As the 2018 legislative session began, Gov. Doug Ducey again focused on education.
The conversation around how to fund K-12 education adequately has reached a fever pitch in Arizona. And just as the governor’s speech revolved around the topic, you can expect his 2018 re-election bid to be dominated by education as well.
Aside from education, Ducey has yet to deliver on promises of major tax cuts as the state’s growth has limped along. He’s also sought ways to change the justice system to help people leaving prison, and proposed ways to alleviate the opioid crisis.
The Capitol Times caught up with the governor the Friday before session started to discuss his priorities and preview the next few months.
So, you have one session left in your first term. You pledged to cut income taxes, but that hasn’t really happened. Why hasn’t that been a reality yet?
I pledged to cut taxes every year, and I want to see our income tax get as close to zero as possible. We came into office with a one billion dollar deficit the first year, so I think the fact that we were able to balance the budget while lowering taxes and put money into K-12 education was a significant accomplishment. We want to see our economy continue to improve. I’ve always said, if we want to see our income tax get as close to zero as possible, we’d need a term or two, a plan and a growing economy.
Teachers have taken you to task for low education funding and the ongoing teacher shortage. Do you think you’ve done enough to help teachers? Do you think their complaints are justified?
I think we need to do more. I think we will do more, and I want to see our teachers better rewarded and retained in the classroom. I have great respect for what our teachers do. I think besides parents, they’re the biggest difference-makers in our state and in our public education system, and we want to get these dollars to them.
One thing from last year is the raise you had proposed. A lot of teachers had a problem with the amount, and they called it a bonus or a stipend instead of an ongoing raise. Do you think you handled the teacher raise issue well last year? Would you do it differently?
The pay increases are permanent, and they will be in the base formula. We’ll also have additional dollars that will be available for teacher pay. Like I said, I am on the side of the teachers. I want to see them get more money. I want to see them have more dollars in their paycheck. We’re going to put more money into the system, and I’m going to challenge superintendents and principals to get those dollars to the teachers.
Your office has undertaken water conservation, looking to change a host of water laws, some of which have drawn some criticism from the Central Arizona Project. Why is now the time for looking at water laws? And do you think the Central Arizona Project should be nervous about this process?
The state should speak with one voice on water and water resources. It’s been some time since our state did anything significant around water. … We’re going to work with all the constituencies and all the influencers and leaders and decision makers to have the best possible package going forward. You’ll hear more about that through the course of the legislative session.
Do you anticipate it being a big battle?
Well, they say that whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting. We’ve worked hard to make sure we’re properly communicating with legislative leadership, influencers in the Senate and in the House and also with the different constituencies that are important for the water discussion.
Most of your efforts on the justice reform front have focused on second chances after people leave prison. But do you think too many people in Arizona are being sent to prison?
As the chief executive of state government, my job is to enforce the laws. These are the laws that are on the books. I trust in our judicial system. I do think there’s opportunities for reforms. Where we have those opportunities for reforms, let’s talk about that, but what we have right now is 41,000-plus people in our state prison system. The overwhelming majority, 99 percent, will be released from prison. Very few people die in prison, very few people are scheduled for execution. What I want to do is see people that are leaving prison have that second chance. If we want to talk about different reforms around our sentencing guidelines, that’s a totally different subject. But my number one issue every day when I wake up is public safety, and I do think we live in a safe state. I want to see it continue to be safe.
Do you have any interest in getting into sentencing reform?
My main interest has been around the reduction in recidivism, but I do think it’s a discussion that’s worthwhile and I’m open-minded to it.
Some lawmakers are returning to work with a colleague they have accused of sexual harassment, something that’s got to be awkward if not a hostile work environment. What do you say to those lawmakers? How do you think the allegations of harassment may affect this legislative session?
The first thing I’d say to everyone in elected office and all of our lawmakers is to focus on why you were elected to public service. It’s to serve the public and to do your duty. We have a job in front of us and it’s time to get to work on Monday. … I think there’s no place for sexual harassment in the workplace. There’s no place for it in these chambers. I think we should have zero tolerance for it. I will respect the process that Speaker Mesnard is putting forward, and I’m hoping that everyone will be on their best behavior going forward.
Some folks say using medical marijuana can help with the opioid crisis, as sort of a way to help people wean off addiction. Is that something you’re interested in looking at at all?
Most of the voices around that seem to have some type of financially beneficial relationship with the industry they’re promoting.
So that’s a no?
I want to end the opioid crisis. I don’t know that introducing another drug into the conversation is part of the solution. The best thing that I’ve seen is to provide naloxone to reverse these overdoses, and we’re working with some other drugs that can help people be free of the cravings that they have around addiction. That’s what we’re going to focus on.l