PHOENIX - Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday released an $11.3 billion proposed budget, the largest in Arizona history without taking inflation into account.
The spending plan, subject to the legislature’s approval, benefits from $900 million in surplus revenue.
Here are five ways the governor wants to spend your money:
Better highways: The controversial new vehicle registration fee that started this month frees up almost $100 million for highway improvements. At the top of the list: an expansion of Interstate 17 to the High Country that will increase lanes north and south from Sunset Point to Anthem.
Despite grumbling from drivers and some lawmakers that the fee the Legislature approved last year is a hidden tax, Ducey Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato said: “We see no reason to change course.”
He cited comments by Republican and Democrat leaders of the House on last week’s “Sunday Square Off” on 12 News. Both House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez of Yuma and House Speaker Pro Tempore T.J. Shope of Coolidge said the higher fee was helping their rural communities.
School counselor crisis: Arizona is the worst state in the country for high school students who want to see a guidance counselor. The current ratio is about 900 students for every counselor. Guidance counselors are viewed as eyes and ears on a campus who could alert authorities to students who might be a threat. Ducey would spend $18 million over the next two years to hire up to 112 counselors or social workers. The goal is to lower the ratio to about 550 to 1.
Cops in schools: The governor is following through on his State of the State speech pledge to fully fund the program for school resource officers. He’s providing $9 million to hire 89 SROs requested by schools. The spending on SRO’s and counselors are both part of Ducey’s Safe Arizona Schools plan to stem violence on campuses. A similar plan last year stalled in the Legislature.
Eyes on charter schools: Ducey would boost oversight of Arizona’s 500 charter schools with 10 new staffers for the State Board of Charter Schools. The staffers would focus on reviewing the schools’ financial reports. Ducey’s budget says 23 percent of the schools currently bet annual checkups of the their finances and curriculum; Ducey would spend $786,000 to boost that number to 65 percent.
The proposed budget doesn’t reflect any reforms for charter schools. Reporting by the Arizona Republic has revealed charter CEO’s reaping multi-million-dollar paydays under laws allowing insider dealing..
Democratic lawmakers have filed legislation seeking reforms.
“We have a desire that as many dollars allocated are ending up in the classroom and there are many reforms that can be made there,” Scarpinato said. “We look forward to working with the legislature on that.”
Raises to Retain Workers: The state is plagued by high worker turnover in key jobs, largely because of low wages, Ducey staffers say. As of last July, 14 percent of corrections officer jobs were open. Ducey wants a 10 percent raise next year, boosting average pay from $37,000 a year to $40,700, and a 5 percent raise the year after that.
The Department of Child Safety is suffering from 35 percent turnover rate among case workers. Low pay is the No. 2 reason for turnover, according to Ducey’s budget, after “not feeling valued or recognized.”
Salaries are 14% below the market. Ducey would give case workers a 9 percent raise, boosting the average salary from $37,300 to $40,600.