State of the State: How's Arizona?
Governor Delivers Address in the Verde Valley
Gov. Janet Napolitano
Education, economy remain top priorities
by Mike Cosentino
With the dark clouds of recession and falling tax revenues, Gov. Janet Napolitano offered a message of hope for Arizona.
"We are strong," she declared in her official annual address on Jan. 14, outlining her plans for the coming year and her likely battles with the Republican-controlled state house.
The following day, the Democratic governor appeared at Yavapai Community College’s Verde Campus in Clarkdale to present a firsthand synopsis of her State of the State address before more than 100 local elected officials, business representatives and other community leaders of her plans for the coming year.
She used a metaphor comparing the state to a book and the issues facing it as chapters in the Arizona story. "We are writing the book of Arizona's future," she said.
The governor outlined each of her chapters in order of descending priority: education, economic development, public safety, transportation and growth, and health care.
Chapters 1 and 2: Education and Economy
“We shouldn’t go backwards,” Napolitano said. “We should not use the budget downturn as an excuse to slash K-12, community colleges, universities. We need to be prepared for the economic upturn when it comes. And it will.”
The governor also said her "budget will be balanced and will not raise taxes."
Although Arizona continues to hover near or at the bottom of states in per pupil spending for education, Napolitano continues her attempts to help state schools.
An early battle with Republicans is forming over school construction. Napolitano wants to bond for new school construction while Sen. Bob Burns (R-Peoria) and Rep. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa) want to declare a moratorium on school building.
“I buy my house on time; you buy your house on time,” she said. “We can continue to build schools with bonds.”
Her address covered the following points on education:
- Continue investment in math and science teachers;
- Create the Centennial Scholars program to give free tuition to any Arizona university or community college for any Arizona students who maintains a "B" average in high school, beginning with Arizona's Centennial Scholars in 2012;
- Lock in tuition rates for four years once a student begins college;
- Continue investment in the Phoenix medical school so Arizona has more health care professionals;
- Double the number of bachelor's degrees by 2020;
- Raise dropout age from 16 to 18;
- Resolve the English Language Learners lawsuit to put money back into the classroom; and
- Change Arizona testing requirements to match graduation standards
“Education has been a vital part of each of our individual stories, as it will be for every generation that comes after us,” Napolitano said, continuing her book metaphor.
Chapter 3: Public Safety
Last year, Napolitano surprised critics and supporters alike when she signed the toughest-in-the-nation employer sanctions bill into law. The bill allows the state to suspend and revoke the business license of any operation that knowingly hires undocumented immigrant workers. So far, the bill has with stood two court challenges by a host of business groups opposed to its provisions.
“As the federal government continues to fail in its responsibility to control immigration, Arizona has been forced to take action,” stated Maria Weeg, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, in an e-mail.
In her address, Napolitano proposed several ways to refine the immigration policy:
- Fix the flaws in employer sanctions law, to define what constitutes a complaint, ensure that legal Arizonans keep their jobs and ensure vital infrastructure can continue to operate and prevent discrimination.
- Redirect money from racketeering penalties to law enforcement needs, including enforcing the employer sanctions law.
- Create a voluntary and secure "3-in-1" driver's license that employers can use to verify citizenship.
- Crack down on the middlemen who rent drop houses to immigrant smugglers.
- Support the Arizona Counter Terrorism Intelligence Center, in the face of federal cutbacks, to continue training hundreds of Arizona law enforcement officers.
Chapter 4: Energy, Transportation and Growth
The governor has proposed an omnibus energy package that she is “putting forth to the legislature this year.” She claims it will:
· require utilities to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources;
· require that 10 percent of fuel sold in Arizona is low in carbon emissions;
· implement statewide energy conservation standards for new construction, replacing the patchwork of local rules that exists now; and
· implement new energy efficiency standards for appliances and new standards to reduce emissions of diesel exhaust.
Some of the points she covered regarding transportation were:
· Invest in rail transit, including a Tucson-to-Phoenix line;
· Build on our water conservation efforts;
· Send voters a statewide transportation plan to approve in 2008 or 2009;
· Send voters a plan for state trust land reform to approve in 2008; and
· Enact an energy and climate change bill that would move Arizona's conservation efforts forward.
The governor also dedicated a large part of her "chapter" on growth to water issues.
“We need to continue to do a number of things on water,” the governor said, acknowledging that Verde Valley residents were "well-acquainted" with water issues.
“How do we get the Arizona Department of Water Resources to join the Verde River Basin Partnership?” asked Chip Davis, Yavapai County Supervisor, District 1, to a round of audience applause.
Napolitano said that she will take his request back to the capitol and that she “had some influence with the director.”
She cited the recent agreement of the lower basin states on the use of Colorado River water as a significant milestone in water management for Arizona. Stating that this makes the states’ use of the resource more certain, she added, “We have enough water, but only if we manage it.”
Chapter 5: Health Care
The governor did not overlook health care in her address. “If we had been flush this year on the budget, I was going to put forth this massive health care proposal,” she said. “We can’t do it this year. We have to deal with the reality we have.”
Napolitano covered the following health care points:
- In addition to KidsCare, create KidsShare, which allows families who are currently shut out of the health care system to buy health insurance for their children at cost, with no subsidy from the state.
- Require insurance providers to provide information about their plans and sticker prices for coverage to help consumers.
- Extend the insurability of young adults to age 25 for both state employee insurance and private companies.
- Provide benefit counselors within an hour's drive of virtually every veteran in Arizona.
- Target substance abuse dollars so the families of children in the CPS system are first in line for substance abuse services.
- Provide additional CPS caseworkers to continue to bring caseloads down.
Napolitano also emphasized the need for change, reminding the audience that "we control our destiny."
"If there's anything we all agree on, it's that we need new leadership in Washington, " she declared. "We need a fresh voice and energy and a real change.
"We have an opportunity to build our future, and we need to keep moving forward," the governor concluded.
Mike Cosentino is an investigative reporter who writes about politics, education and city issues. E-mail him at mikec@SedonaObserver.com.
For Napolitano's State of the State address, or a copy of the speech, visit: www.azgovernor.gov
Napolitano fields local questions
Q. Why are you supporting Barrack Obama and not Hillary Clinton for president?
A. “Frankly, I’d be happy to support Hillary…I do not view this as an election about gender or race; it’s about changing Washington, D.C. To me, Sen. Obama has a unique voice and a persuasive power. Some are comparing him to Bobby Kennedy. I have been meeting with Obama since last February.
“I think that, in the end, we are all going to have to come together because, if there is anything we can all agree on, it’s that we need new leadership at the top.”
Q. When will the area get high speed Internet?
A. Napolitano referred him two department heads at the state offices at Commerce and Technology and said she would look further into this matter.
Q. Do you support HB 2041, the Arizona Patient Protection Act, a bill recently introduced in the state Legislature that would establish safer nurse-to-patient staffing ratios and whistle blower protection for nurses who report unsafe hospital conditions?
A. The governor replied that while she was still unfamiliar with the legislation, she would certainly examine it further as soon as she completed her fiscal budget in early March. The governor was informed that Arizona nurses were planning a statewide rally at the Capitol in Phoenix on Feb. 14.
Q. Jim Sinek, former Verde Valley Medical Center president, questioned the governor on rural health subsidies.
A. Napolitano said they are protected in her budget, adding that she wants to increase loan repayment options for physicians, nurses and dentists who practice in rural communities.
Q. The governor was asked about plans to protect the Verde River.
A. “Without the Verde River there is no Verde Valley,” Napolitano said.
The questioner reminded the governor that 92 percent of the income taxes used to fund the state come from its cities and towns.
Napolitano agreed with the figure and noted that 90 percent of Arizonans live in a city or town. She said she was proposing a move of the state’s portion of Highway User Revenue Funds, not those that go to cities and towns.
The governor was also asked if cities and towns would be receiving less money through revenue sharing.
"In the past, the legislature would adjust the formula and cut the revenue to the cities and towns during lean economic times," Napolitano said. "This formula is protected in the 2009 budget.