Gov. Doug Ducey will detail his legislative priorities for the year in his State of the State address January 14 that coincides with the start of the legislative session.
But Ducey has dropped hints at what will be at the top of his legislative wish list this year.
In his inaugural address January 7, Ducey emphasized the importance of Arizona adopting a drought plan to stabilize water levels on the Colorado River. The governor will also likely carry over some of his legislative priorities from last year and bring back topics he talked about on the campaign trail.
Here are some issues you can expect Ducey to address:
The governor’s top priority heading into the new legislative session is for Arizona to adopt a multi-state solution to an imminent water shortage on the Colorado River.
As water levels in Lake Mead drop to perilously low levels, seven Southwestern states that draw water from the river aim to implement water reductions to stabilize lake levels.
In order to get on board, Arizona must adopt the Drought Contingency Plan and implement an interstate agreement to spell out which in-state water users will face cutbacks and when.
If the Legislature isn’t able to pass water legislation by January 31, the federal government could step in and force harsher water cuts on the state.
Ducey has already pledged $35 million to help Arizona water users cope with the cutbacks that will come with signing onto the plan. He has not specified where those state dollars will come from.
Expect Ducey to bring back his school safety plan to prevent school shootings, but something’s got to give if the governor expects the same plan to pass the Republican-controlled Legislature this time around.
Ducey’s initial plan was nearly universally disliked by members of both parties.
National Rifle Association-backed Republicans felt the plan went too far by letting parents and school officials ask judges to take guns away from people who appear to be a danger to themselves and others. Democrats opposed the plan because they felt it didn’t go far enough and called for additional provisions like universal background checks.
But at the close of the 2018 session, Ducey said he’s still committed to passing his school safety plan, including a key provision that allows judges to issue Severe Threat Orders of Protection.
“I believe we can get the full school safety package passed,’’ he said. And if there’s a problem with that, “the onus is on us as elected leaders, the onus is on the Legislature to make the right vote.’’
When it comes to education funding, Ducey will push to see through the later years of his plan to provide 20-percent pay increases to Arizona’s teachers.
When Arizona teachers were on the verge of revolt last year, Ducey promised them 20-percent pay increases by 2020. While teachers received approximately half of the 20-percent last year, Ducey will have to ensure the remaining boost to teacher pay is included in the final budget.
If he can make it happen, education funding will have increased by roughly 19 percent or $644 million over three years.
The governor counts it as one of his top priorities for the year.
“I know that we need more money for K-12 education,” he said this week. “Today, we’re sitting on a billion-dollar surplus in our general fund and I’m open-minded as to where we can invest and spend that money where it will have a return. But my first priority is going to be to complete the 20 percent pay increase for our teachers.”
Teachers associated with the Red for Ed movement last year said Ducey’s so-called 20×2020 plan didn’t go far enough because, among other reasons, it didn’t restore the state’s education funding to pre-recession levels.
There’s no doubt teachers will be back at the Capitol this year asking for more education funding. But what is unknown is if Ducey will be willing to go above and beyond what he already promised teachers.
Ducey called for an end to legislative immunity over the summer after Rep. Paul Mosley claimed “legislative immunity” during a traffic stop where he was pulled over going more than 40 miles per hour over the speed limit.
At the time, legislative Democrats criticized the governor’s newfound support for scrapping the privilege granted to state lawmakers because Democrats have pushed legislation to repeal legislative immunity for years.
But prior Democratic support for the idea indicates Ducey may have the legislative backing he needs to push for a repeal.
Because legislative immunity is rooted in the Arizona Constitution, neither Ducey nor the Legislature can repeal it, but the Legislature can refer the issue to the 2020 ballot, where voters can make the final decision.
When Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, was arrested last month on suspicion of extreme drunken driving, he didn’t claim legislative immunity, but he did flash his House ID instead of his driver’s license when he was asked for identification.
The incident could give Ducey more firepower in his case against legislative immunity this year.
In his inaugural address, Ducey reiterated his pledge not to raise taxes, and despite Arizona’s largest budget surplus in a decade, the governor wants the state to remain frugal.
“We’re not going on a spending spree,” he said. “We’re going to live within our means.”
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee predicts the state will have a structural balance of approximately $200 million at the end of the current fiscal year, with that going up to nearly $1 billion in 2020.
Ducey also wants to squirrel away upwards of $180 million from conforming Arizona’s tax code to changes enacted in federal law — a move that has put the governor at odds with some GOP lawmakers.
Some legislative Republicans are calling for Ducey to return that money to taxpayers and called his plan to use the additional funds to shore up the state’s “rainy day” fund a tax hike.
The division sets up what will likely be one of many battles in the Legislature this session.