PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey says he wants to focus on education, border security and water during his eighth and final legislative session, which kicks off Monday with his annual state of the state address.
Ducey would reveal little about his priorities during a brief interview on Friday, but he said he’s not slowing down as he nears the end of his term.
“This is going to be a swing for the fences session,” Ducey told The Associated Press. “It’s a big policy agenda.”
Ducey, a Republican, took office in 2015 with a pledge to cut taxes every year and get income taxes as close to zero as possible. He’s largely succeeded, culminating with his signing last year of a bill cutting taxes to 2.5% for everyone — a small cut for people with low incomes and a big boon for the wealthiest taxpayers.
But that nearly $2 billion tax cut is on hold after critics collected enough signatures to give voters a chance to eliminate it later this year. To get around that, lawmakers are considering repealing it and replacing it with a new, potentially larger tax cut.
Asked whether he’s open to that, Ducey demurred.
“I would go back to the objective that I’ve set around tax policy that makes our state more competitive and attractive,” Ducey said. “Those are ideas I’m open minded to.”
Arizona revenue between July and November was up $440 million compared with a year ago and significantly more than analysts projected when lawmakers approved the last budget, according to a report last month by the Legislature’s budget gurus. That means the Legislature will have a sizeable surplus when crafting the next budget.
On top of taxes, the legislative session is likely to be dominated by a handful of topics including elections, education and water.
Republican lawmakers who baselessly question the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s presidency are eager impose new rules and restrictions around voting, which Democrats fear will disenfranchise voters.
On education, Ducey has already said he wants to rein in the power of local school boards. The school system also faces a major funding crisis due to a constitutional spending limit, which the state is projected to hit this spring.
A temporary drop in enrollment due to the pandemic set the cap on school spending artificially low at the same time that a new tax for education went into effect. Unless lawmakers waive the cap, public schools statewide will be forced to cut more than $1 billion in spending, likely leading to teacher and staff layoffs in the middle of the school year.
With the state in a prolonged drought and a shortage of Colorado River water forcing cutbacks, lawmakers are also slated to consider spending big to shore up supplies, including potential new infrastructure.
The GOP has narrow majorities in the House and Senate and no margin for error — any single Republican lawmaker can sink a bill if Democrats are united in opposition.
Ducey is barred by term limits from seeking a third term, and his final year in office is likely to be increasingly overshadowed by the hotly contested race to replace him as governor. But he took umbrage at the suggestion he’s a lame duck.
“I am the governor for 300 plus days,” Ducey told reporters after an event organized by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Friday. “You’ll see what is going to happen over the remainder of this term and session, and I intend to be governor until the day I am not.”