Gov. Doug Ducey traveled to Tucson to deliver his sixth annual State of the State address Tuesday afternoon, unveiling plans to invest more in education, eliminate taxes for veterans and focus on rural development.
One day after delivering his speech to the Legislature in Phoenix, Ducey addressed the Tucson and Southern Arizona communities at the 2020 luncheon, hosted by the Tucson Metro Chamber.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to report: the state of our state is strong,” Ducey said. “And the best part is, it’s only getting better.”
While boasting about Arizona’s “booming economy” and $1 billion savings fund, Ducey also recognized Tucson’s role in the state’s overall growth, saying that technology jobs in the city have increased by 90 percent in the last five years.
“Arizona’s economy is roaring — 350,000 new jobs since 2015. Much of this growth is happening right here in Southern Arizona,” he said.
With 600,000 veterans living in Arizona, Ducey is proposing to eliminate 100% of their state income taxes.
“Our vets have already earned their benefits. Put their lives on the line. The government shouldn’t be taxing their service to country; it should be honoring their service to country,” Ducey said. “Our budget does this by eliminating all state income taxes on our veterans’ military pensions once and for all.”
Retired military personnel are already entitled to tax exemptions on the first $3,500 of their income. According to the Governor’s Office, Ducey’s proposal could cost the state $45 million and would apply only to veterans who served at least 20 years.
During his address, Ducey also recognized the need to connect veterans with jobs and reduce homelessness and suicide among veterans. He said he plans to open two new homes for veterans and expand the state’s suicide prevention program. His plan would also eliminate fees to get state licenses for veterans and spouses of active duty military.
I-10 and rural development
Ducey said he wants to accelerate the widening of Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix with three lanes going each direction.
“The Phoenix-Tucson corridor is an economic artery for our state and it needs expanding,” he said. “It’s time to accelerate completion of I-10’s widening, in both directions, between our two largest cities.”
The plan would also include the construction of a new six-lane bridge over the Gila River, which would replace a 56-year-old bridge that 62,000 people drive over every day. According to Ducey’s staff, it’s estimated that replacing the bridge would cost about $78 million, $28 million of which would come from the state.
Ducey also voiced his commitment to connecting all parts of a growing state and focusing on rural Arizona.
“Rural areas still lack high-speed internet. Let’s triple our investment in rural broadband grants, and also invest $50 million in Smart Highway Corridors to install broadband along our rural interstates,” he said.
Through the Rural Jobs Initiative, Ducey said he plans to focus on economic and job development in Arizona’s rural communities. The plan also includes a $4 million investment in rural colleges to help “get rural Arizonans back to work.”
According to Ducey, Arizona has pumped $4.5 billion in new investments into Arizona schools, and with this year’s budget, that number will rise to $6.6 billion.
Referencing his “20x2020” teacher-raise plan, Ducey highlighted that by the start of the new school year, teacher pay will be up 20%.
According to Ducey, Arizona is also helping to address the teacher shortage and is one of only five states that has seen an increase in teacher preparation programs.
“There’s still work to do to address the teacher shortage, but a recent study by the Center for American Progress is encouraging,” he said. “Arizona has experienced the second-highest growth in new teachers enrolling in teacher preparation programs.”
Ducey also said the state is working to create more choices and opportunities for kids and their parents, especially at low-income schools. He plans to cover the cost of advanced placement tests for low-income students so they can earn college credit.
“When it comes to what’s next, we plan to focus our resources on the places it can make the most difference: Targeting the achievement gap in low-income schools,” he said.
While Arizona high schoolers are already requires to pass a citizenship to graduate, Ducey also proposed that educators begin offering the test to students as early as middle school.
Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at email@example.com
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