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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey: More Money Needed for K-12 Education, Opioid Special Session Coming Soon

Most of the new spending in Gov. Doug Ducey’s $10.1 billion budget proposal would go to K-12 education.

That includes money for things like computers, buses and textbooks, as well as another 1 percent pay raise for teachers.

Along with education funding, Ducey said to expect to hear more later this week about the special session he plans to call to deal with the opioid epidemic.

GOV. DOUG DUCEY:  Well I would start out by saying that we want to put significantly more dollars into K-12 education and we want to see these dollars get in the classrooms. We want to see these dollars go to our teachers and provide additional teacher raises. I do think more is needed and that's why we're focused on an aggressive number this year. But not only did we talk about a hundred million dollars in additional funding for K-12 education that's permanent and flexible so it can be used for teacher salaries. It can be used for capital but over the next five years it would escalate to $371 million. We're a state that's growing we've got more kids that are going into our K-12 education system. We've got 1,100,000 children today. So we're going to need more money even in addition to this.

MARK BRODIE: You mentioned teacher salaries and I know you've heard the complaints from some teachers that the one percent raise they got last year was not sufficient given the expenses and their general state of pay. Do you think that the 1 percent last year and the one percent that you're proposing for this year is that sufficient is that an area that you could do more?

DUCEY: I agree with the teachers that more money is needed. I want to see them get a even larger raise, but I think it's important also that we clarify what the facts are here and what the numbers are that have gone into K-12 education since I've become governor in 2015. And remember the Great Recession was brutal on Arizona. That happened before I came into office. But since 2015, there's been $1.7 billion additional put into K-12 education. There's been a 10 percent increase in per student spending since 2015. And there's a been a 9 percent increase in dollars available for teacher pay. So that's both gone into pay raises and hiring new teachers. So we want to see more dollars go forward but those those are the dollars that have been put forward since 2015 in the budget process.

BRODIE: And that includes Proposition 123.

DUCEY:  Of course it doesn't. And I lead and Proposition 123. When I came into office there was a years long lawsuit between the education establishment and legislative leadership that would have wound up in a constitutional crisis that may have not even been resolved yet. So to put $3.5 billion additional constitutionally guaranteed over the next 10 years is something that we're proud of and we're proud that it's going into teacher salaries. We want to see more.

BRODIE:  You've talked about using money from efficiencies in state government to pay for some of the new funding in education. And I don't know that there are a lot of people who would say that there's a lot of bloat in Arizona state government at this point. Is there another there enough money?

DUCEY: There is a lot of bloat. Well, we found a tremendous amount in terms of agencies that we were able to eliminate, fees that we've been able to lower and waive for people that are in poverty. We've got about a 5 percent reduction in terms of the number of people in state government. Now I'm not talking about education here, I'm talking about the bureaucracy of state government. So we have been able to add jobs to the private sector of course and we're proud of that 160,000 jobs. But I think we've reduced the size of state government about 5 percent about 1,900 jobs. So we are finding efficiencies, we didn't have to fire anyone to do that. We've done it through retirements and through attrition. But using technology, using a intentional management system, we've been able to drive out cost and to take those dollars, tens of millions of additional dollars, and we're putting them into K-12 education and we want to see them go into teacher salaries.

BRODIE:  So is the money that you're proposing in this next budget, is that money that you've already saved? Or are these new savings you're looking for?

DUCEY: It's a combination. It's a combination of what's already been saved, it's a combination of streamlining this last year and it's also a combination of a growing economy. We are one of the fastest growing states in the nation. Maricopa County is the fastest growing county in the country. When you have people here you have a growing economy. That increases your tax base, that gives you more dollars to get into K-12 education and into teacher salaries.

BRODIE: You've talked frequently about not wanting to raise taxes you pledged not to do that. You also said earlier today that you wanted to get more money into public education, even more than what you're able to propose right now. I'm wondering why not bring up Prop 301 now? And even if it's just an extension of the current tax, why not have another year or so of having that money continue to come in and be able to get more money into education?

DUCEY: Proposition 301 and its renewal will be a generational opportunity for reform and for bringing new dollars into K-12 education. But Mark, it's incredibly important that we get the policy right. These things are big ideas. This is about $700 million in funding that's been committed to K-12 education. And it's important that improve on this policy. So you don't take something to the ballot willy nilly or without the proper amount of thought around it. We want to build a broad coalition, bring influencers and decision makers and leaders from around the state. Both education champions and from the business community and take advantage of this opportunity. So we have the right policy. When we go to the ballot and we ensure that it passes. Remember Prop 123 was $3.5 billion additional into K-12 education without raising taxes and it passed by just over 1 percent. These things are hard to pass at the ballot. We want to ensure that this one's successful.

BRODIE:  You talked in your State of the State speech about calling a special session in the near future to deal with the opioid epidemic in Arizona. Do you have a timetable for when you expect that to happen?

DUCEY: Yes, you're going to hear more information this week around the special session. And this is around the opioid epidemic. This has been a public health emergency for our state. We declared that last year in September. We lost 800 Arizonans to opioid overdoses in the last year. There's more we can do. We're working in partnership with legislative leadership on this special session. I think you'll see Arizona be a leader in how it addresses this epidemic.

BRODIE: I want to talk about some of the specific policies that might come out of this. There's been a lot of talk about dealing with the prescribing of these pain meds for patients. And I'm wondering, maybe philosophically maybe on a practical level in terms of legislation, in your mind how far should and can the state go in terms of telling physicians how many of these pills they can prescribe, what the dosages are for how long they can be prescribed? Things like that.

DUCEY: Well the first thing I want to say is my number one concern is the public safety and the public health of the people of Arizona. I'm not a medical doctor. I have no desire to be a medical doctor and I'm not going to allow the Legislature to become a medical doctor. So we are going to work with doctors in the health care community as we put together this policy. Dr. Cara Christ who leads the Department of Health Services. She is a medical doctor and she has a seat at the table. I'm going to do everything I can to protect public health and public safety. And the one thing I committed to is that all bad actors are going to be held accountable, whether these are manufacturers, doctors or just plain drug dealers. But with that being, said most of our doctors are there because they want to help and serve our public. So people with chronic pain are going to be getting the care that they need. We're not going to pull the rug out from underneath them. And people with addiction are going to get treatment. What we want to do is focus on the bad actors, and we want policies that don't allow these bad actors, that are doing the wrong thing, to hurt fellow Arizona's. That's what you're going to see. That's what you've seen to date and that's what you'll see in the special session.

BRODIE: What are your thoughts on what's become known as the Good Samaritan law? Where if somebody is with somebody who is overdosing on opioids they can call 911 and get some care for that person, without themselves being fearful of being prosecuted for doing something illegal themselves.

DUCEY: I think whenever we can save a life, whenever we can allow a person to do the right thing, and that's what good samaritan laws are intended for. The devil is in the details, in the specific policy and language of the law. So I've been a fan of Good Samaritan laws when we're helping kids or pets that are trapped in cars and if we have that opportunity to go forward on other ideas I'm certainly open minded to it. I do think people that break the law or are a danger to others should should be held accountable. And I believe in the rule of law. But I think this exception for a good Samaritan, properly crafted, can be a good idea.

BRODIE: Do you think this is a trickier one to do than maybe for example the law you signed dealing with you know kids or pets in hot cars? I mean in that case there's not somebody necessarily right there. Also breaking the law. In the case of somebody who might also be taking prescription painkillers illegally. They are.

DUCEY: I don't know if trickey would be the right word, but I would say there's some complexity to it and thoughtfulness is needed here. And that's why we want to bring the smartest people, not only from the medical and healthcare profession, but also include legislative leadership in both sides of the aisle. This is not a partisan issue. It's not even a bipartisan issue. This is a nonpartisan issue and it is about saving people's lives.

BRODIE: We've talked about money. How much money do you think it will take to implement some of these policies and to help folks who really need this kind of treatment?

DUCEY: That is going to come through the special session. I do think we've got dollars that we're going to address through the Department of Health Services. And we've focused on this and have been working on this for some time since we declared the public health emergency. We're going to share the trends of what's happening in terms of prescriptions and showing the things that are currently working or at least going in the right direction that will show that we're going to be able to save people's lives or to keep people from getting addicted and then other things are going to be prescriptions in law that we think will we'll deal with this. Not everything cost money here, sometimes it's about raising awareness. And sometimes it's about having the right public policy on the books.

BRODIE: Another issue that you've talked about is water and the need for Arizona to speak with one voice is the phrase the State of the State speech. Are you looking at big things, are we looking at another Groundwater Management Act, or are there little things that you're looking at that the state needs to be doing now?

DUCEY: There could be both. Well of course, we'd like to have the biggest possible reform package. There's a reason they say Whiskey's for drinking and water's for fighting. It can be a very contentious issue. We're very good at water in the state of Arizona, as I mentioned. We live in the fifth largest metropolitan area in the country and it's in the middle of a desert. We really stand on the shoulders of giants here in Arizona - the people that have come before us like Carl Hayden or John Rhodes or Bruce Babbitt or, most recently, John Kyl. But the last significant reform around water was the 1980 Groundwater Management Act. Arizona is in a good position on water because we have planned ahead. But I believe it's our responsibility to make sure that we continue to look forward, look be on the horizon. So we're going to work with legislative leadership, we're going to work with the influencers and decision makers in the water constituencies, to have the best possible and boldest possible package to put forward. But I don't want to negotiate against myself on the radio. We do want to include others and build this coalition.

BRODIE: But you definitely want to do it this year, right?

DUCEY: Well, we'd like to do it this year. Were in a good position in the state of Arizona. We don't want to share in California's water crisis. We've planned ahead here. So we do have some time but there's no time like the present.

BRODIE: I want to ask you about something on the federal level, which is the CHIP program, known in Arizona as Kids Care. And Congress has not reauthorized CHIP. The state, I think, has money through the end of January to continue covering the kids who are in that program. What do we do if Congress doesn't act in the next couple of weeks? What's the plan?

DUCEY: Well we have dollars to cover the children in Arizona through the spring. We worked very closely with leaders inside our state government and our professionals to make sure that these health care cancellation notices did not go out in the state of Arizona and they would have gone out around Christmas time. So we found available dollars. We've planned ahead. And while we're in good shape through the spring, my message to Washington, D.C., is that it's time for Congress to do their job. So we're working with our delegation and we're working with leaders back there to make certain that happens. We're good through the spring.

BRODIE: What happens after the spring if Congress doesn't act?

DUCEY:  Well it's a hypothetical, because it's on Congress to act. I'm not the only governor in the country that feels this way. I think you could get 49 other folks to sit here and say the exact same thing. There's a lot of appropriate pressure, I believe, on Congress even more so. But for whatever reason we're watching what's going on there right now with a with a shut down you know 72 hours away. These folks only seem to act when it comes to a cliff or a crisis, but we'll plan ahead.

BRODIE: Well so given the fact that we're talking about government shutdowns, you know there are as you say, Congress seems to react well to deadlines. But these are families who are worried about their kids and whether their kids are going to have health care. At some point, if you don't know what's going to happen, you're either going to have to come up with something or send those cancellation notices that you didn't want to have to send before.

DUCEY: And we don't have to do that at this time. Like I said, we have really led the country in how we've dealt with this problem and extended it out until the spring. There'll be more to fallow on this, but I can't offer much more to illuminate this issue in this interview today.

BRODIE: Are you optimistic in Congress doing something?

DUCEY: Well. it's hard to say optimistic in Congress in the same time frame. But because of the political ramifications of their failure to act in the right direction on this issue with so vulnerable a population, I am very hopeful on what will happen here.

BRODIE: All right Gov. Doug Ducey thanks for coming in. Appreciate it.

DUCEY: Thank you. Mark.

Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.