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Gov. Ducey proposes budget, implements $1 billion funding plan

Doug Ducey is the current Governor of Arizona.
Gage Skidmore/creative comments
Doug Ducey is the current Governor of Arizona.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey released his proposed 2019 budget this January, which maintains current funding for higher education.

Ducey’s proposal is the first in a series of steps in passing and implementing an official state budget for the next fiscal year.  Republicans at the state legislature will now take up the issue of next year’s budget before interests groups, like the University of Arizona, as well as lobby for additions and compromise to resolve any conflicts.

“[My budget proposal] responsibly utilizes the resources we have available to invest in education and expand opportunities for everyone in our state, including our most vulnerable citizens,” Ducey said in a press release that coincided with his budget release.

Ducey’s budget implements the first year of a $1 billion capital funding plan, which provides Arizona’s universities $27 million in general state funds to secure $1 billion in lending to develop new research infrastructure and fund deferred maintenance projects.

The hard-fought measure was applauded by the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing body of Arizona’s three public universities, and the UA, whose estimated deferred maintenance costs by 2025 without this funding would have been $1 billion, according to UA CFO Gregg Goldman.

“Last year, the Governor and Legislature made possible a landmark $1 billion investment in Arizona’s public universities to support critical research and development infrastructure at Arizona State University,  Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona,” said Eileen  Klein, board of regents president, in a Jan.12 statement.

The budget also proposes that the three universities receive a one-time, $8 million that the universities can spend however they like, down from this year’s one-time funding of $15 million.

Lastly, the budget proposal reinstates the National Guard Tuition Reimbursement program, which aided Arizona National Guard members in pursuing an education at the state’s universities until it was cut in 2009.

“Governor Doug Ducey’s budget proposal clearly prioritizes public education. We appreciate his support and value his ongoing commitment to  bolster our public universities in setting these priorities for our  state,” Klein said.

Yet, some feel Ducey’s proposal falls short.

“Ducey’s proposed public education spending is quite insufficient,” said Jo Holt, Chair of the Pima Democratic Party.

Holt said Arizona public education is in crisis. Arizona is trading tax cuts for education spending, according to Holt.

State appropriations for universities have yet to rise to the levels seen before massive cuts during the Great Recession.

“University education is vital to the state’s economy,” Holt said.

While technical colleges are a better route for some Arizonans, affordable college education is necessary to draw high-skill jobs to Arizona, and educate Arizonans to fill these jobs according to Holt.

Klein echoed a similar sentiment saying that with rising workforce expectations, Arizona needs to prepare students for college and ensure they can afford to attend state universities.

“Our state leaders play a critical role in helping to keep college education within the reach of all families,” Klein said.

During the last legislative session, the regents lobbied legislators to provide enough state funding to cover 50 percent of in-state student’s tuition.

They argued this would be critical in keeping college costs low, as mandated by the Arizona constitution, and increasing accessibility to college for low-income Arizonans.

The regents also lobbied for the universities to be exempt from paying in-state sales tax, instead using that money to benefit students. Arizona’s cities and towns helped kill this measure as a way of funding Ducey’s $1 billion capital funding plan last legislative session.

As the legislative sessions continue, the regents and universities will define their positions and begin their lobbying  campaign.

“In the days ahead, the Arizona Board of Regents will consider the governor’s budget recommendations in greater detail,” Klein said.

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