In Arizona, the State of our State is STRONG. Our economy is roaring. The budget is balanced. Arizona is attracting new companies by the hundreds and new people by the thousands. More than 350,000 new jobs since 2015. And we're just getting started.

This didn't happen by accident. Four years ago, Arizona was struggling to recover from the recession. The state had a $1 billion budget deficit. Job growth lagged. Today's success is the result of smart policies. Fiscal responsibility. Planning for the future. Doing things The Arizona Way.

This year, we're doing even more: Growing jobs in every part of Arizona. Investing in our teachers and students. Honoring our veterans. Protecting public safety and securing the border. Upgrading our roads and bridges. And so much more.
Read more in the Arizona Republic:

Gov. Ducey Seeks To Distinguish Arizona As Model For Others In 2020 State Of The State Address

Reducing red tape. Rewarding good schools. Protecting the public. Keeping the economy humming. 

In his sixth — and, at 64 minutes, longest ever — State of the State speech Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey returned to familiar topics to paint Arizona as a model for the nation.

"If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then Arizona should be blushing," the Republican leader said, highlighting a decade of changes in the Grand Canyon State.

"We were the first state in the nation to pass the American Civics Act. Thirty-four others have followed suit," he said. "Our unanimous work on opioids was the most aggressive and comprehensive policy in the nation and prompted other states and the federal government to take notice and take action. And way back in 2016, we protected free speech on our college campuses."

The governor also cited a stronger economy, broader job opportunities and better international relationships, saying, "You ain't seen nothing yet." 

While the themes and goals outlined Monday were familiar, some of the specific plans Ducey announced came as surprises. 

The tough-on-crime governor said he would shut down the state prison in Florence, for instance. Ducey wants to relocate people incarcerated there — including those facing the death penalty — to other facilities throughout the state.

And, after working for years to repair the state's relationship with Mexico, Ducey announced an effort to "give all Arizona voters the opportunity to say 'yes' to the rule of law and 'no' to sanctuary cities'" on the 2020 ballot.

Sanctuary cities provide additional protections for people in the U.S. illegally by stopping certain types of cooperation between city law enforcement and federal agencies. Such a referendum may be more of a political gesture, given that state law already forbids failing to cooperate with immigration officials.

Here's a look at some of the other key details shared during the governor's annual address. 

1. Tax cuts for veterans

For more than a year, Ducey has touted Arizona's "booming economy," boasting about the state's evolution from a $1 billion deficit to $1 billion in savings. Monday was no different, with the governor saying the state's "bursting general fund and growing revenues" reflected its "roaring" economy. 

Given that rosy financial picture, some were expecting Ducey to announce plans to reduce personal income taxes — a central promise from his 2014 campaign. At a legislative luncheon three days earlier, he'd told the audience to "stay tuned" for details regarding how he planned to make the state more competitive in that area.

The tax cut unveiled Monday, though, will benefit only a subset of Arizonans: veterans. Ducey stopped short of announcing broader reforms. 

"Our vets have already earned their benefits," he said. "The government shouldn’t be taxing their service to country. It should be honoring their service to country. Our budget does this, by eliminating all state income taxes on our veterans’ military pensions once and for all."

The governor also said state officials would work to connect veterans with new jobs and open two new veterans' homes. And he said to expect legislation eliminating occupational licensing fees for veterans and military spouses.

"Plumbers, barbers, nurses, and engineers — no one should ever have to buy their freedom back from government, least of all, the women and men who served our country," he said. 

2. More public safety raises 

Last year, Ducey announced 10% raises for correctional officers, who were leaving the Department of Corrections to take posts with higher-paying agencies. But the agency has continued to hemorrhage employees, leaving prisons dangerously understaffed.

Ducey announced additional raises for correctional officers Monday, saying the state must "make sure (prisons) are staffed and secure for our correctional officers and inmates alike." Specifics are expected to be released Friday as part of the governor's executive budget proposal.

Ducey also announced another pay bump for Department of Child Safety caseworkers, describing them as "selfless public servants."

"Our dedicated caseworkers have led an unrivaled turnaround, safely reducing the number of children in out-of-home care by 4,565 kids," he said. "They’ve reduced the average time to place a child in a foster home from a work week to same-day. It’s a national model for how to help our kids."

3. Makeover for I-10 bridge

After receiving praise for funding an Interstate 17 expansion last year, Ducey this year said he wants to accelerate plans to widen the final stretch of Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix to three lanes each way. 

"The Phoenix-Tucson corridor is an economic artery for our state and it needs expanding," he said. "Our budget puts the pedal to the metal, with the construction of a new six-lane bridge over the Gila River. This replaces a 56-year-old bridge. Sixty-two thousand people drive over it every day. That’s 23 million a year. So let’s break ground ASAP."

The bridge project will cost an estimated $78 million, $28 million of which will come from the state, according to the governor's staff.

4. Goodbye to boards, commissions

Ducey, who issued a moratorium on new regulations upon taking office, announced a related executive order Monday: "If the government ever deems a new regulation absolutely necessary, it must first identify three others to eliminate," he said. 

He also rescinded 23 past executive orders, resulting in the elimination of 18 boards and commissions he said "we just don’t need." At least 10 of those bodies completed their work years ago, according to the text of Ducey's order. 

For the remaining boards and commissions, the governor previewed legislation from Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, that would require a majority of members be "real people," meaning individuals from outside the industry or area a board is meant to regulate.

"There are hundreds of unelected boards and commissions that exist in a dark corner of state government — often escaping accountability and scrutiny," Ducey said. "We’ve sought to chip away at the deep-rooted cronyism. But there’s still too many insiders and industry good ol’ boys. It’s time to clean this up."

5.  K-12 commitments

No State of the State goes by without Ducey mentioning public schools, and this one was no different.

He said the third phase of his "20x2020" teacher-raise plan would get funding this year, as expected. This final phase, which will give teachers a final 5% boost, is expected to cost about $175 million.

He also underscored his commitment to results-based funding, describing it as "one way to reward and replicate success in our best public schools," and shared plans to cover the cost of advanced placement, or AP tests, for low-income students.

And he announced coming financial support for "Project Rocket," an effort by Arizona superintendents to turn around struggling schools around. Three superintendents attended the State of the State as Ducey's guests.

Read the full story online »

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