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Arizona Legislature Convenes

Amid Cloudy Budget Forecast

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Doug Ducey. Photograph by Verci.
With An Entirely New Lineup Among The Elected Leadership Positions — Gov. Ducey, Speaker of the House Gowan and Senate President Biggs — Challenges Will Test Opening Proposals To Meet Budget Requirements

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By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine

Jan. 12, 2015 — The skies over downtown Phoenix were hazy and overcast Monday morning, which was perhaps a fitting coincidence for the opening of the 52nd Arizona legislature that is facing an unknown path as it seeks to mitigate an approximately $500 million budget deficit.

As expected, Gov. Ducey announced he would not seek a tax increase to settle the debt, instead suggesting a change to the way taxes are figured in order to increase funds collected by state government.

“(An) essential of good government are tax rates that are predictable and reasonable. Yet every year, Arizona taxpayers are faced with the threat of a tax increase because we don’t tie our income tax to inflation. The result is an automatic tax increase. Let’s end this by permanently indexing our income tax to inflation. This is an issue of fairness and we owe better to all Arizonans – so let’s get it done this session,” Ducey said.

However, he said “not on our watch” to a tax increase, or rather rescinding corporate tax cuts — or reforms — passed a few years ago that are scheduled to be cut even lower in the coming months.

“Any way you look at it, cancelling Arizona’s tax reforms is the wrong way to go. They were designed to put more life in our economy and that need is stronger than ever. Business people – the ones we count on to create jobs – have been making plans around them, plans to build, expand and make new hires. If we change our plans, they’ll change theirs. It’s a high price to pay for going back on your word and that is why I say: Not on our watch,” Ducey said.

Democrat and House minority leader, Rep. Eric Meyer, said, however, that Ducey’s logic is flawed and will only serve to put the state deeper in a hole surrounded by debt and lost jobs.

“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,” Meyer said.

As republicans and democrats continue to publicly fight, the republican triumvirate of Arizona elected leadership — republicans all who are new to their positions, including Gov. Doug Ducey, Speaker of the House David Gowan of Sierra Vista, and Senate President Andy Biggs — have promised to work together.

“We will have disagreements, but as I accept this gavel today, I understand that all of you have the best interests of the state at heart,” Gowan said to the newly assembled House.

Despite the first-day rhetoric, some tough fights lie ahead for the Arizona state government.

Some topics that loom large as unveiled by Ducey is a hiring freeze among state workers while at the same time creating a new state department to investigate waste and wrongdoing.

“Our state needs an unbiased inspector general mandated to find more areas of savings – and where corruption exists, shine a light on it. This public advocate would be equipped with a badge and subpoena power to go in, ask the tough questions and be a watchdog for the taxpayers. I want to work with you – the Legislature – to make this happen,” Ducey said.

Democrats kept their eye on the education prize, however, in their response to Ducey’s state-of-the-state, calling on him to not just meet what was recently mandated be funded by the legislature for education spending, but perhaps exceeding it.

“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,” said Arizona Sen. Katie Hobbs, Senate minority leader.

Ducey is expected to release his final proposed budget to the public and legislators Friday.
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