Last week, Governor Ducey announced his State budget proposal. As with any budget, it’s a statement of priorities. Let’s take a peek inside of it to see what our new Governor values, and what he doesn’t.
During the campaign there was a lot of chatter about supporting public education. Also during the campaign, the Court awarded our K-12 public education system over $300 million that the voters had mandated, but the State had failed to allocate in previous budgets. The Governor’s proposed budget awards the K-12 system just over $70 million of that Court order, but also calls for a 5% reduction in what they call ‘administration’ costs. Those include counselors, librarians, I.T. support, and unavoidable costs such as debt service and paying utility bills.
Missing the Court ordered mark by over $200 million, and chipping away at essential support personnel is an odd way to show support for the K-12 system.
What about Higher Education? That one should be clear since the State Constitution says The University and all other State educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible.
Among the three State Universities, the Governor has proposed a cut of $73 million. The University of Arizona alone is being forced to take a $21 million budget cut. Already the in-State cost to attend the U of A is over $10,000 per year. That’s not ‘as nearly free as possible.’ Forcing another $21 million in cuts will only increase that tuition cost further. As with the K-12 budget proposal, that’s an odd way to show you place Higher Education up on the priority ladder.
But there are areas in the budget that will receive increased funding under the Ducey budget proposal. The Governor wants to fund over 3,000 more medium security beds in the prison system. And he has suggested an $8 million increase in prison health care costs. The private prison system the State is contracted with has a built in financial incentive to fill beds with inmates. Increasing the number of beds increases the need to arrest and convict people.
In the alternative, the Governor could be advocating for sentencing reform such as easing rules on mandatory sentencing for non-violent crimes. That would save money, and leave existing beds available for those people who truly need to be incarcerated. But the private prison industry funds political campaigns. Their interests are what is being prioritized.
Budgets expose the biases of the person who’s preparing them. The numbers cannot lie. In the case of our current Governor’s budget, the priority is to increase the number of prison beds filled, and reduce the ability of people to fill desks at our Higher Educational institutions. Our current Governor’s budget proposal ignores a Court order to fully fund our K-12 education system, but gives that same Court an incentive to pass greater numbers of people through and into prison.
The State Legislature has just begun working on a response to the Governor’s budget proposal. They have said the current session should be over in about 60 days. You therefore have only that long to reach out to your State Representative and to your State Senator with your thoughts on how your State dollars are being prioritized in the Ducey budget. As Yogi Berra once said, ‘it ain’t over ‘till it’s over.’ Let your voice be heard before it’s over.
Vice – Mayor