- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - New Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is reaching out to the business community to help him fulfill his campaign promise to make government more efficient for companies.

Ducey asked nearly 1,500 people attending the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s legislative forecast luncheon Friday to help him cut regulations he believes are hurting the state’s economy by stifling business growth.

“I’m going to call on the business community to help me identify areas of overregulation that we already have on the books, so that we can improve our fiscal situation in this state and we can improve the business climate in the state going forward,’ Ducey said. “Arizona can and should be the state to do business in. I think we have a great place to live, work, play, recreate, retire, visit and in so many places get an education.”

Ducey has already implemented a freeze on new state regulations hours after he was sworn in on Monday.

Ducey also acknowledged the gaping budget deficit he faces right away, with an estimated $520 million gap in the first six months of this year and a $1 billion hole in the new budget year that starts July 1.

“We’re going to have some issues around our budget in this coming session, and I intend to deal with them directly, just as a businessperson would,” Ducey said. “I’m going to propose a responsible and balanced budget that protects what’s most important in Arizona in terms of public safety and classroom spending. But we need to get this budget structurally balanced, once and for all.”

That structural balance won’t come right away, but Ducey said he intends to work toward that during his first term. Recent state budgets have been balanced using a variety of gimmicks such as delaying payments to schools for a month, until the new budget year begins.

Following Ducey’s 10 minute speech, Democratic and Republican legislative leaders sparred during a panel discussion where they laid out their priorities for the year. Minority Democrats said they hoped to see the state’s schools receive court-ordered boosts in funding that is still tied up in the courts as the Republican-controlled Legislature appeals the case.

“I hope that the case doesn’t continue to be kicked down the road in the courts and that our schools get the money that the voters approved and that they start to reduce class sizes and implement programs that will help out kids be successful,” House minority leader Eric Meyer said. “We’ve got $4 billion of funding for K-12 schools in the past six years. The class sizes are some of the largest in the country. If you look at 100 kids that enter high school in our state and then track them for 10 years, only seven of them will graduate college. If we want the jobs that are being created in this economy to be filled, we have to do a better job.”

Senate President Andy Biggs called the $4 billion number “dangerous, and I believe erroneous rhetoric.”

“Because it continues with the narrative that we do prioritize education in this state,” Biggs said. “And if you want that to be your brand, then you keep saying those comments. Because Arizona’s education is a good education.”

“And with our budget, we have said consistently that education is our most important priority,” he continued. “But if you want to consistently say to business ‘Hey, we have a crappy education system,’ then you are not helping the state, you’re not helping our state education system and you are hindering our economy.”

Ducey hinted at major initiatives in education in his inauguration speech. But the details of that proposal will not be released until he makes his state-of-the-state address Monday and releases his budget proposal next Friday.

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