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Ducey Touts Arizona Economy, Slams Bureaucracy In State Of The State

It was opening day at the Arizona Legislature on Monday, which meant it was time for Gov. Doug Ducey to deliver his annual State of the State address amid what’s likely to be a tense election year.

But before we get to Ducey’s speech, let’s back up to Monday morning. Just outside the House chambers, Democrats were getting fired up by their own leaders.

"With the thinnest margins in decades and the Democrats on the verge of the majority we stand ready to lead, inclusively and as problem solvers to finally make the investments in education and infrastructure that Arizonans just like you are demanding.," said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez (D-Yuma).

Along with her counterpart, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley (D-Tucson), they’ve got their own blueprint for Arizona. But the speech was clearly about more than legislative priorities. Fernandez sounded like she was in campaign mode, in what could be a decisive year for Arizona Democrats.

So even though Dems and Ducey are in agreement on where Arizona should be headed, they are still worlds apart on where they’re coming from.

In Ducey’s view: The state of our state is strong.

That’s been the governor’s message for several years. Ducey credited Arizona’s conservative policies — by extension, his own policies — for the state’s thriving economy.

The economy then gets credit for a budget surplus in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Good news for lawmakers with a laundry list of projects that need funding, right?

"Spoiler alert," said Ducey. "We’re not going on a spending spree."

Ducey’s been using some version of that line for years. And it sets the tone for his 2020 vision.

He proposed a slew of policy reforms, most aimed at "cutting red tape," like an executive order to wipe out more than a dozen state regulatory boards.

There’s also an arbitrary rule for new government regulations. If an agency proposes a new regulation, Ducey says they have to propose three older regulations to get rid of.

"Let's continue hacking away at the permanent bureaucracy and the 'mother may I' state," he said.

Beyond bashing bureaucracy, Ducey gave some of his big ideas for how to spend that surplus.

There are plans for a new I-10 bridge over the Gila River, which would pave the way for a six-lane highway the entire stretch of the interstate between Phoenix and Tucson.

For public safety, there are plans to close a prison, increase funding for programs that lower recidivism and give raises to child safety caseworkers.

As for schools, Ducey spent much of his speech celebrating the 25th year of school choice in Arizona. The governor also vowed to fulfill the last phase of the 20x2020 plan for teacher raises and speed up the restoration of some K-12 funding that was cut after the recession.

That’s not enough vision for Democrats like State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.

"What I’m listening for, what was missing for me is what’s next," Hoffman said. "We are still 49th in the country for teacher pay and we’re not regionally competitive."

Bradley, the top Senate Democrat, said it’s those sorts of statistics that his caucus keeps in mind when they bristle at the latest proposal from Ducey to cut taxes.

"One of the last statements kind of sums it up for me: We believe in solving the problems of today so future generations won’t have to," said Bradley. "And therein lies the difference in how we see the world. Because he has, and I think most Republicans are on board with this, is that everything is cool.

"The economy is humming along, he continued. "Our point is that 30 years of tax cuts have hollowed out the government over a long period of time. And there’s no instant way to fix that. You can’t tax your way out of that in one year by any means. But at a minimum, stop digging."

At least for now, Democrats are still in no position to stop the digging. Republicans hold slim majorities in each chamber, and GOP leaders pledged to hold their caucus together so that they won’t need any Democratic votes to pass a budget.

Perhaps in a nod to how slim that majority is, the governor ended his speech with a call for unity.

"Let’s demonstrate we can get things done," Ducey said. "That the campaign can wait. That we can govern, and that we can do it together."

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Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.