PHOENIX - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey touched on the issues of water, education, and a number of other issues during his eighth and final state of the state address on Jan. 10.
"One area where our work clearly isn’t done is on water," Gov. Ducey said in his nearly hourlong address.
During the address, Gov. Ducey, who is barred by term limits from seeking a third term, proposed setting aside $1 billion to remove the salt from sea water and bring it to Arizona, in what is seen as a major legacy project.
"So Speaker Bowers, President Fann and I have been working, and we propose that we make a historic investment: $1 billion," said Gov. Ducey. "Our goal: secure Arizona’s water future for the next 100 years."
While Gov. Ducey previewed the plan, he offered few details in his address, which was delivered to a joint session of the State House and State Senate. Gov. Ducey also did not say where he’d like to build a desalination plant, but water policy experts have long discussed the possibility of using water from the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, the nearest sea to Arizona.
"Instead of just talking about desalination – the technology that made Israel the world’s water superpower – how about we pave the way to make it actually happen?" said Gov. Ducey.
Arizona impacted by prolonged drought
The western United States is in the midst of a prolonged drought. Cutbacks in Arizona’s allocation of Colorado River water have already forced some farmers to let their fields go fallow, and more cuts are likely down the road absent a major weather turnaround.
Meanwhile, there are virtually no groundwater regulations across roughly 80% of Arizona, and as the state is getting hotter and dryer, there isn't enough water to sustain the state's growth.
Some environmentalists opposed desalination because it’s energy intensive and can be harmful to sea creatures.
Even if lawmakers approve, the project would still be years in the making, but Bowers said Ducey and legislative leaders want to get started while the state has the money available.
"The plan is comprehensive and it’s broad, but all the details legally are going to need a lot of work," he said. "That’s going to be our focus this year."
No new plans to battle COVID-19 revealed
Gov. Ducey did not reveal any new plans to combat COVID-19 but repeated his admonition that schools will not close. He has resisted mask or vaccine mandates and restrictions on public gatherings, saying vaccination is the key to getting past the pandemic.
He said the state will create a summer school to help children catch up on math, reading and civics.
"There’s been too much attention put on masks and not nearly enough placed on math; a focus on restrictions rather than reading and writing," Ducey said.
He also called on lawmakers to "expand school choice any way we can" and said lawmakers should ban the teaching of critical race theory, an collegiate-level academic concept not taught in public schools. Lawmakers banned it last year in the budget, but the state Supreme Court found several budget bills unconstitutional, including the one with the ban. He said schools should be required to post "all curriculum and academic materials" online.
Gov. Ducey laid out border security plans
Gov. Ducey took aim at Democrats around the country, including President Joe Biden and his administration over border security and the tax policies in liberal states like California. He called on Arizona’s Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, to demand that his border priorities be passed at the federal level.
At the state level, he said he’ll seek money to expand the state police unit focused on the border and drug trafficking along with sections of a state-funded border wall and tougher penalties for smugglers. He also said Arizona law enforcement officials will work with counterparts in Texas on border security.
"The Texas Governor, Greg Abbot and I, are teaming up to form the American Governors Border Strike Force, a commitment between states to do what the Biden Administration is unwilling to do: patrol and secure our borders," said Gov. Ducey.
Increase in caregiver stipend also proposed
Gov. Ducey also proposed increasing the stipend paid to grandparents or other relatives who are caring for children who would otherwise be placed with a stranger in foster care. The state has historically paid much less to relatives than to unrelated caregivers.
"These loving extended family members should have the same resources as any other foster family," he said.
Gov. Ducey delivered his state of the state address virtually in 2021, as the state was in the midst of spiking coronavirus infections. For 2022, he celebrated a return to the traditional live delivery, even as the omicron variant is spreading rapidly.
Gov. Ducey promised to not slow down
During a brief interview on Jan. 7, 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 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.
Ducey has declined to weigh in on that proposal, but pledged Monday that "we will cut taxes."
New legislative session expected to tackle election, other issues
The new legislative session is likely to be dominated by a handful of topics including elections, education and water.
Majority Republican lawmakers who baselessly question the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s presidency are eager to 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, and he’s spoken about the need to get children back on track after coronavirus school shutdowns. The school system also faces a major funding crisis due to a constitutional spending limit, which the state is projected to hit this spring.
With the state in a prolonged drought and a shortage of Colorado River water forcing cutbacks, Ducey is likely to unveil plans to try to address that issue. 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.
As Ducey's term ends, race to replace him as governor set to heat up
Gov. Ducey'ss 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," Gov. 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."
Democratic lawmakers respond to Gov. Ducey's address
After the state of the state address, State Senate Democratic Leader Rebecca Rios criticized Gov. Ducey's state of the state address.
"'We’ve spent too much time trying to keep our kids alive and fighting a pandemic,' is what I heard in Governor Ducey’s right-wing panderfest speech today," State Sen. Rios wrote, in a statment. "If it wasn’t clear from his past year of inaction, it’s evident now that our Governor has abandoned Arizona to COVID-19. His slogan for the state of the state is ‘Arizona Unstoppable,’ and if he’s referring to Arizona’s still rising cases of COVID, then he’s correct."
In the same statement, State Sen. Rios said Gov. Ducey failed to mention the issue of the aforementioned funding cap that Arizona schools face.
"If we do not increase the aggregate expenditure limit for public schools before March 1, school districts across Arizona will need to cut a total of nearly $1.2 billion from their budgets this year. Without an immediate bipartisan resolution to lift this arbitrary cap on education spending set in 1980, we will not be able to make any further investments," State Sen. Rios wrote.
Other Democratic lawmakers said Gov. Ducey's plans are not enough.
"One of the most urgent needs that we have right now is to make sure that we are thinking about our water here in the State of Arizona. My hope is that the Governor sits in the room with both Republicans and Democrats alike to actually come up with a plan," said State House Democratic Leader Reginald Bolding Jr.
"It’s an opportunity to work together, so we need to get this good legislation done to make sure that Arizona’s do have water, but it cannot be a one-sided approach. It has to be a bipartisan effort, and he did not name our leaders in that," said State Sen. Raquel Teran.
The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.
More Arizona headlines
- Republicans eye repealing, replacing huge Arizona tax cuts
- Student absentee rates rise amid Arizona COVID-19 virus surge
- Arizona offering families up to $7k for issues stemming from school closures
Tune in to FOX 10 Phoenix for the latest news
Get breaking news alerts in the FREE FOX 10 News app. Download for Apple iOS or Android.