Photo by Howard Fischer, for the Miner.
PHOENIX (AP) – Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday promised to pump more cash into the state's K-12 public schools by starting to restore some cuts made during the Great Recession. He also wants the Legislature to fast-track a proposal to address the opioid crisis, overhaul the state's water laws and help fund his push to cut prison recidivism.
Details on the new school funding the Republican governor proposed during his fourth State of the State address weren't released. Ducey wants to add money to the basic funding formula that is distributed to schools based on enrollment and other factors and restore it to pre-recession levels. There have also been cuts to the school building fund and to cash needed to maintain and operate schools.
"I've pledged to increase spending on K-12 education, above and beyond inflation, every year I'm in office," Ducey said. "I've also said, we'll never check the box on public education. We can always do more for our kids and teachers."
Restoring all the cuts couldn't happen in just one year, but the goal is to accelerate investment in public K-12 schools. Some of the money will come from cash freed up by his agency directors during a review of spending he ordered last year.
The governor's office declined to provide details of the proposed new spending, saying they'll come later in the week when Ducey's budget proposal is released.
On the opioid front, Ducey said he plans to call a special session of the Legislature this month to enact the proposal. The legislation is expected to include a limit on the first fill of narcotic drugs from doctors and dentists and add tools for prosecutors targeting doctors, manufacturers and illicit drug dealers. He specifically called out a quartet of alleged "pill mills" that have avoided prosecution.
"When we have four doctors, in one small, rural county of 200,000 people, prescribing 6 million opioid pills in just one year – 6 million – something has gone terribly, terribly wrong," he said. "And we know that 75 percent of heroin addicts started on opioids."
The governor called an opioid emergency in June and the state Health Services Department put in place real-time overdose reporting rules. Between June 15 and Dec. 28, 2017, the department tracked more than 4,900 suspected overdoses and 716 suspected deaths.
"Our package will attack this issue from all angles, while protecting individuals who suffer from chronic pain, and maintaining compassion for those struggling with addiction," he said.
Ducey's staff has been working during the off-session to revamp a state law enacted in 1980 to ensure Arizona can survive a cutoff of Colorado River water in a drought situation while continuing to grow.
"Earning Arizona's reputation as a national leader in water management was no easy feat and it didn't happen by accident," Ducey said, "It was the proactive nature of our predecessors, and our state's willingness to take-on complex issues."
The governor has been pushing to cut the number of released prisoners who return to prison, focusing on job training and other efforts to help them become productive citizens when they return to society.
He wants to expand a job training program to include as many as 1,000 inmates at men's and women's prisons west of Phoenix.
"These efforts and others are paying off," he said. "We've seen a 10 percent drop in released inmates going back to prison on a technical violation, and Arizona is experiencing the largest drop in the number of inmates in our prisons since 1974."
He also wants to help former inmates get jobs by ensuring that they have state identification before they are released. Not having an ID hampers their ability to get jobs.
"Let's get people off the streets; and in a job - with the goal of shutting down prisons, not building new ones," he said.
The governor also touted the state's relationship with Mexico, a key economic partner. He hailed a citizen, Thomas Yoxall, who killed a man who attacked a state Trooper last year alongside Interstate 10. He also honored Cindy McCain, Sen. John McCain's wife, for her efforts in fighting sex trafficking.
Ducey came into office in 2015 promising to cut income taxes each year he's in office, but he has mainly backed small decreases that do not affect state revenue in a major way. This year will be no different: He's proposing to increase an exemption granted to military pensioners that allows them to shield $2,500 of their income from taxes.
That number hasn't increased since it was adopted in 1989, meaning the value to the 52,000 affected retirees has shrunk. He wants it boosted to $10,000 over two years, saving the average veteran $280 in state taxes a year.
"Their service has earned them a lifetime benefit from our nation," Ducey said. "So please, send me a bill that increases the exemption and demonstrates to our vets that we value this service."