As candidate for governor in 2014, Doug Ducey put in writing a 10-point pledge to the people of Arizona.
Eight years and two full terms later, The Arizona Republic reviewed Ducey’s record on those pledges. Some had several components. We separated a few for clarity, resulting in the 12 highlighted in bold below:
In 2021, Ducey signed into law a plan to lower the state’s individual income tax to a single rate of 2.5% for all Arizonans, eliminating a progressive tax system with rates ranging between 2.59% and 4.5%.
And because Arizona saw greater than expected tax revenues in 2022, that flat tax rate will take effect next year instead of phasing in over three years.
Other measures changing how property and equipment are taxed have helped corporations cut their various tax liabilities, but not in such a sweeping manner as the individual income tax cuts.
Some examples: In 2016, Ducey signed a bill allowing companies to accelerate the depreciation schedule on equipment, which led to savings on taxes. In 2021, he signed a bill creating a new, lower tax structure for some small businesses, and in 2022, he signed two bills lowering property taxes, some of which dipped into education funding (the governor’s final budget backfilled that with other tax revenues).
On regulations, the governor’s first executive order in 2015 was meant to make creating new rules more difficult, and Ducey renewed it every year he was in office.
While his administration claims over 3,300 regulations that it has eliminated or improved, reporting by The Arizona Republic found most of those rules are still on the books, and two new rules were added for each one removed. About 310 rules were completely erased between 2015 and 2021.
Some constituents felt Ducey broke this promise in 2018 when he championed the extension of Proposition 301, a sales tax for teacher salaries and classroom expenses. Ducey allies argued it wasn’t a tax increase because people would pay the same amount as they already were. But critics argued that had Proposition 301 expired, taxes would have gone down.
Pay raises for teachers in the 2018 budget were partially funded by an increase in vehicle registration fees, which Ducey also argued was not a tax increase.
Ducey vocally opposed Proposition 208, a voter-approved 2020 measure that sought to add a 3.5% tax surcharge on high-income earners to pay for public education (it was later thrown out by the courts), and this year vetoed a bill that would have allowed Maricopa County residents to vote to extend a sales tax to fund transportation projects. Known as Proposition 400, voters have twice approved the tax, which expires in 2025.
Ducey signed a series of bills related to civil litigation, including:
A 2016 measure that gave businesses additional time to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements in an effort to end “frivolous lawsuits.” Business owners applauded the new law, but disability-rights advocates said Ducey and state legislators chose business interests over civil rights.
A 2018 bill that aimed to ensure people or businesses appealing decisions made by government agencies would get a fair shake by instructing judges not to defer to the agency’s interpretation of the law.
A 2021 bill protected gun manufacturers and sellers from many civil lawsuits and designated gun stores as essential businesses — which allowed businesses to remain open in the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Ducey’s last budget as governor was about twice the size of his first budget, far outpacing the growth of inflation and the state’s population, though both increased during his tenure.
Still, each spending plan was balanced without explicit tax increases, though some gimmicks, like rollovers, or putting off payments for things like education to future years, have continued, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
Here’s a look at each of the budgets Ducey signed in office:
2015: $9.1 billion (including many cuts to higher education, career and technical programs and social welfare to fend off a budget shortfall). Arizona’s estimated population: 6.6 million.
2016: $9.6 billion.
2017: $9.8 billion.
2018: $10.4 billion.
2019: $11.8 billion.
2020: $11.8 billion (Ducey an lawmakers approved a “skinny” budget to keep basic government functions operating early in the COVID-19 pandemic).
2021: $13 billion. Arizona’s estimated population: 7.1 million.
2022: $18 billion (including about $2 billion in sales tax revenue diverted for special projects, like road improvements). .
In late 2017, after reviewing one version of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the governor said “the bill on the table clearly isn’t the right approach for Arizona.” He ultimately supported a so-called “skinny repeal,” that Sen. John McCain famously voted thumbs-down on.
Ducey and his administration then worked with the Trump administration and sponsors of the Graham-Cassidy repeal-and-replace plan, but that effort also failed.
In a twist, in 2020 as the pandemic was gripping the state, Ducey asked the Trump administration to reopen the enrollment period to help Arizonans who were hit financially — a request that was denied.
Ducey talked during his first campaign about negotiating a waiver to allow the state to operate its Medicaid program — called the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment system — outside federal mandates.
Arizona already operated under a waiver, and that was extended in 2016, in 2021 and again in October.
Ducey in 2015 proposed revisions including adding co-pays that would go into something like a health savings account, work requirements and a five-year enrollment limit. The state ultimately pulled back on the five-year limit but got federal approval to add a work requirement and charge monthly premiums to some enrollees.
Ducey got $24 million in the 2015 state budget to fund wait lists at high-performing schools. Two years later, he announced that the money would help back $350 million in bonds for A-rated district and charter schools. Schools with waiting lists could apply for the funds to help get better financing rates for construction projects.
In his first term, Ducey pushed for changes to teacher certification that allowed people without formal training to lead classrooms, drawing criticism that doing so shortchanged students. In multiple annual budgets, Ducey championed results-based funding programs, which gives more money to schools with higher performance.
Most notably, the governor this year signed into law an expansion of the state’s voucher program, allowing any K-12 student to take public funds to cover private school tuition and other expenses. Formally called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, critics fear that making all 1.1 million public school students eligible will lead to a draw on dollars needed to fund public education.
In 2015, Arizona became the first state to pass a law requiring a civics test for high school students to graduate. It was Ducey’s first bill signed into law.
In Ducey’s first year, he called on the State Board of Education to review standards based on Common Core, saying he was against them. The board eventually altered standards, though Common Core critics said they were basically the same standards with a different name.
Ducey hasn’t signed any measures limiting firearms. But his 2018 school-safety plan, which ultimately didn’t pass, was initially seen by some Second Amendment advocates and conservative lawmakers as too restrictive because of its provisions to allow courts to keep guns out of the hands of people who threaten to harm themselves or others.
When it comes to victims’ rights,in 2016, Ducey signed a bill that said a person convicted of sexual assault loses parental rights to any child who may have been a victim of that assault.
Child safety was a major topic when Ducey entered the Governor’s Office, as a massive backlog of child-welfare cases mounted and the number of children in foster care had reached a crisis level. Ducey quickly fired the head of the Department of Child Safety.
Turnover among case workers dogged the agency throughout his tenure, and cases dragged on, keeping families and children in limbo as new workers tried to get up to speed on a child’s situation. According to the most recent annual report from DCS, a peak of over 33,200 open reports in April 2015 declined to 10,568 in June.
The crown jewel of the governor’s border-security efforts is his Border Strike Force, created in 2016. While the unit with the Department of Public Safety has netted some high-profile and high-quantity drug busts, reviews by The Arizona Republic have also revealed it as a sort of catch-all for drug related arrests around the state and found limited efforts to go after kingpins who orchestrate drug trafficking.
In his final year in office, Ducey undertook two controversial measures that critics dismissed as political stunts: Using millions in state dollars to bus asylum seekers from the border to Washington, D.C., and spending even more to recycle shipping containers to be used as a makeshift border wall.
Ducey will leave office Jan. 2, but his appointments to the state’s appeals and Supreme Courts will shape those panels for decades.
Notably, Ducey signed bills in 2016 and 2022 expanding the state’s top court and appeals court, respectively, giving himself the opportunity to pick a slate of judges who serve until they are 70, subject to retention elections every six years.
The governor was accused of court packing for expanding — over the objections of the chief justice — the Arizona Supreme Court from five to seven members. A 2019 review of the expansion found that while the cases filed with the enlarged court increased, the number of decisions made by the panel decreased. Adding another six judges to the 22-member appeals court revived Democratic allegations of court packing.
When COVID-19 hit, Ducey issued an executive order that closed some businesses, but he refused to implement a statewide mask mandate and often found himself crossways with public health recommendations. He signed a bill preventing mask mandates in schools, drawing backlash that he stood in the way of local officials, and put money behind programs that federal officials said violated public health best practices to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Ducey has signed into law multiple bills that restrict abortion access, often saying he’s never vetoed such a bill that reached his desk.
Those bills set rules and limits on medication-induced abortions, ban research on aborted fetuses, and detail how babies born alive during abortions needed to be treated.
He has signed bills that ban abortion based solely on genetic conditions and prohibit it after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Democrats, reeling by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, criticized the bill for not having exceptions after 15 weeks for victims of rape and incest.
Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.
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