As she had been hinting for weeks, Gov. Janet Napolitano used Monday’s State of the State address to place children and education at the center of her political agenda as she moves into her second term.
As is common in this type of speech, Napolitano spoke mostly in broad outlines but promised to fill in many details when she releases her proposed state budget later this week. We look at her to-do list through her own words, and provide some of our initial reaction.
“There are a few standards we must insist upon. Every student must enter school safe, healthy and ready to learn; every third-grader must read at a third- grade level; every eighth-grader must be prepared to take and pass algebra; and every high school senior must graduate prepared for a post-secondary education in the 21st century.”
Our View: As we noted Dec. 31, Napolitano is embracing the recommendations of her education reform task force: Require all students to have enough knowledge that they could enroll in college after high school. Other key proposals include mandatory school attendance until age 18 and more math and science classes for everyone.
Napolitano has good intentions, but Arizona taxpayers can’t possibly afford these reforms unless the state also forces district schools to face more competition from charter schools and private counterparts.
“Only five states have a higher rate of children without health insurance. We owe it to our children to do better — we owe it to their future ... It’s a good investment, but more important, it’s the right thing to do. Here’s my plan: This year we will make sure that every Arizona child under the age of 19, and whose family makes less than $60,000 per year, has affordable health care through AHCCCS (state Medicaid) and our KidsCare program.”
Our View: Arizona already provides government-subsidized health insurance to children of families with incomes up to twice of the federal poverty level, but up to 100,000 of those kids currently aren’t enrolled.
Napolitano and other Democrats insist that’s because those families don’t know about KidsCare, but it’s likely many of these families have found other answers to their health care needs.
Expanding the program even further will get quite expensive and could be an early step toward a state universal health care system, a truly bad notion.
“And although we cut taxes last year, there is one that needs to go: it’s the ‘time tax’ we pay every time we sit, stuck in traffic that should be moving.”
Our View: Napolitano said refinancing highway construction bonds for 30-year repayments instead of 20 years would make $400 million available for additional work this year.
The state’s needs are critical and funding options are limited. So this might be a smart move. But lawmakers need to debate the ultimate cost to taxpayers with this potential change, as the state could be charged more interest for the additional decade of borrowing.
“But right now, the international business community doesn’t know us very well. Here’s what I have to say to the world: It’s time to wake up to an Arizona that’s leading the nation in innovation. We’ll send this message by developing a global brand for our state. We’re going to take it on the road — and to the air — to bring business and foreign investment home.”
Our View: This is a refreshing view from Napolitano, that Arizona has plenty to offer global competitors and we just need to get their attention. Wooing foreign investment will bring high-paying jobs in innovative industries, and this can be done without huge subsidies from taxpayers.
PAYING THE TAB
“And while this plan recognizes strategic investment, it also continues the permanent tax cuts we passed last year and keeps our rainy day fund intact.”
Our View: An olive branch to fiscal conservatives, Napolitano assured us her proposals won’t break the bank. But her proposed budget will have to be studied closely to be sure there isn’t hidden additional debt or future obligations that the state might have trouble finding the money for down the road.