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Schools, NAU gain in Ducey budget plan

PHOENIX -- Gov. Doug Ducey unveiled a $10.1 billion spending plan for next budget year built on projections of more consumer spending, Arizonans buying more lottery tickets and hiring back many of the auditors who ensure that people are paying the state what they owe -- auditors the governor previously laid off.

As Ducey promised earlier in the week, most of the new spending is earmarked for K-12 education. That specifically includes restoring $100 million to the special account that schools can use for things like textbooks, computers and buses.

The cuts to that fund started before Ducey became governor. But he added to the problem with his own $117 million reduction the first year he took office.

Ducey promises future increases to fully restore at least that specific fund.

The governor's plan also provides $34 million for the second year of the promised 2 percent total pay raise for teachers.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said this is on top of money schools got after voters approved Proposition 123 in 2016, creating a 9 percent increase in available dollars for teacher pay.

"Part of that has been to hire new teachers, which addresses the teacher shortage,'' he said, though Scarpinato said teacher pay is up 5 percent from 2015 levels.

Scarpinato could not say whether the money will come close to moving Arizona out of its position of being at 50th in the nation for pay for elementary school teachers and 48th for high school instructors, saying he prefers to focus on the trend.

"It's moving up,'' he said. "And it needs to move up even more.''

In higher education, Ducey wants $27 million for the state's three universities to make the first payment on that $1 billion, 28-year borrowing plan for new buildings and repairing older ones. The schools already have identified funding priorities, including the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences building at the University of Arizona, renovating the Hayden Library at Arizona State University and renovating the science annex and the multi-discipline STEM building at Northern Arizona University.

And there's another $8 million the schools get to split up for whatever capital or operational needs they have.

State aid to community colleges, though, is virtually flat.

Other spending priorities include:

- $15.8 million to fully fund adoption subsidies for more than 33,000 children. There are more adoptions because the state is beginning to cut into the number of youngsters in foster and group care, providing permanent placements;

- $4.3 million for the Department of Public Safety. That includes adding additional night coverage in the Phoenix area to watch for wrong-way drivers and 12 staffers to finally provide round-the-clock DPS coverage in Southern Arizona;

- $4 million to convert Oracle State Park near Tucson from a day site to allow overnight camping. The funds will add 30 RV sites, 20 cabins and 20 tent sites.

The governor also is proposing to more than double what the state spends on "preventative road surface maintenance,'' essentially repairing cracks and spreading liquid asphalt. The premise is this will forestall the need for major repairs and reconstruction, things that the governor admits the state cannot now afford, what with the gasoline tax unchanged since 1990 at 18 cents a gallon, vehicles becoming more efficient and more motorists are driving hybrids and electric vehicles.

Ducey concedes in his budget that "the need for a stable and permanent revenue source to fund roads and bridges becomes even more critical.'' But Scarpinato said his boss remains opposed to any increase in the gas tax.

The governor's spending plan is built on Ducey's projections that the state will have more money coming in.

It starts with high consumer confidence. That is significant because when people are optimistic about the security of their jobs and possible future income growth, they tend to spend more.

That should translate into more retail spending. The unknown, however, is how the increasing number of online purchases may cut into that.

Then there's the plan by the lottery to put an additional 450 vending machines into stores and arrange with more retailers to have lottery cards at checkout lanes.

The net difference is Ducey is projecting a 20 percent increase in lottery revenues, to nearly $95 million.

And then there's the belief there's more money to be squeezed out of taxpayers.

That starts with the state contracting with an outside firm that will compare the credit card receipts of various companies -- information not available to the state -- with what the firms are reporting as their earnings to the state. If the former figure is significantly higher than what shows up on tax forms, that will trigger a closer look.

Ducey staffers believe they can generate $30 million from this program, even after the outside firm gets to keep 20 percent of what the state collects.

The administration also is reversing course and adding 25 auditors and collectors.

In 2016 the state cut the budget of the Department of Revenue by $7 million.

Agency officials said that forced the layoff of about 50 employees. It also left the department with one corporate audit supervisor and four corporate auditors.

But Scarpinato repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether those layoffs were a mistake.

"By working with (Department of) Revenue, we realize there are dollars to be had,'' he said.

And were there dollars that could have been had this current fiscal year?

"I would acknowledge that there's more dollars to be had moving forward,'' Scarpinato responded.

Overall, the state hopes to boost sales tax revenues by 4.1 percent, with a similar increase in individual income taxes.

Corporate income taxes are a different story: Companies are expected to pay less than $300 million this coming year.

That is less than half of what they were paying seven years ago before lawmakers approved a series of tax sharp cuts on the premise it would generate more economic activity. And the Department of Revenue reports that three out of every four corporations pay no more than $50 a year in income taxes.

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City nixes "Before I Die" wall

What do you want to do before you die?

It is a question posed by chalkboard walls around the country and world, but Flagstaff will not be adding one.

The Beautification and Public Art Commission considered a beautification in action grant to create a chalkboard wall for people to share their aspirations, but public reaction to the idea was generally negative.

“I do not consider this public art,” Flagstaff Community Forum user Dennis Roberts wrote in response to the idea on the city’s website. “Based on the example shown it looks more like graffiti and is not in character with Flagstaff.”

The commission is no longer considering the installation as a project, city of Flagstaff spokeswoman Jessica Drum said.

Even early in the discussion process, some commissioners voiced concern that the wall would become a place where people would write obscenities or other vulgar drawings or language. Even the example photo of a wall in Savannah, Georgia, included the response “I want to skydive and have sex at the same time,” among more conventional answers like “cure cancer,” or “become a teacher.”

There have been similar walls put up in four other Arizona cities Phoenix, Scottsdale, Oro Valley and Tucson, some of which were only up for a short amount of time, like to commemorate a historical event. The walls were either put up on private property, like the side of an art gallery, or at a place of higher education, including the University of Arizona and Scottsdale Community College.

No community members voiced their opinions about the piece at two public meetings held by the Beautification and Public Art Commission, but 17 people expressed their opinions on the city’s community forum website and on the city’s Facebook page. Of those, nine said they did not think the wall was appropriate or attractive. Commenters on Facebook were nearly evenly divided in favor of and against it.

However, other commenters mentioned they had seen similar walls and other cities and found them thought-provoking and interesting to read. Variations of the wall idea have been installed in 76 countries, including China, Iraq, Kenya and Germany, and written in 38 languages, according to the Before I Die website.

The wall would have been created in conjunction with a project to create a civic space near the CenturyLink building downtown, which could include a mural, park benches and other public amenities in the area, if the project is approved by CenturyLink and the city.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

A group of Northern Arizona University runners leads the women's one-mile run Friday afternoon during a meet at the Skydome.

Readers react to Trump vulgarity: Dr. John 'Bull" Durham on Haiti

Editor's note: Dr. John "Bull" Durham of Flagstaff recently returned from another mission to Haiti with Northern Arizona Volunteer Medical Corps. Below are his comments on President Trump's reported vulgarity in reference to Haiti and African countries.  At bottom are comments to our Daily Sun Facebook page and our website, plus an update from Durham via email.

* * *

Janvier Douze (January 12), a reference to a day that will remain a dagger in the heart of anyone who knows Haiti. Eight years ago today Haiti suffered one of the most destructive natural disasters that has struck humanity in modern history. As far as we know 200,000 to 300,000 died with millions displaced from life as they knew it. In the 1700’s she was the breadbasket of the world.

Donald Trump told you yesterday that Haiti is a “Shithole”. I doubt he has been there, I have as have many of you. It is not a shithole. It is a country of vibrant, proud, resilient people who have struggled against the onslaught of natural disasters and foreign interference that has helped to keep the country in a state of perpetual impoverishment. These comments the day before the 8th anniversary of this heinous day defy any sense of decency or grasp of reality.

Today I ask that you keep Haiti in your hearts. Almost every Haitian can tell you where they were on that day and they can each tell you of the horror they survived; their own injuries, the loved ones killed, the experience of death, dismemberment and loss. My eight year old daughter Anabelle thankfully does not remember; she was 6 months old. She did tell us today that she was thinking “dark thoughts”. She could not tell us more. The effects on her will perhaps become more clear with time.

Thank you for your support of our work both locally and globally. Today I will thank you specifically for your support of our work in Haiti. Though not more important than our all inclusive work, today it deserves our attention.

If you are interested I encourage you to see Anderson Cooper’s comments regarding Haiti aired last night on CNN

I also encourage you to view a video created by Michael Collier following our recent mission trip to Haiti.

With love,

John Bull Durham, MD

President; NAVMC

Facebook comments:

--Lori Black Crystal

Nice contribution to Haitians. I hope the world someday will forgive us for the s-hole who speaks with such racism and hatred.

--Judith Reed Diver

Thank you Dr. John Durham for helping the people of Haiti! That is far kinder and nicer thing than the other commenters on here with their tea party attitudes have ever done for anybody

--Bruce Billings

Haiti is a dump.

--Keven Tomlinson

I thought this was an ARIZONA news source ? Why is it that you feel the need to post national/international so called "news" ? Do your job post on state related issues like flaky flake or war criminal John McSwine. Maybe your just a copy and paster ?

--Ted Paulk

Keven Tomlinson, because folks such as yourself need to know that there is a world outside of Redneck strongholds! Donald Trump is destroying America and trying to overturn the 1st Amendment. Trump lackeys, aka the 33% Base, think this is fine and dandy. Keep up the good work Arizona Daily Sun.

--David A. Williams Thank you Dr Durham and your team for the great work you do.

What a shame we have such a foul mouth, racist, ignorant individual in a leadership position in the United States.

Website comments"

--By “Hardtruth”

I have never been to Haiti, but I have read enough about it to know that it is a "Sh&! hole" with high crime, economic problems, and everything else that comes with those problems. I feel for the people that live there but I do not feel that the USA should bring in anyone and everyone that lives in a country with problems. I just can't believe that some people feel that the USA should welcome in anyone from anywhere, that is not as fortunate as many living here. I say "many" because not everyone here is fortunate, look at the growing homeless population and the amount of people on government financial aid. How much more do we want to add to the burden paid by the tax payers? Many people in our country are beginning to lack the drive to achieve and make good lives for themselves due to the ease in getting financial aid from the government and watching everyone else, including illegal immigrants and legal immigrants getting aid easily.

Just a follow up to my post, since I couldn't figure out how to edit. Since some people feel that the term "Sh&! hole" is an attack against the people, I just wanted to add that I am in no means saying that all of the people that live in Haiti are bad. I know that there are many good and wonderful people there. I am referring to the living conditions, the economic situation, the high crime, and poor infrastructure.

--By “Jtdaniel65”

Way to go Bull. Thank you for all you do for the people of Haiti!


Trump was spot on with this one…

By John "Bull" Durham, in an email to the editor:

I have received calls already today from several including Anne Kirkpatrick. I have received multiple email responses all in support of the comments I made and all expressing sadness at the comments Trump made. I think many of us feel more and more abandoned by our leader who continues to demonstrate an ability to put fear and distaste in his fellow countrymen. This is such an insult to the world especially to Africa and to Haiti. Haiti little needs any more negativity from her neighbor the US.

I will be interested to see the readers comments. Thanks for posting this as I believe it is important that we do not forget!

Many kind thanks

Bull Durham