State of the State: Arizona
Building on the success of the past
“The state of our state in 2017, is resilient and strong. Our economy is growing, our schools are improving, and our citizens are succeeding,” thundered Arizona Governor Doug Ducey in his State of the State address. He applauded legislators from both sides of the aisle for seeking solutions. “On the really big issues…it wasn’t because we had Republican ideas, or Democrat ideas. It’s because we had Arizona ideals. Let’s keep that spirit going this session. ”
Data demonstrates the reality of this enthusiasm and optimism. The most recent edition of Rich States, Poor States ranks the state’s economic outlook at number 5 nationally. Contributing to this competitiveness are relatively low workers’ compensations costs, the state’s right-to-work status, widespread tax expenditure limits and relatively low income taxes.
The governor discussed education in-depth, recognizing “the excellence occurring in our school system.” ALEC’s recently released Report Card on American Education ranks Arizona’s state education policy #1 based on six factors including state academic standards and charter school access. And although the National Assessment of Educational Process (NAEP) test results for public school students remain slightly below the national average, scores have markedly improved in mathematics and reading since 2000. But complacency is not an option under consideration. As a preface to a dozen plus proposals for more improvement, the governor admonished, “We can’t claim opportunity for all, unless every child, regardless of their background, neighborhood, county, or zip code, has access to a quality education.”
“I want the teachers of our state to know: You make the difference. I value your work, and it’s time we return the favor,” said Governor Ducey. He called for permanent salary increase for public school teachers, an expansion of incentives to attract teachers to impoverished districts and a debt free college education for those committing to teach in Arizona public schools.
This call for a funding increase may be justified given that Arizona’s $2,855 of instruction spending per pupil is less than every other state except Oklahoma, Idaho and Utah and is barely 65 percent of the national average. But the governor warned, “I’m not a promising a money tree. I can’t. There’s no pot of gold or cash hiding under a seat cushion.” And he promised that raising taxes to achieve this funding boost is not a possibility.
The governor also recognized that causes other than funding lie behind the teacher shortage-namely outdated rules. He noted that even former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor would not have been considered qualified to teach high school under the current teacher certification process. To remedy this problem, Ducey called for placing “trust in our school boards, superintendents and principals by letting them make the hiring decisions, and remove the obstacles.”
Referencing state operations more broadly, Governor Ducey admonished, “Government can work when it respects its limited role, and listens to the people.” He pointed out the increase in efficiency—reduced MVD wait times, record revenue and visits at state parks, and contractor licenses being issued “76 percent faster.” The state delivers government services with increasing efficiency while employing a lower percentage of the population as government workers than every other state except one.
Of course, one of the end goals of increased government efficiency is jobs growth. “We know the best route to a better life for an individual and their family–a good paying and rewarding job,” explained Ducey. Indeed, jobs growth (in percentage terms) in Arizona exceeded that of 32 other states from 2004-2014. But the “real credit” for robust growth in jobs “goes to our business owners, their hard working employees and the entrepreneurs out there. What we, in this room, have done is simply get out of the way, and let California move backwards with more nutty ideas.”
Governor Ducey joked that California is “harassing self-driving cars to drive themselves right out of California, onto the I-10 and straight into Arizona.” The governor specifically mentioned the “nutty ideas” of cap and trade along with emissions standards for computer monitors. Data from the Census Bureau bare testament to this exodus from California and influx into Arizona. From 2005-2014, more than 563,000 (net) migrated to Arizona from other states while more than 1.265 million left California domestically.
To continue this spirit of opportunity, Governor Ducey requested that entrepreneurs help him identify jobs-killing regulations and enter these on RedTape.AZ.gov. His goal? Delete 500 regulations in 2017 which are not actually protecting consumers. He announced that occupational freedom would be expanded by a continuation of “chipping away at onerous licensing requirements-often designed to keep out competition or stifle new, exciting ideas.”
As the governor boasted, “Arizona is not without its challenges, but there’s no doubt about it—life really is better here.” Overall, the agenda set forth by Governor Ducey promises to make the environment yet more conducive for growth in the Grand Canyon State.