In front of a few hundred listeners at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, newly elected Gov. Katie Hobbs delivered her State of the State speech at a luncheon hosted by WESTMARC.
Among those in attendance were officials from Glendale, Peoria, Tolleson, Avondale, Goodyear, Buckeye, Litchfield Park and Phoenix.
Hobbs, a Democrat, is Arizona’s fifth female governor and 24th overall. She is heading into a situation in which tackling her agenda items may be difficult as Republicans hold a slight majority.
Her speech on Jan. 11, however, revealed her plans to be largely bipartisan. Hobbs, regardless of party preference, is looking to better the state of Arizona.
“As governor, I recognize the obligation to listen to find common ground, and to provide real solutions for the challenges facing the state,” she said.
“My hope is that when we all leave here today, you understand that I and my administration are committed to action, and to improving the lives of every Arizonan,” she later added. “And if you’re committed to those same ideals, then I’m ready to work side by side with you, no matter your party registration.”
Hobbs’ speech revealed plans to meet each of the “challenges” facing the state head on.
“As we look to the future, we cannot continue to kick the can down the road of these issues and many others,” Hobbs said. “We owe it to our fellow Arizonans, both this generation and the next, to face these challenges head on. … I’m an optimist, especially when it comes to Arizona. I believe we are the greatest state in this nation.”
Hobbs said education gave her a chance to “build a better life” for herself. She has spent much of her life “fighting for better schools and to level the playing field,” and will continue to do so as governor.
She began discussing the Aggregate Expenditure Limit, a 1980 act passed to limit the total amount of money that all K-12 schools can spend each year.
“As part of last year’s budget negotiations, a promise was made that a special session would be called to override this limit that’s based on an out-of-date, 40-year-old funding formula that’s holding our public schools hostage,” Hobbs said. “That promise was not kept.”
She said if this went unaddressed, that the state would see a $1.3 billion cut — the largest in Arizona’s history — and cause furloughs, layoffs and school closures.
“It is unnecessary to allow these hysterics to go on any longer,” she said. “Let’s give our students, our teachers and our parents the assurance that schools will remain.”
Hobbs said it is time to seriously invest in public schools, and her budget reflects that. Starting with teachers, she said they get “stuck in the middle of crises of our own making.”
She cited that one in four teachers leave Arizona schools each year — the highest rate in the nation. That leaves “more than 2,500 classroom educator positions” vacant.
“To the teachers and education support professionals of our state — I see you, I respect you and I will always stand up for you,” Hobbs said.
She said Arizona does not have an educator shortage, but rather a retention crisis.
“There are too many amazing professionals who have walked away from the career they love because of the uncompetitive salaries, onerous policies, and unfunded mandates this state has chosen to implement that rob educators of the joy of teaching,” Hobbs said. “Teachers are creating the workforce and leaders of tomorrow, and it’s time we started treating them with the respect they deserve.
To tackle that, Hobbs said she has plans to launch an Educator Retention Task Force, an initiative that will focus on improving class sizes, resources, working conditions, and other factors that will put the state on a path to fix its education issues and retain educators.
“I hope we can all agree that when we keep the most talented teachers in the classroom, our kids win, our families win, and our communities win,” she said.
Hobbs also will focus on equal funding for all schools. Currently, Arizona distributes more money to schools under a per-pupil basis based on grades and assessment results.
“This approach has largely benefitted only schools in high-wealth areas of Arizona’s two largest counties — Maricopa and Pima — while leaving rural and economically struggling areas behind,” she said.
The new budget, Hobbs said, will redirect $68.6 million to the Base Level Support. This, she added, will be distributed to all schools across the state.
“Let me go on the record to say that any school that accepts taxpayer dollars should have to abide by the same accountability standards that all district schools do,” Hobbs said. “We have seen too many examples of individuals and shady corporations taking advantage of the system and our students.”
Additionally, Hobbs is planning to expand the Arizona Promise Scholarship Program to include 10,000 more students and allocate $40 million for the Promise for DREAMers Scholarship Program. This will assist all students across the state regardless of immigration status.
“My administration is ready and willing to work with any member of the legislature to find additional solutions,” Hobbs said. “We need to work together to ensure that Arizona’s higher education opportunities are the best in the nation and put individuals on the path to future prosperity.”
Arizona’s job market, the governor said, is robust. But on the flip side of that coin, the cost of housing has reached a high. This is something Hobbs wants to work on.
“Too many Arizona families are getting further away from achieving the American Dream due to the high cost of housing,” she said. “Our state is no stranger to the boom-and-bust housing cycles. But this is something totally different. Three Arizona cities — Tucson, Mesa and Phoenix — have seen some of the highest rent increases in the nation; the number of individuals experiencing homelessness has risen significantly in recent years. We can do better.”
To see a change in this aspect, Hobbs said she and her administration will be supporting a $150 million investment into the Housing Trust Fund this year and will call for additional support moving forward. She will also set aside $50 million for a state-level, child tax credit for families earning less than $40,000 a year to help pay for the rising costs of necessities for their children.
Regarding homelessness, Hobbs wasted no time into her tenure to get working on it. The governor signed an executive order re-establishing the Interagency and Community Council on Homelessness and Housing.
“This should only be the start,” she said. “My administration is ready and willing to work with members of the legislature, and my door will always be open to any member who brings forward a serious proposal to help Arizona families, seniors and communities.”
United States and Mexico border
Hobbs said she is planning on building a “safe Arizona for everyone.” This, she said, “extends to our border, our broken immigration system and the communities across the state who must continue to bear the brunt of Washington’s decades of failure on this critical issue.”
She will work directly with communities and its leaders, sheriffs, local law enforcement, community centers and hospitals while pushing Washington to make necessary changes. Hobbs has also invited Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to visit the border with her and meet with those who want “effective and humane solutions to this longtime challenge.”
“We must take a holistic, realistic and humane approach to help solve this issue,” she said.
Reproductive health care
Hobbs said “more than 90%” of Arizonans believe abortion should be legal. During her tenure, she said she will be supporting the right for everyone to make their own decisions regarding health care.
“I refuse to stand by and do nothing as my daughter or anyone’s daughter now has fewer rights today than I did growing up,” she said.
“I will use every power of the governor’s office to stop any legislation or action that attacks, strips or delays the liberty or inherent right of any individual to decide what is best for themselves or their families,” she later added.
Hobbs’ budget will match the federal Title X money Arizona receives to provide reproductive health services and family planning medication, bringing the state’s total to more than $12 million.
“I urge members of the legislature to put bills on my desk that will protect women, support families, and create a future for Arizona where anyone regardless of gender can succeed,” Hobbs said.
For Hobbs, Arizona’s water crisis is the “challenge of our time.” On this, she called on the state to be unified in addressing this issue through “bipartisan solutions at a local, statewide, and national level.”
The governor cited that on Jan. 1, the Colorado River Tier 2 mandatory water cuts went into effect, which means that Arizona will lose 21% of its water coming from the river.
“We must also all understand this — barring a miracle from nature, it will likely get worse before it gets better,” Hobbs said.
“This should be a wake-up call for all of us, because it will take all of us to solve it — legislators, public officials, the business community. Each and every one of us must commit to the partnerships needed to avoid this.”
For transparency purposes, Hobbs’ administration published a previously unreleased report by the Arizona Department of Water Resources that shows that portions of Phoenix are short of the 100-year assured water supply program by 15%.
“This report unequivocally shows that we have to act now,” Hobbs said.
“I don’t understand and don’t in any way agree with my predecessor choosing to keep this report from the public. However, my decision to release this report signals how I plan to tackle our water issues: openly and directly.”
Hobbs will also sign an executive order to launch the Governor’s Water Policy Council and expand the Groundwater Management Act.
“We must take these actions today because in many parts of our state, there are effectively no restrictions on groundwater pumping and local communities have little-to-no support to manage water supplies,” she said. “As a result, a new water user can move in, dig a well, and pump as much water as possible, even if it dries up the community’s aquifer.”
In closing her speech, Hobbs again discussed that, through bipartisan leadership, Arizona has a bright future.
“We all hold a deep love for this state,” she said. “We are here because we want to ensure the generations that follow us have the chance to discover that love, too. Thank you for your partnership in finding real solutions and for the contributions we will all make going forward as we build an Arizona for everyone. Now let’s get to work.”