PHOENIX — 2019 was a banner year for Arizona.
From breaking through 300,000 new jobs added since 2015 to earning the state’s highest-ever credit rating; coming together to sign historic water legislation; recognizing 60 years of partnership with Sonora, Mexico; blazing the trail as the first state in the nation to provide universal recognition of out-of-state occupational licenses; passing historic tax reform that benefits middle class families; boosting Arizona’s Rainy Day Fund to $1 billion while investing in teachers, students, infrastructure, public safety and more — 2019 was a year to remember.
WATCH Arizona’s 2019 “Year in Review.”
SECURING ARIZONA’S WATER FUTURE: Governor Ducey in January signed legislation ratifying Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), allowing Arizona to sign onto an inter-state water agreement that outlines ways the state will contribute to conserving more water from the Colorado River. Arizona joined six other states and Mexico in the signing. In April, President Trump signed legislation formalizing the DCP, Arizona’s most significant water reforms in four decades.
The governor also issued an Executive Order in January creating the Water Augmentation, Innovation, and Conservation Council. The council was directed to recommend opportunities for long-term water conservation, continuing Arizona’s proactive approach to securing our state’s water supply.
A FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE, BALANCED BUDGET: Arizona’s balanced budget added $542 million to Arizona’s Rainy Day Fund, bringing it to a record $1 billion and helping better protect Arizona’s investments during the next economic downturn.
The budget also paid off $190 million in state debt, producing an ongoing savings of $74 million annually through reduced debt payments and interest costs. The latest debt reduction brings the total amount of State General Fund debt paid off since 2015 to $1 billion.
PASSING REVENUE-NEUTRAL TAX REFORM: Arizona’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 budget built on the tax relief passed as part of President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to make Arizona’s code simpler, flatter and more fair. The revenue neutral tax reforms—the most significant of the past 30 years—prioritized middle and low-income earners, increasing Arizona’s standard deductions to $12,000 for individual filers and $24,000 for married filers. For the first time in Arizona the state standard deduction matches the federal standard deduction, representing a significant simplification of the tax code.
Families also will benefit from a new $100 child tax credit, as will nonprofits and charities thanks to a new charitable tax deduction that encourages donations to organizations that help those most in need. For the median income tax filer, this tax reform means annual relief of roughly $135 after conformity.
INVESTING IN STUDENTS AND TEACHERS: The FY 2020 budget added $660 million new dollars to K-12 public schools, bringing the total new dollars added to public education since 2015 to $4.5 billion. This year’s investments included:
$165 million to fully fund 20 percent teacher pay raises by school year 2020,
$136 million to speed up the restoration of recession-era cuts to District and Charter Additional Assistance,
$88 million for school building renewal,
$76 million for new school construction,
$30 million in new dollars for high-performing schools through results based funding,
$20 million to hire more school counselors and cops on campus,
$10 million to grow Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at public high schools,
$1.5 million in permanent funds for Foster Youth Education,
$800,000 to hire 10 new employees at the State Board for Charter Schools,
- And $700,000 for county juvenile detention center education programs.
EXPANDING THE ARIZONA TEACHERS ACADEMY: Arizona this year invested $15 million to expand the Arizona Teachers Academy, which waives tuition and fees for students who agree to teach in an Arizona public school after they graduate. Governor Ducey launched the program in 2017 to tackle the nationwide teacher shortage and provide financial support to Arizona’s future teachers.
In the 2018-2019 school year, 464 students enrolled in the program — more than double the previous year. Arizona also provided $500,000 in stipends for 200 Arizona teachers to pursue National Board Certification, an advanced credential that certifies teachers beyond state licensing through a series of rigorous assessments.
GROWING CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION: Governor Ducey’s FY 2020 budget invested $10 million to expand Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings across Arizona. Through a grant program, high schools with CTE programs will receive up to $1,000 for each student who graduates with a certification in specific industries. The budget also invested $20 million to expand Pima Community College’s Aviation Technology Program and $5.8 million to expand Maricopa Community College’s healthcare offerings.
JOBS ON THE RISE: Arizona this year surpassed 300,000 new private-sector jobs added since 2015, with companies such as Infosys, Offerpad, Raytheon, Microsoft, Benchmark Electronics, Lucid Motors and more making major jobs announcements this year.
State Policy Reports recently ranked Arizona in the top five for economic momentum as well as growth in population, jobs and personal income. Additionally, new data showed Arizona’s tech sector growing at a rate 40 percent faster than the nation while Arizona manufacturing has reached a 30-year high.
HISTORIC CREDIT UPGRADE: Recognizing Arizona’s continued strong economic growth as well as its efforts to balance the budget, reduce debt and boost the Rainy Day Fund to record levels, Moody’s Investors Service in November upgraded Arizona’s credit rating to Aa1, the highest rating the state has ever received. The ratings boost makes Arizona the only state to have received two ratings upgrades from Moody’s in the past five years.
EXPANDING I-17, INVESTING IN INFRASTRUCTURE: Governor Ducey announced that investments topping $300 million will widen I-17 to three lanes along 15 miles between Anthem and Black Canyon City and build an 8-mile system of flex lanes on the grade between Black Canyon City and Sunset Point. The project is set to begin by spring 2021, with completion of all improvements expected by 2023.
Additional infrastructure investments this year included $95.3 million for targeted priority infrastructure projects; $3 million to expand broadband services in underserved rural areas; and $700,000 for a Mariposa Port of Entry Cold Inspection Facility.
STRENGTHENING TIES WITH MEXICO: The Arizona-Mexico Commission celebrated its 60th anniversary this year with summits in Phoenix and Hermosillo. Governor Ducey also hosted Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Martha Barcena.
With trade on the rise, throughout the year, Governor Ducey led calls for the ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) including launching a website to allow Arizonans to engage their elected officials in support of the agreement.
EMPOWERING ARIZONANS TO GET TO WORK: Saying, “if you’re moving to Arizona, there's opportunity waiting for you here,” Governor Ducey signed bipartisan legislation on April 10, 2019 making Arizona the first state in the nation to pass legislation providing universal recognition of out-of-state occupational licenses.
Governor Ducey this year also signed into law S.B. 1401, known as the Blow Dry Freedom Bill, to remove excessive and unnecessary occupational licensing requirements to blow-dry, shampoo and style hair, and H.B. 2178, legislation to remove unnecessary red tape for local ice cream stores.
INVESTING IN HEALTHY FAMILIES: Arizona kicked off the year with a plan to invest $56 million to expand Arizona’s child care subsidy programs, increasing access to child care for low-income working families and foster parents.
Since 2015, Arizona has nearly doubled funding for Graduate Medical Education. Additional new dollars to improve health and welfare included:
$15 million for the state Housing Trust Fund to prevent and alleviate homelessness,
$13 million for new developmental disability provider funding,
$7 million in provider funding for elderly in-home and nursing care through Arizona Long Term Care System Provider Funding,
$5 million in funding for health care research at the Translational Genomics Research Institute,
$2.4 million to expand the kinship stipend to all kinship caregivers,
$2 million for Alzheimer’s research,
- And $1.6 million to eliminate the KidsCare Freeze, protecting health care coverage for over 6,000 Arizona kids.
SUPPORTING THOSE WHO KEEP ARIZONA SAFE: This year, Arizona added $74 million dollars to provide raises for over 14,400 public safety personnel employed by the state, totaling roughly 40 percent of the state workforce. Those receiving pay raises included State Troopers, personnel at the Department of Corrections, the Department of Juvenile Corrections and the Arizona State Hospital and caseworkers at the Department of Child Safety.
Additional new funding for public safety included:
$11 million to hire 48 new State Troopers,
$4 million for Department of Public Safety vehicle replacement,
$3.9 million for a West Valley Readiness Center operated by the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs,
$1 million for 10 additional healthcare monitoring staff at the Department of Corrections,
$1 million for additional Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board training,
- And $271,000 for a Sierra Vista Public Safety Communications Center.
SAFER SCHOOLS: Governor Ducey’s executive budget included the first-ever dedicated funding for school counselors. With $20 million added to Arizona’s school safety grant program, in total, 383 school resource officers, counselors and social workers were funded through the program, with more on the way.
When the initial timeline was announced for the program in June indicating the grant dollars would not be distributed until the 2020 school year—resulting in a delay of the additional counselors and school resource officers—the governor’s office intervened to accelerate the funding.
EXPANDING SUICIDE AWARENESS IN SCHOOLS: Governor Ducey in September signed the Mitch Warnock Act, expanding suicide prevention and awareness training throughout Arizona schools. The bill requires school districts and charter schools to provide training in suicide awareness and prevention to school guidance counselors, teachers, principals and other school personnel who work with students in grades 6 through 12.
TAKING ACTION FOR MISSING AND MURDERED INDIGENIOUS WOMEN AND GIRLS: In support of families and advocates, Governor Ducey in May signed legislation to establish a 21-member Study Committee on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, with the goals of identifying solutions and bringing this crisis to an end. The bill passed through both chambers of the state legislature with unanimous support.
NATIONAL RECOGNITION FOR CYBERSECURITY: Recognizing Arizona’s bipartisan leadership in cybersecurity, the National Governors Association (NGA) selected Arizona along with five other states to participate in the NGA’s policy academy on election cybersecurity operations. Through the program, Arizona receives technical assistance from NGA staff to develop, implement and scale training and best practices throughout the state to improve coordination between election officials and reduce cyber-related risks ahead of the 2020 election.
NEW JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS: In April, Governor Ducey appointed Judge James P. Beene to the Arizona Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice John Pelander. The appointment of Judge Beene marked Governor Ducey’s fourth appointment to the state’s highest court and the first such appointment in 2019.
The governor’s second appointment to the Arizona Supreme Court for 2019 came in September when he appointed then-Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Scott Bales. A West Point Graduate, decorated Army veteran and County Attorney for the 4th-largest County in the United States, Montgomery was Governor Ducey’s fifth appointment to the Supreme Court since 2015.
Governor Ducey has appointed a higher percentage of women and individuals of a different party to the Supreme Court than any of his three predecessors.
COMBATING DISTRACTED DRIVING: Governor Ducey in April joined families, loved ones and advocates for people killed or injured by distracted driving for the signing of H.B. 2318. The legislation bans the use of hand-held mobile devices while driving a vehicle.
While the law institutes penalties for those who text behind the wheel beginning in January 2021, Arizona Department of Public Safety has begun handing out warnings to drivers who are texting or otherwise distracted behind the wheel.
GIVING BACK TO THOSE WHO SERVED OUR NATION: Governor Ducey in April signed H.B. 2488, directing the Arizona Department of Health Services to submit an annual report improving the tracking of veteran suicides in Arizona. The legislation, sponsored by Representative Jay Lawrence, will provide the state with critical data to help Arizona understand and prevent veteran suicide.
This year’s budget also invested $1.2 million into the Be Connected program, which connects service members, veterans, family members, providers and helpers with resources to help veterans in need. The program’s work has resulted in more than 20,000 Arizonans connected to community resources by phone, in-person or online.