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A spirit of service — a session of success

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On Sunday, January 7, I sat on the floor of an empty House of Representatives listening to Governor Ducey practice his fourth State of the State address. The speech was an ambitious policy agenda and one line in particular, following the governor’s recognition of our compassionate state, stands out when I look back:

“It’s that spirit of service that got us here. And it’s that same spirit of service that will lead Arizona, into the future.”

This line really captures the work of so many individuals in what became one of the most productive and historic legislative sessions in memory — education champions, parents, students, public health providers, law enforcement officers, first responders, business leaders, and of course, our teachers.

Kirk Adams

Kirk Adams

One issue we knew we had to address was the opioid epidemic. Working with his agency directors, medical professionals, law enforcement, community leaders, chronic pain sufferers, pharmacists, substance abuse treatment experts, elected officials of both parties and others — the governor proposed sweeping and aggressive legislation aimed at curbing addiction and saving lives.

Ushered through a concurrent special session, the legislation would gather bipartisan and unanimous support and pass within one week’s time. The package takes aggressive steps to address opioid addiction, hold bad actors accountable, expand access to treatment, and provide life-saving resources to first responders, law enforcement, and community partners.

Following the special session, we shifted focus back to the governor’s executive budget, including a plan to restore recession era-cuts to a key part of the state’s education funding formula. With the support of superintendents across the state, the proposal would result in $371 million of ongoing funding for schools phased in over five-years, beginning with $100 million this year. It would be just one of several initiatives to improve Arizona’s public education system.

But on April 11, new revenue projections would allow us to take even more aggressive action on education funding. The Finance Advisory Committee, recognized that through March (we) were $262 million above forecast and that the state revenues would significantly increase over the next several years. Take a second to think about that. Just three years after tackling a billion dollar budget deficit, the state is set to see major economic growth.

It’s often said that a budget reflects our priorities. As the state recognized new revenues, the governor directed these dollars to something that has continually ranked first among his policy initiatives: K-12 education. On April 12, the governor announced the 20×2020 plan — a proposal to increase dollars for teacher pay 20 percent by school year 2020.

The announcement was the easy part though — and we were about to embark on one of the toughest legislative debates in recent history, with one very clear direction for our staff from the governor: Do not negotiate on our commitment to Arizona teachers, parents and students.

Some had other ideas in mind — shelve the plans to restore recession-era cuts to education and use that money to invest in teacher pay instead. The governor declined. “No shell games,” he told us.

Another proposal sought to increase teacher pay at a lower amount by 2020, rather than the 20 percent. The governor again declined. “We made a commitment,” he said, having met with teachers and promised he would follow through. “We have to deliver.”

It paid off. On April 27, two days after the teacher strike began, a budget deal was reached with legislative leadership to fully fund the governor’s plan.

There’s more work yet to do. Governor Ducey felt strongly that Arizona needed to be proactive on the issue of school safety, and returning from a conference of national governors, he immediately convened stakeholder meetings with parents, teachers, students, law enforcement and mental and behavioral health professionals to develop Arizona solutions.

Out of those meetings came the Safe Arizona Schools Plan, released on March 19. While we managed to get some of the plan through, including improvements to the background check system database and significant investments in mental and behavioral health resources, other components stalled. Politics overcame progress. The governor’s commitment on this issue remains strong though, and his priority is for the legislature to address this issue that so desperately deserves action.

The Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act. The bipartisan 20-year renewal of Proposition 301. The 20×2020 plan. A restoration of recession-era cuts to education. These are just a few of the accomplishments this legislative session, including tax relief that recognizes the service of military veterans, protecting our border, enhancing school safety, and investing in developmental disabilities.

It was a session that for all of the challenges and uncertainties included major results for Arizonans. Results that will have a lasting benefit for years to come, and that recognize the “spirit of service” is alive in our classrooms, military installations, neighborhoods, and really, all around us.

— Kirk Adams is chief of staff to Governor Doug Ducey, and a former speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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