Gov. Doug Ducey delivered his sixth State of the State address Monday, and it included some ideas that could affect Pinal County in a major way. Of course, Ducey’s address merely sets the stage for the annual legislative session, and legislators will complete the budget months from now. But Ducey has had a major impact on previous budgets, and his Republican Party controls the Legislature.
The most surprising thing Ducey offered was a plan to close the state’s older prison in Florence, which has been there more than a century and long was the state’s only prison. That would have a major impact on Pinal County, but the proposal certainly is worth looking at. The state has had a chronic shortage of corrections employees due to unfilled positions, and the governor said that some corrections officers from Florence Complex could be reassigned to the nearby Eyman Complex. Some of the inmates could go there as well. Ducey’s office says Florence Complex needs about $300 million in repairs, not small change even for the state of Arizona.
Some of the inmates might go to an unused part of the county jail, and some could go to private prisons. The latter concept always brings complaints from representatives of public employees, but Ducey clearly is looking out for the taxpayers and what is best for the state. Repair of prison locks, a longstanding problem, and further pay increases for corrections officers were mentioned. Efforts are being made at alternatives to incarceration, but the number of inmates in a growing state is not likely to be reduced in any significant way. The state is trying to minimize the effect on Florence, especially with the next census nearing, and that is very important.
Meanwhile, Ducey suggested funding for a key part of the widening of Interstate 10 north of Casa Grande. He is prioritizing a state contribution for new bridges over the Gila River. The widening, long an unmet challenge, is moving ahead with more money from the state and federal government likely and an environmental study with the cooperation of the Gila River Indian Community, which controls most of the land involved.
Ducey mentioned continued improvements in education funding and in other areas. A strong economy obviously has put the state in a much better position than it was in a few years ago. Considerable haggling lies ahead, but the end result is likely to be good for Arizona and Pinal County.