Doug Ducey took office today as Arizona's 23rd governor, pledging in his inauguration speech to fix the state's fiscal problems without raising taxes.
Standing before a crowd of several thousand at the State Capitol in Phoenix, the former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery made financial and education issues a focus, but threatened that his solutions might look austere to some.
Some people will say that every option for cutting spending has been exhausted, Duecy said, and that it's time to pay for a pending shortfall with a tax hike.
"And we will reply, 'Not on our watch!'" he said to healthy applause.
According the Legislature's analysts, the state is set to experience a cash shortfall of about half a billion dollars this year, and about $1 billion next year. Fixing the problem will be one of Ducey's greatest challenges, he acknowledged, saying there was "no escaping duty, reality or arithmetic."
Ducey began with a round of thanks to his wife and three sons, who joined him on stage, plus supporters and former governors. Overall, his speech was upbeat but not dramatic, and was predictable to some extent based on his campaign rhetoric. His message to lawmakers and other state officials was clear: Prepare to pull up those boot-straps, tighten the belt, and get to work.
Next week, he'll submit balanced budgets to the House and Senate, he said.
"Fair warning: The budget will not be met with general approval among special interests," he said. "And if they did approve, I'd start to worry."
Ducey said he doesn't believe in rewarding the government's "ineffective spending" by giving it more of the public's money. At the same time, he vowed to boost school "choice" heavily. He wants all parents to have the same choices as "affluent" parents in terms of schooling.
We can't escape the arithmetic of that one: Billion-dollar shortfalls, no tax hikes, slow economy -- and every kid gets the same school choices as affluent kids? Ducey's budget next week ought to be interesting, and perhaps contain a magic trick or two.
Like any decent politician, Ducey pledge to make life better and increase opportunities for everyone. His speech contained plenty of typical fluff. But Ducey also pledged, it seemed, to keep a certain distance from social conservativism. If he sticks to that one, it could make supporters like Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy angry, while broadening Ducey's appeal to independents or even Democrats.
"We will not be searching for new excuses to insert government into the lives of people. Americans already get plenty of that from Washington D.C.," Ducey said. "We're not just advocates for respective political parties. We're Americans and Arizonans, and those loyalties come first. If we lead with civility and don't give in to the petty and partisan, if respect and courtesy are the order of the day, than all the good will be shared."
On the other hand, this could be code for not inserting government into the lives of Ducey's business buddies and other corporate interests. Ducey's said previously he supports continuing marijuana prohibition in Arizona, so that's one area where he has no compunctions about inserting government into your life.
One thing Ducey didn't bring up was illegal immigration, which was an odd omission for an Arizona politician to make. Ducey made it clear on his campaign trail that he is for a more-secure southern border -- something he doesn't have as much control over, anyway -- but doesn't seem interested in perpetuating Arizona's reputation as a place unfriendly to Hispanics, who make up about 30 percent of the population, and who often have undocumented relatives.
Civility, respect, and restored health to the state's financial and educational sectors: Not a bad way to at least pretend to start four years of conservative leadership.
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