The state’s governor, Doug Ducey, fresh off re-election in November is riding a wave of popularity and increased revenues.
We will see how long that lasts.
Ducey followed his State of the State speech Jan. 14 with an $11.4 billion budget proposal on Friday. For perspective, one year ago his proposal was to spend $10.1 billion — the most in Arizona history.
Over the years, Arizona governors have trotted out their budget proposals with earmarks for hot-button issues. In the past 10 years, most concentrated on recovery from the recession. Ducey’s number crunchers have checked off a number of these needs:
• Increased funding for Child Protective Services caseworkers — pay raises;
• Increased funding for Department of Public Safety and Department of Corrections officers — pay raises;
• Increased funding for education — pay raises as the next step of the pay plan designed to boost teacher salaries by 20 percent by 2020.
• More money for schools with high grades, based on the state A-F grading system; the change would make 675 schools throughout the state eligible for more money, compared to only 285 under the current system.
• More money for education — designed to turn out more qualified applicants for technical and health care jobs.
• And money for university operating cash and capital improvements.
Obviously, there are many more funding changes; however, the silence on some issues is deafening.
Lost or forgotten is money for pay hikes for non-teaching school personnel. The response previously from the governor’s office is that schools are receiving more money, some of which they can decide where to spend it. Still, public schools are operating on less money now than what they received 10 years ago; more students, less money even for repairs.
Also not mentioned in the budget is the unpopular $32 added to vehicle registration fees through the Motor Vehicle Department. That money — 50 percent more than promised — was slated for helping to pay for State Troopers’ wages, rather than having the agency funded out of gasoline taxes — which everyone pays — and existing vehicle registration fees.
That is supposed to free up cash from the gas tax to instead be used for road construction and repair. And that, in turn, means that general tax collections that had been used for those purposes could instead fund other priorities of the governor and Legislature, according to Capitol Media Services.
Concerning is that Ducey’s budget staffers say the state’s current growth rate of 6.8 percent per year is expected to drop in the coming fiscal year to 3.3 percent, and 3.1 percent after that.
That could mean fewer dollars in the state’s coffers, and why Ducey wants to put $542 million into the “rainy-day” fund, more than doubling the current levels.
Smart, but it all sounds like a shell game.
But let’s assume the governor has the best of intentions.
That is a tall order, considering we have yet to learn of all the details in the budget proposal.