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Ducey, Brnovich Hit On Key Subjects During Inauguration Speeches
PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey used his second inaugural speech Monday to exhort lawmakers and others with a claim to Colorado River water to approve a drought contingency plan before a solution is imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation.
"It's simple: Arizona and our neighboring states draw more water from the Colorado River than Mother Nature puts back,'' the governor told his audience. "And with critical shortfall imminent, we cannot kick the can any further.''
Brenda Burman, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, has said she will come up with her own plan to prevent a critical shortage on the river and at Lake Mead if Arizona and other states do not come up with their own acceptable proposal. And with Arizona essentially a junior partner in existing water contracts, this state has the most to lose.
A draft plan now being considered would leave more Arizona water in the river, replaced in part with supplies purchased from Native American tribes. And there also is a proposal — though yet to be funded — to allow Pinal County farmers to draw more water out of the ground to make up for some of the Colorado River allocation they will lose.
But there has been some balking, including among some state lawmakers who say they don't want to be rushed into approving something they may regret later. There also are questions about dipping further into Pinal County's underground water supply that it could need for future development.
Ducey, however, said those with concerns should take a lesson from what happened nearly four decades ago when the state was facing — and resolved — a similar threat of losing Colorado River water.
"Democrats and Republicans rose above party labels,'' the governor said. "They brought skeptical and reluctant stakeholders to the table. And they acted, and they did it with good faith and honest intentions.''
Ducey also used the opportunity to talk about what he believes is the progress of the state since he took office in 2015. "Four years ago, we were broke,'' he said. "I stand before you with the largest projected budget surplus in a decade.''
Legislative budget staffers are projecting that revenues will exceed spending this coming fiscal year by $900 million. That financial situation, Ducey said, will enable the state to fulfill its promise of raising teacher pay by 20 percent over 2017 levels by 2020.
"But we're not going on a spending spree,'' he said. "Whatever limited new spending we do will be smart and targeted and aimed at helping the people who need it most, so they can access the abundant opportunity that is Arizona,'' Ducey continued. And he said he will reject any calls to raise taxes.
But Ducey also said he intends to put Arizona in a position "to be better prepared for the next downturn so it doesn't become a calamity.''
What he did not say is that part of his contingency plan is to boost the state's "rainy-day fund'' with more than $180 million in additional taxes that will come out of the pockets of Arizonans. That's the result of conforming state tax code to the changes that occurred last year in federal law. Those federal law changes reduced or eliminated many deductions or subtractions. But it's a net gain for most people because they will be able to take advantage of a much larger standard deduction.
Ducey's plan, however, mirrors those smaller deductions — but without a compensating offset of higher standard deductions.
That proposal is going to get a fight from many lawmakers who say the reduction in federal individual income taxes was never meant to be a windfall for the state.
Ducey, in vowing no new taxes, also made no mention of a new $32-per-vehicle registration fee to fund the state Highway Patrol. That, in turn, allows him to divert up to $185 million of general fund dollars that had been funding the Highway Patrol to other uses.
But Ducey denies that amounts to a tax hike, calling it a fee increase.
The governor said his agenda includes bringing more qualified teachers into the classroom "and equipping every student with the know-how needed to succeed after graduation. He also vowed to protect public safety "while finding way to reverse the trend of far too many young men ending up behind bars.''
Ducey is likely to provide more details and more specifics this coming Monday when he gives his State of the State address to the Legislature.
Brnovich Talks State College Tuition
Attorney General Mark Brnovich used his inaugural speech Monday to point up a key disagreement he has with Ducey.
In listing the accomplishments of his first four years, Brnovich said his office is dedicated to thwarting would-be terrorists and con artists and bringing criminals to justice. And he said his agency has returned more than $60 million to Arizona consumers who did not get what they paid for.
But he also cited his goal "to stop skyrocketing tuition at our public universities.''
That is a direct reference to the lawsuit that Brnovich filed in 2017 against the Arizona Board of Regents claiming that the tuition being charged to state residents violates a constitutional provision that instruction be "as nearly free as possible.''
Only thing is, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes last year tossed his case out of court.
She said the way Arizona law is worded, Brnovich can file lawsuits only when he has specific legislative authority or permission of the governor. And in this case, Contes said, he has neither.
After Brnovich sued, Ducey told Capitol Media Services that the state's three universities are in compliance with the constitutional mandate, no matter what the attorney general contends.
"Our universities are accessible and affordable,'' the governor said. And Ducey said while the universities had to make do when state aid was cut during the recession — including by raising tuition — he sees no legal problems with where tuition now stands.
Brnovich disagrees, citing what he computes to be tuition increases of more than 315 percent between 2002 and 2017 when he filed suit. He said those increases far outstrip inflation overall and even increases at other public universities.
More to the point, Brnovich charges that the regents set tuition not based on actual costs but on a variety of other factors, including what is charged elsewhere and access of students to financial aid. None of that, he contends, is constitutional.
But for the moment, those arguments are largely academic as Brnovich can't make them until he gets Contes' ruling overturned, legislative authority, or permission to sue from Ducey.
The governor, for his part, is unhappy with Brnovich for even going to court in the first place rather than trying to resolve the issue by speaking with the regents.
"I'm not a big fan of lawsuits,'' the governor said after Brnovich sued. "When I can I like to reduce the number of lawsuits rather than expand them.'' Gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak would not comment after Brnovich's inaugural speech Monday, instead citing the governor's 2017 comments.
Brnovich, in his speech, said he sees his role as attorney general as defending the "rule of law.'' "Many countries have beautifully written constitutions that frankly don't mean anything,'' he said. "If you pull up the constitution of the Soviet Union it had all sorts of rights and privileges,'' Brnovich said. "They didn't mean anything.''
And he said Venezuela had "wonderful laws, wonderful constitution'' until a single dictator undermined all that.
Brnovich also took a slap at the degeneration of political discourse into "unbearable demonization of people who disagree with any group's way of thinking.'' He said it's one thing to have "loud disagreements and vigorous debates.''
"What we are losing at an alarming rate though, is what Sen. (Barry) Goldwater taught us about our ability to disagree without become disagreeable, to listen with an open mind to differing opinions, to be reasonable in our negotiations, and to give each other the respect that we deserve.''