Democrats respond to Ducey's State of the State speech
Arizona House Democratic Leader Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley (District 28), and Arizona Senate Democratic Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix (District 24), made the following statements Monday in response to Gov. Doug Ducey's State of State address:
While I appreciate the governor's optimism, the truth is that our state is facing some serious challenges. Nothing Gov. Ducey said indicates that he is pushing for real reform. Instead, he seems to be championing the same failed policies that have stunted our state's economic recovery. Arizona's unemployment rate is higher than the national average. And while most states have regained the jobs lost during the recession, we're still missing almost 100,000 of them. We are not rebounding as quickly as other states because Republicans are prioritizing policies that do not provide a return on investment for Arizonans.
They lack vision. A true economic recovery plan will take a balanced approach and will include transparency, accountability and an emphasis on education, at both the K-12 and university levels. Instead, the Republicans have cut funding for public schools and undermined school accountability standards while expecting our kids to be ready for higher education and the work force. At the same time, they have doled out tax credits to special interests with no evidence that Arizonans are getting a return on those investments. If we want true economic growth, we have to make sure our kids have the skills needed to go to college. Right now, only 7 out of 100 kids who enter Arizona's public high school system graduate from college.
Gov. Ducey is talking about trimming government. In Arizona, when Republicans say they are trimming government, it means they are cutting back on teachers. About half of the state's budget is used to fund education. I was on a school board, and every time Republicans decided to trim government, our school district had to lay off teachers. These cuts have contributed to Arizona having some of the largest class sizes in the country. We cannot rebuild on that foundation.
The first step in establishing a sustainable, stable economy is to invest in public schools and to protect our universities. We have an obligation to restore K-12 inflation funding. Instead of finding a way to meet that obligation, Republicans are wasting money on lawsuits to shirk that responsibility. We can make sure our schools have the resources they need, but it means closing wasteful tax loopholes and potentially postponing special interest tax cuts.
Arizonans deserve to have a responsive government, committed to passing a balanced, common-sense budget that supports schools, economic development and the middle class. We need policies that will attract businesses and create jobs. Those are the Democratic priorities, and those are the priorities that will get Arizona back on track.
Return on investment is a concept straight out of Business 101 and one that has helped Gov. Ducey be a very successful businessman. And it's a concept that can help him be a very successful governor, too, if he chooses to see our public schools, our universities, our roads and our people as a good investment.
To balance a budget for true long-term sustainability, we must take a serious look at corporate tax cuts and loopholes to make sure Arizona taxpayers are getting a return on those investments. At the same time we must be diligent in protecting programs that are critical to all Arizonans and to our economy, like our public schools, our roads and AHCCCS.
We must protect our kids' schools from further devastating cuts. For years, Arizona students have been studying from outdated textbooks, in crowded classrooms and in buildings that need repair because the Republican-led Legislature has cut their budgets by more than $3 billion since 2007. Those cuts must be reversed.
A judge has ordered the Legislature to pay Arizona schools the inflationary adjustments that the voters of our state approved and protected with Prop 301 in 2000. It's encouraging to hear the governor express his desire to settle this lawsuit. It's time for Republicans in the Legislature to stop wasting taxpayer dollars by trying to get out of paying that money and instead work with the schools to find a responsible solution that works for everyone.
In his speech, the governor talked about school choice and his desire that every child has access to high quality schools. The reality is Arizona already has the most robust school choice environment in the country, if not the world. Even so, 83 percent of Arizona parents choose to send their children to their neighborhood schools. It does not make sense to open a new charter school down the street from an 'A' rated district school or spend taxpayer dollars on a voucher for a child who is already attending a private school.
Gov. Ducey said that he wants the Ninth Floor to get out of the business of litigation. That is welcome news to not only us, but to the Dreamers across Arizona who have fought long and hard to get driver's licenses. That statement does, however, raise an important question. Will the governor continue to fight the lawsuit from President Biggs and former Speaker Tobin that seeks to reverse Medicaid restoration?
That answer is not only life-changing for the more than 200,000 Arizonans who are newly covered under AHCCCS, but for the fiscal stability of our state. To undo the bipartisan effort from two years ago would blow a $600 million hole in the state budget and force the closure of countless rural hospitals and medical clinics.
There's an old saying that 'You're known by your actions.' Here at the Capitol, that lies in the difference between how you run for office and how you govern. Gov. Ducey ran on his business experience, saying that he would bring a business approach to running state government.
Well, this is his chance to show it. When he releases his budget on Friday, we hope to see that he has made the wise decision to see our public schools, our transportation infrastructure, our vulnerable children and the healthcare of our people as priorities. We're certain that if he does, we will all see a priceless return on the investment.