Gov. Doug Ducey held his annual State of the State Address Monday, taking aim at everything from the state’s prison scandal to the ongoing teacher shortage. This marks his sixth annual address, and the longest statewide speech he’s given during his tenure as governor.
Here are the top issues Ducey covered in Monday’s remarks.
1. Read his lips: no new taxes
As per tradition with Ducey’s addresses, the governor reiterated his commitment to low taxes. “No new taxes,” Ducey said emphatically. “Not this session – not next session; not here in this chamber – not at the ballot box; not on my watch.”
Ducey followed his promise with a warning against “a chorus of special interests scheming, plotting, and clamoring for higher taxes,” and referenced his $1 billion rainy day fund as evidence against the need for tax increases.
2. Elimination of state income taxes on veteran pensions
Following his attack on high taxes, Ducey announced the elimination of one of the state’s tax revenue sources through a series of sweeping changes regarding how the state deals with veterans.
“We have a goal,” Ducey proclaimed. “To make Arizona home base for veterans everywhere in the country.”
Ducey’s plan includes eliminating taxes on military pensions and will impact more than 50,000 veterans in the state. Each pensioner would save an average of nearly $900 annually, according to the Office of the Governor.
“Our vets have already earned their benefits,” Ducey said. “The government shouldn’t be taxing their service to country. It should be honoring their service to country.”
This is a continuation of Ducey’s announcement last year to raise the state income tax exemption limit for veterans from $2,500 to $3,500.
3. The state of de-regulation
An ardent critic of regulations, Ducey proudly announced his administration’s undoing of nearly 3,000 regulations since taking office. He also revealed an executive order signed Monday morning that ensures the continued reduction of government regulations.
“If the government ever deems a new regulation absolutely necessary, it must first identify three others to eliminate,” the Governor explained. “The result: new regulations will naturally mean less regulations.”
Ducey also scrapped 23 executive orders from past administrations, resulting in the elimination of different boards and commissions. Notable bodies include the State Energy Advisory Board, the Arizona Child Safety Task Force, and the Forest Health Council.
4. Addressing the prison scandal
The state’s prison system has been the subject of criticism and scrutiny since it was discovered that an underfunded Department of Corrections (ADC) resulted in unsafe conditions for both officers and inmates. Addressing this, Ducey announced the closing of at least one prison, raising pay for prison employees, and funding needed repairs such as fixing broken locks.
Ducey also gave the department a new name: The Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry. He called the rebranding an attempt to give the department a moniker that “ more clearly reflects the agency’s mission.”
The announcement of a prison closure comes shortly after ADC Director David Shinn asked the legislature for approval to reopen a women’s prison in Douglas, Arizona. The incarceration of women in the state has risen 2.2% since last year. Reports indicate Arizona has the fourth-highest per-capita incarceration rate in the country.
5. The fulfillment of 20×2020
A key promise in Ducey’s reelection campaign was his “20 by 2020” plan, where he laid out a series of funding increases for education that would result in a 20% raise in teacher salaries by 2020. During the State of the State, the Governor announced Arizona is on track to honor that promise.
“By the start of the new school year, teacher pay will be up 20 percent,” Ducey said. “We’ve pumped $4.5 billion in new investments into Arizona schools.”
Another announcement included the expansion of the Arizona Teachers Academy in an attempt to address the state’s continued teacher shortage. The program, which currently has 2,170 participants, allows students to graduate from college debt-free if they commit to teach in Arizona schools.
Also announced was the creation of Project Rocket: a program that will “fully fund the cost for low-income students to take advanced placement tests, so just like every other kid, they can earn college credits in high school.”
The governor’s remarks also kicked off the state’s 90-day legislative session, where lawmakers are expected to pass a budget and review more than 300 bills introduced for debate.