I had the privilege of being on the floor of the state House today for what was Gov. Doug Ducey’s first State of the State address before a joint session of the Legislature. The mood was electric and the governor was outstanding. If this were Olympic diving, the governor just scored a perfect 10 on the Triple Lindy.
He came out of the gate swinging. The governor, who pledged during the campaign to make putting a downward pressure on tax rates a cornerstone of his administration, said the he “was just not persuaded by appeals to raise taxes so we can spend more.”
Gov. Ducey called for permanently indexing the state’s income tax brackets to inflation. This is a policy that the Chamber strongly supports. A raise in salary should mean greater wealth, not a bump into a higher tax bracket and a higher tax burden. Indexing to inflation prevents these backdoor tax increases.
He also said that the tax reforms the state is currently implementing, including a reduction in the corporate income tax rate, would not be put on hold. Businesses are planning around the promise of tax reductions, and he rightly warned that there’s “a high price to pay for going back on your word.”
When it comes to educating Arizona’s students, the governor’s mantra is “classrooms first,” with a pledge to spend more for the direct instruction of our kids. He’s right that yesterday’s policies are shutting out too many families from high quality schools, as evidenced by lengthy waiting lists at our best public schools. Yet there are somewhere in the range of 400,000 seats sitting vacant in empty Arizona school buildings that could be used to accommodate high quality schools, welcoming kids who deserve a top-notch education. The governor called for the establishment of the Arizona Public School Achievement District to identify the cream of the crop of the state’s public schools- both district and charter- to give them access to available buildings and access to capital for expansion that “our best public schools can borrow against to bring down their debt service costs.” That means fewer dollars spent on servicing debt and more money devoted to paying teachers.
The governor today made clear that he’s not going to shy away from thorny issues. A lawsuit over inflationary funding for the state’s K-12 system has cast a pall over the crafting of the fiscal year 2016 budget. Gov. Ducey said it’s time to put the lawsuit to an end and, as he said, “stop paying lawyers and start paying teachers.”
I support Gov. Ducey’s call for heightened attention to the civics education of our students. If you’re going to call yourself an Arizona high school graduate, you should know the difference between Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge Judy.
On the regulatory reform front, the governor is going to be the Regulation Terminator. His first move as governor was to adopt an Executive Order to institute a moratorium on new regulations, and today he went a step further, calling for the inclusion of a small business perspective on the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council and for agency heads to reduce the time for issuing permits and licenses. This is a governor who takes seriously his commitment to grow an economy and not a government.
This speech earns an A+. The governor was direct, he was optimistic and he presented a policy agenda that was centered on growth and prosperity for all. Doug Ducey is poised to be the transformational leader Arizona needs.