The Arizona Legislature finally finished work on its budget late on Memorial Day and adjourned a session that was longer than some. Criticism usually follows adjournment, but the legislators actually did a pretty good job of allocating the revenue that comes from a good economy. In doing that, they largely followed the plan laid out by Gov. Doug Ducey.
They made good on the second of three parts of Ducey’s program to raise teacher pay by 20%, adding 5% for the next year. They also raised the pay of corrections officers, something that is needed, especially in Pinal County, where corrections is a big employer.
The much-maligned $32 vehicle licensing fee passed last year will be phased out over two years. The fee served a purpose in preventing raids on road funds, but having more revenue is allowing it to end.
A major accomplishment is phasing in a ban on texting and hand-held phone use while driving. Arizona has lagged on this, but public pressure following deaths changed things. Motorists will get warnings for now, and citations will not come until 2021.
Having more money makes all the difference, as the state will expand university academies that train teachers and expand Interstate 17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff while boosting the rainy day fund to $1 billion. The KidsCare program, which provides health care to children in low-income families, will be unfrozen with the help of $1.6 million. State troopers and child safety caseworkers will get substantial raises, and 48 troopers will be added.
Some tax cuts were approved to offset increases that accompanied federal tax reform.
Much has been made of an increase in per diem for legislators that was pushed through, although they certainly need it, as many have to stay in the Valley. Their salary is stuck at $24,000 because voters have refused to change it. A rule cutting off per diem in long sessions provides an incentive for the legislators to finish their business and go home.