This week state lawmakers returned to the Capitol for the start of their legislative session. Arizona 360 heard from leadership on all sides about their priorities this year. After delivering his State of the State address to a Southern Arizona audience in Tucson, Gov. Doug Ducey sat down with Lorraine Rivera to discuss his agenda.
On the issue of education, Rivera asked Gov. Ducey about criticism that the state lags behind most of the country in spending per pupil for instruction.
“Remember what happened before I came here. There were some real spending years in the state of Arizona. It was almost like binge eating,” Ducey said. “And then the downturn came and Arizona had to go on a starvation diet. Today I feel like we’re on a healthy, sustainable diet and we’re adding additional dollars each year.”
Gov. Ducey also announced plans to close the Florence State Prison and transfer inmates to facilities run by the counties or third-party operators. Prison staff will move to the nearby Eyman prison. Ducey said the closure will save the state $274 million over three years.
“Is the move to privatize the system somehow?,” Rivera asked.
“No. The move is for public safety. The move is for efficiency, to save taxpayer dollars. But I also want to say on my watch as governor you’re not going to see me building another state prison,” Ducey said.
His speech was also critical of the so-called sanctuary city ballot initiative that failed in Tucson last November. He applauded an upcoming effort by Republican Rep. T.J. Shope to introduce a statewide ballot referral that would ban future attempts to establish a sanctuary city in Arizona.
“We think it’s important that Arizonans have the opportunity to say yes to the rule of law and no to sanctuary cities,” Gov. Ducey said.
Days before the legislative session began, Lorraine Rivera sat down with Republican majority leaders House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann to discuss their approach to the new session and how they plan to overcome any stalls in budget negotiations.
“We try so hard to try and keep the politics out of it. One of the things we try to do is make some sort of a bipartisan effort here. That’s why we were elected to come down here,” Fann said.
Both leaders acknowledged that partisan politics can still lead to division amongst lawmakers.
“It’s partisan for a reason. We don’t all walk in lock step in our state. Everybody has different nuances of belief and they want those represented,” Bowers said. “It’s a citizen legislature.”
While Gov. Doug Ducey in his State of the State address vowed no new taxes would come out of this legislative session, the possibility of further tax cuts could be a sticking point for Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. Minority leaders Rep. Charlene Fernandez and Sen. David Bradley shared some of their priorities with Lorraine Rivera.
“If tax cuts are brought forward as a big proposal in this budget, we’re not going to be on the budget. We are not. Because it’s that important,” Bradley said. “It’s an illusion that everything’s hunky dory and if we’re going to keep cutting, then it’s going to be hard to discuss other things.”
Come Election Day in November, Democrats believe they could become the majority party in both chambers. After the 2018 midterm election, House Democrats gained more seats to put them within two seats of Republican’s 31 seat majority.
“The funny part is if someone has to go home and walk their dog, or let their dog out, we shut down business. That’s all there is to it. If their 31 members are not in their seats we close out for the day,” Fernandez said. “Case in point we were there for 135 days, one of the longest in the history of the state, and that’s on the backs of our taxpayers because they have to pay us while we’re there.”
As this legislative session gains steam, so will the races for the White House and Congress. Arizona is once again poised to gain national attention as pundits speculate if a blue wave could definitively turn this historically red state purple. Political strategists Mario Diaz and Jaime Molera offered insight into those odds.
As part of Arizona Public Media’s closer look at the opioid epidemic through its special series Arizona Addicted, this week we explored the power our words can have in the fight to overcome stigmas around addiction. Pima County Health Department program manager Mark Person offered insight into why terms like “junkie” and “addict” can end up harming someone with substance misuse disorder.
“The disease that the person is struggling becomes the identity of the person,” Person said. “We’re going to use the wrong language from time to time and that’s not the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue is the perception that we have about the person.”