republican vision of an improved economy based upon a conservative economic philosophy has never materialized. The harm to our children is immediate and real.
Despite his campaign pledges to ensure opportunity through education, Governor Ducey doubled down on what doesn’t add up: Starving government at the expense of our schools does not, nor will it lead to a major league economy.
The governor can and should scout out other states to expand his economic playbook. Do Arizonans want investment in a competitive, knowledge-based economy or do they want to starve government at the expense of our health, safety and opportunity? Does Governor Ducey want the economic success of the state of Washington or the economic failure of the conservative tax policies of the state of Kansas?
Arizona is not an ice-cream shop. Governor Ducey should not be franchising bad ideas.
Successful business leaders know investing in their people is key to economic growth. Will businesses want to locate or stay in a state with poor performing schools? Will employers want to locate in a state where workers lack the job skills needed to compete?
Recent legislatures have given so many tax cuts and tax credits to special and corporate interests that we can’t meet our legal obligation to appropriately fund schools. The subsequent cuts to public education have been so deep that large class sizes and low salaries are driving good teachers from the classroom. Students are shortchanged; just seven of every 100 who enter elementary school graduate from a four-year college.
Unfortunately, Governor Ducey and the Legislature seem more concerned with waitlists for charter schools than providing the infrastructure of opportunity to the 85 percent of Arizona students who attend traditional public schools now.
Additionally, there was not a word about universities in this week’s address. Ominous? Attempting to balance the budget by further slashing funds to our universities would be disastrous to Arizona families who can’t afford additional tuition increases.
Back to the sports analogies. If Governor Ducey wants to lead a thriving state to its potential, he’ll need to be a more innovative leader, an actual game changer. Democrats want to help solve our state’s problems and offer to join him in the clubhouse to help come up with a winning game plan.
Coaching great Vince Lombardi once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
– Bill Roe is chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.