The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
In January, I made my 75th visit to Southern Arizona since taking office. Why? Because there’s more to our state than Maricopa County, and our latest budget proposal recognizes the needs of our entire state.
The fact is, metro Tucson is playing a major role in fueling our statewide economy.
In just the last five years, tech jobs in Tucson have grown 90% — making the Old Pueblo one of the hottest destinations for innovative start-ups.
Manufacturing job growth in Tucson is the fastest it’s been since 2000, with over 1,500 manufacturing jobs added last year alone.
Employers like TuSimple, which is pioneering the market for self-driving trucks, have helped make Pima County a hotbed for new jobs. They’re joined by other top-tier names like Caterpillar, Amazon, Texas Instruments, Comcast, Raytheon and more.
Tucson’s housing market is one of the hottest in the country. And last year, the worldwide commercial real estate services and investment company CBRE ranked Tucson the No. 1 “opportunity market” in its 2019 Scoring Tech Talent report.
With a growing momentum and open road ahead of us, Arizona’s balanced budget puts the pedal to the metal — with a focus on Southern Arizona.
Enhancing Southern Arizona’s Infrastructure
Tucson is rightly recognized as an international trade and logistics hub. This year, we’re enhancing this reputation with a $28 million investment to accelerate the widening of the I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix. These dollars will fully fund construction of a new six-lane bridge across the Gila River, with capacity for even more lanes in the future, paving the way to widen all stretches of this critical economic artery.
But we’re not just enhancing and building new roads, we’re building smarter roads, with a $59 million investment to expand Arizona’s Smart Highway Corridors. The new funding will enable the Arizona Department of Transportation to install over 500 miles of broadband conduit and fiber optic cable along three priority highway segments, including along Interstate 19 between Tucson and Nogales.
The new corridors will improve highway safety while providing future broadband capacity throughout Southern Arizona. They also come on top of $10 million to triple funding for Rural Broadband Grants.
Investing In Education
With education our top budget priority again this year, the executive budget includes over $600 million in new resources for K-12 public schools, making up nearly 50% of all new funding. These dollars include $136 million to accelerate the restoration of flexible dollars, two years ahead of schedule; over $100 million for school upgrades and repairs; $44 million to close the achievement gap in schools facing additional obstacles; $38 million to fund even more cops on campus, school counselors, and social workers; $35 million to help more high-performing schools expand successful programs to more students; and $175 million to provide additional 5% teacher pay raises, part of 20% raises over the last three years.
With these new investments, Arizona will have added $6.6 billion to K-12 public schools since 2015. These sustainable investments are moving the needle in measurable ways, but we know more is needed. That’s why I remain committed to increasing funding for K-12 public education above and beyond inflation and enrollment every year.
We’re also prioritizing Arizona’s public universities and community colleges, including expanding the Arizona Teachers Academy to get even more future teachers into the pipeline; providing $35 million to enhance workforce training at U of A, NAU and ASU; and adding $11 million to fully fund STEM and workforce programs in Pima, Maricopa and Pinal community college districts — the first time since 2013.
Honoring Our Veterans
In Pima County, 1 in 8 residents served in the military. In Cochise County, that figure jumps to 1 in 5. These women and men have put our country first; with this year’s budget, Arizona will put them first, by eliminating all income taxes on our veterans’ military pensions.
This worthy proposal will save the average veteran nearly $900 — sending a signal to veterans everywhere that no place honors its military heroes like Arizona.
These ideas aren’t Democrat or Republican ideas. They’re Arizona ideas. And over recent weeks, it’s been my privilege to meet with newly elected Mayor Regina Romero and discuss her priorities for Tucson. Working together, there’s much we can achieve, and I look forward to a productive partnership.
Without a doubt, Tucson and Southern Arizona enter the new decade on a roll.
We intend to keep this momentum going by continuing to focus on policies that are making a difference — policies like rewarding our teachers and honoring our veterans. That’s the Arizona way and that’s the path we will continue on in 2020 and beyond.
Doug Ducey, a Republican, is the governor of Arizona.