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Arizona Looks Ahead To News Stories Of 2015

Arizona says goodbye to 2014 with some sentimentality, but we can look forward to a few evolving news stories in the New Year. 2015 will bring some significant changes to the state.

After almost six years on the ninth floor of the executive tower, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is leaving office.

“And, at the end of this fantastic journey…I can look all Arizonans in the eye…and tell them the truth…I gave it everything I had to make a difference for the better,” Brewer said.

She took office in 2009 and she sounded a little reminiscent during this speech she made in Mesa last summer. In a few days, Brewer will hand the office over to fellow Republican Doug Ducey. He’s currently state treasurer.

"I intend to be governor of all and work to create opportunities for every single Arizonan,” Ducey announced to supporters at a Republican victory party after the November general election.

Ducey and state lawmakers will be dealing with a massive deficit this legislative session. It’s up to $1 billion by some estimates. Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs said the state’s cash crisis can’t be addressed until there’s more economic growth.

“You want to get jobs and job growth and you want people to go back to work because when people go back to work that really would solve the lion’s share, the vast majority of our problem with the budget,” Biggs said.

Racked with financial problems, it’s unclear how the legislature will come up with $317 million in initial back payments to help public schools keep pace with inflation as recently ordered a by a judge. That’s not a top concern of Arizona’s newly elected superintendent of public instruction Diane Douglas, a Tea Party Republican. She’s more focused on ending Arizona’s participation in the national education standards known as Common Core and giving more power to parents.

“They know what’s best for their children," Douglas told KJZZ on election night in November. "They’re tired of their education being controlled by Washington D.C. and a few privileged corporations."

Some political observers are concerned Arizona lawmakers may try to approve a measure similar to last year’s controversial SB 1062. It allowed companies to discriminate against gay people if their lifestyle doesn’t agree with the business owner’s religious beliefs. Governor Brewer vetoed the bill and when that happened last spring, gay rights advocates gathered at the state capitol.

“We have a long ways to go when it comes to equality in the state of Arizona," said gay rights advocate and state lawmaker Steve Gallardo, Democrat. "We need to have this discussion about employment discrimination, marriage equality…that’s the discussion that has to happen in the state senate and the House of Representatives." 

Arizona will gain two new members of Congress in 2015. They are Democrat Ruben Gallego of Phoenix who replaces the retiring Ed Pastor and Tucson Republican Martha McSally, who unseated Democrat Ron Barber. 

Expect Arizona Senior Senator John McCain to continue pushing for reforms at the Veteran’s Affairs Administration. He’s set to lead the Senate Armed Services Committee starting in the New Year. In 2014, the Phoenix VA Hospital got national attention after whistleblowers alleged hundreds of patients were denied timely medical care.

“It’s obvious that the Phoenix VA has confidence of the community of veterans here in Arizona," McCain said. "The VA must restore that confidence.” 

And, it’s not so much political as it is promotional, but in February, Arizona will host the Super Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Glendale police spokesman Jay O’Neill said security will be extra tight even though Arizona lawmakers failed to approve millions of dollars to help the city out.

"We have been planning and will continue to plan for the Super Bowl and we’ll be prepared well in advance of game day in 2015,” O'Neill said.

And, on the final day of 2014, the Arizona Supreme Court decided to allow a lawsuit filed by a group of Republican state lawmakers challenging Governor Brewer's Medicaid expansion to move forward.    

KJZZ Senior Field Correspondent Steve Shadley is no stranger to the issues shaping Arizona.