Arizona Gov. Ducey Defends COVID-19 Response In 7th State Of The State Address
Gov. Doug Ducey used his annual State of the State address to laud his administration’s COVID-19 policies and spread a hopeful message now that vaccines are being distributed in Arizona.
Ducey’s defense of his pandemic response comes less than two weeks after Arizona hit another grim milestone: 10,000 lives lost to COVID-19. Ducey acknowledged the deaths, but stood firm that his mitigation efforts strike the right balance, while touting vaccines as a gamechanger for the state in the months ahead.
“The critics can say what they want, but the path I’ve outlined is the right path for Arizona,” he said.
In the shortest address of his seven years as governor, Ducey also warned against efforts to curb his broad authority in a public health emergency.
Some Republican lawmakers are making a push to declare the emergency is over, a move that would strip Ducey of powers he’s used to place restrictions on businesses and individual gatherings during the pandemic. For those opposed to such mitigation measures, Ducey warned it could be even worse.
“I've been entrusted by the people of Arizona with this responsibility,” Ducey said. “I'm not going to hand over the keys to a small group of mayors who have expressed every intention of locking down their cities.”
Ducey’s shot at Arizona mayors comes as they’ve criticized his COVID response as lackluster, and lamented that his orders place limits on the measures mayors can take in their own jurisdictions.
Phoenix Kate Gallego has been a vocal critic of Ducey, particularly of his refusal to coordinate with local leaders such as herself.
“During a pandemic, we deserve a governor who will work with duly-elected mayors to discuss solutions, rather than scoring cheap shots and refusing to work together for the betterment of cities and the state,” Gallego tweeted following the speech.
.@dougducey Mayors won’t give up. During a pandemic, we deserve a governor who will work with duly-elected Mayors to discuss solutions, rather than scoring cheap shots and refusing to work together for the betterment of cities and the state.— Mayor Kate Gallego (@MayorGallego) January 11, 2021
Ducey also drew criticism for his remarks about school funding during the pandemic.
In a reference to school closures and virtual learning, the governor said kids have been kept out of the classroom “for long enough.”
“We will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure. Children still need to learn, even in a pandemic,” he said.
The comment was widely seen as a shot at virtual learning at a time when the coronavirus is running rampant throughout Arizona and schools are moving students out of the classroom and online.
Kathy Hoffman, the state superintendent of public instruction, said she was concerned, as were other education leaders.
“Not funding empty seats seemed indicative to me that he was not supporting funding for our students who are in distance learning or virtual learning,” Hoffman said.
That’s not the case, said Gretchen Conger, Ducey’s deputy chief of staff.
“What we're saying is for the parents who've chosen a new option, those kids are at a new public school. We want those dollars to fund those kids rather than them fund their prior sort of pre-pandemic school,” Conger said.
Still, Hoffman said Ducey's choice of words in his address was damaging.
“It didn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation, especially when he was emphasizing the need for schools to be in schools and schools should be open and students should be learning in the classroom,” Hoffman said.
Instead, Hoffman said she’d hoped to hear the governor commit to fully funding schools, regardless of their instruction models, and acknowledge the additional costs schools are taking on to offer distance learning. Hoffman said she’d like to see the governor and the state Legislature will tap into Arizona's surplus and rainy day funds to fully fund schools.
One of Ducey’s key policy priorities has other educators concerned about the state’s resources for public education.
Ducey urged Arizonans to “think big” when it comes to cutting taxes. Such an effort may be tied to Proposition 208, a ballot measure voters approved in November that raises income taxes on the wealthiest Arizonans. Those new revenues, an estimated $940 million annually, are earmarked for public education.
Ducey framed his tax cut as a means of keeping Arizona’s tax rate competitive compared to other states who’ve raised taxes.
“Why on earth would we ever want to follow their failed and depressing example?” he said.
The Arizona School Boards Association was prohibited by law from taking a position for or against Prop 208.
But now that the voters had their say, Christ Kotterman, director of governmental relations, says the association is committed to honoring their will and ensuring new revenues are supplanted by a tax cut.
“That has nothing to do with 208. It’s just that the voters decided this is what they wanted to spend money on. And this is how they wanted to get it,” Kotterman said. “And if the legislature wants to try to go around them, then we have a problem with that.
Ducey’s tax cut pitch echoed comments by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, which opposed Prop. 208. Chamber CEO Glenn Hamer has argued the income tax hike will impact small businesses, and last week asked lawmakers what they’re willing to do to offset the harm Hamer claims will occur.
Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios (D-Phoenix) said a tax cut would be in keeping with Republican efforts to undermine the will of the voters.
“The reaction by the majority of Republicans has been a very, very much a sore loser mentality,” she said.