A Flush State
Gov. Doug Ducey has some ideas of what to do with that budget surplus:
It's a lot more fun to run a government when you have plenty of money to spend.
When Gov. Doug Ducey first took office four years ago, the state's finances were a mess. Ducey was looking at a billion-dollar budget shortfall and went to work slashing programs, with Higher Ed taking a $100 million cut and many other areas of state government forced into belt-tightening mode.
But this year, Ducey is looking at a billion-dollar surplus, partially due to the state's economic growth and partially due to a windfall from the GOP's federal tax reform eliminating a bunch of deductions for individual taxpayers.
As an unintended consequence, higher-earning Arizonans will discover they have a higher adjusted income and a higher state tax bill.
And so Ducey has the opportunity to toss around some of that money. Sure, he warned in his State of the State speech earlier this week that he wasn't going to recommend all sorts of spending to "let the good times roll"—but he did say he was ready to start spending some of it.
The details will come into tighter focus when Ducey releases his budget proposal later this week, but he laid out some broad strokes in his speech. He already worked out a deal to "buy back" the state Capitol, which was sold off for quick cash during the Great Recession. And he wants to set aside enough money to grow the state's rainy-day fund to a billion dollars.
He also wants to invest more tax dollars on Career and Technical Education—the vocational education programs offered through JTEDs (Joint Technical Education Districts) and community colleges. Those programs were slashed by roughly $30 million in Ducey's first year in office, but a campaign by supporters forced a reversal of most of those cuts in Ducey's sophomore year.
This week, Ducey touted how amazing the vocational programs are.
"Today, students in these programs are training to becoming nurses, pilots, pharmacists, bankers, firefighters and software developers—all before graduation," Ducey said. "In fact, 99 percent of CTE students graduate high school—99 percent—a rate much higher than the national average."
Among the programs Ducey singled out in his speech as success stories: Pima Community College's aviation program, which we hear will get a big boost in Ducey's budget.
City Hall Brawl
The mayoral race is starting to take shape:
It's been a busy week for mayoral candidates who want to replace Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who is stepping down after two terms atop City Hall.
First, Councilwoman Regina Romero made the unsurprising announcement that she was getting into the race. Romero, who has held the Ward 1 seat since 2007, would be the first female mayor in Tucson's history.
The next day, former state lawmaker Steve Farley, fresh from last year's unsuccessful gubernatorial run, announced he was also climbing into the ring. He made his opening argument at the monthly meeting of the Pima County Democratic Party's Nucleus Club.
"I want to serve the city I love," Farley told The Skinny last week.
It's a return to city politics for Farley, who made his first political run in 2005, when he lost a Democratic primary for the Ward 6 Tucson City Council race to former TV newscaster Nina Trasoff.
The following year, he won election to the Arizona House of Representatives. In 2012, he won a seat in the Arizona Senate, where over three terms, he rose to Senate assistant minority leader.
One difference between the two campaigns: Romero will be using the city's program for public financing of campaigns, while Farley will decline to participate. That means Romero will be limited to spending about $196,000 (the exact figures haven't been worked out), while Farley will be free to spend as much as he can raise.
"I have enough support from Tucson individuals to not have to take taxpayer money that could otherwise be used to reduce emergency response time for neighborhoods," Farley said last week.
Meanwhile, developer Randi Dorman tells The Skinny that she's still considering joining Romero and Farley in August's Democratic primary.
Outside the Democratic pack looking at the race, local advertising executive Ed Ackerley announced last week that he was entering the race as an independent.
"As a native Tucsonan involved in the community for decades and with extensive leadership experience, it is time for me to offer this expertise to the city," Ackerley said in a prepared statement announcing his candidacy. "Running as an Independent, the time is right to bring Tucsonans together to formulate a vision for the future that lives up to the potential of our city that is business friendly and people powered."
Listen to Tucson Weekly Executive Editor Jim Nintzel host Zona Politics at 5 p.m. Sundays on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM.