Issues concerning Southern Arizona’s economy captured our attention this week. We focused on education funding, a recent minimum wage increase and affordable housing, and learned more about the challenges each pose and ways they can overlap.
Education funding remains a top priority for lawmakers at the Arizona Legislature. Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year calls for more than $600 million in new spending and $175 million to boost teacher pay by 5%. The funding for pay raises fulfills the governor’s 20 by 2020 plan that guaranteed teachers a 20% raise over three years. The plan followed a historic demonstration led by educators at the Capitol in 2018. Pima County Superintendent of Schools Dustin Williams said he hoped the Legislature would find ways to continue providing raises beyond 2020.
“That’s going to be a really tough ask. The governor is adamant about not raising taxes but he is adamant about funding teachers through his plan,” Williams said. “I could see him coming up with something. I’m just not sure what it would be. Maybe another 5% or something like that would be terrific.”
Williams also discussed other budgetary strains districts face caused by complying with Arizona’s new $12 minimum wage.
“The problem is schools aren’t revenue driven. So they can’t raise the price of a cup of coffee or raise the price of their services. They’re stuck in these antiquated, outdated funding models that, unfortunately, is one of the lowest in the nation,” Williams said. “You’re still getting the exact same budget that you were getting last year. How do you account for those extra dollars that you have to pay those people?”
Arizona’s minimum wage received another boost at the start of 2020 to $12 an hour. Voters approved annual raises in 2016, when the minimum wage was $8.05 an hour. The issue of raising then minimum wage remains divisive. UA Eller College of Management economist Juan Pantano explained why its effects may not be as far-reaching in the Tucson metro.
“You actually end up seeing there’s only about 3% of workers. Given the size of Tucson, you’re talking about maybe 15,000 workers who actually get benefited. So, all this additional money that gets injected into the economy, into the spending power, is relatively small,” Pantano said.
As the Tucson metro population has grown, so has demand for affordable housing. Marco Ysmael, housing program manager with Pima County, explained some of the challenges with access.
“There’s a lot of similarities with the economy prior to the Great Recession, and how we were seeing land prices and home prices start to skyrocket out of control,” Ysmael said. “It’s good on one hand, that values are being resorted to pre-recession levels. It’s good for homeowners and property owners. But it presents challenges for those that are moderate-, lower-income families.”
Ysmael also described ways deregulation could create more inventory and help meet demands.
“I think there is an effort right now to look at what things can be done to reduce regulatory barriers and make it easier for not only homebuilders, but the average person that wants to build their own home,” Ysmael said.
For our continuation of Arizona Public Media’s reporting series Arizona Addicted, this week we looked at one effective measure taken by the state to combat the crisis. It allows the public to get in touch with a professional without making an appointment. Judy Alley reports on the services offered through the Arizona Opioid Assistance and Referral Line..
The state’s approach to decreasing opioid-related overdoses included introducing new guidelines for prescribers. We learned more about the new rules in effect, as well as some of the challenges with implementing them, from Dr. Mohab Ibrahim, the director of the Chronic Pain Clinic at the UA College of Medicine.
“There’s more caution now when physicians or prescribers reach out for that opioid prescription. The state took some good measures in terms of the electronic prescriptions for opioids. It basically encouraged physicians to think about the consequences and also communicate these consequences with their patients,” Ibrahim said. “However, for some prescribers, this has been an old habit. And it’s going to take some time to change habits. But there has certainly been a noticeable change.”