Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey had a lot to brag about when he stopped in Lake Havasu City on Thursday. The state is in great financial shape and there’s a $1 billion surplus in this year’s budget. The governor’s office and legislature are working to restore funding to education. Arizona has emerged as the top in-bound state for new residents, and lots of jobs have been created under Ducey’s leadership.
Importantly, Ducey made it a point to note that rural counties were baked into the 2020 state budget like never before, with funding for high-speed internet, “smart” highway corridors and a rural jobs initiative.
It’s a message we’ve waited a long time to hear. Arizona’s urban communities have gotten most of the infrastructure attention over the years, particularly in recent history as the state weathered the economic recession. Now that things are booming again, it’s a welcomed development that our governor wants to spread the wealth to counties that aren’t named Maricopa, Pima or Pinal.
However, all the smart highway corridors and high-speed internet plans in the world won’t do much to restore rural Arizona’s neglected roads, and that’s an area we didn’t hear much from Ducey about this week.
Ducey’s 2021 executive budget summary says funding to the Arizona Department of Transportation could surge by more than $66.5 million in the next fiscal year, with a total of $1.03 billion budgeted for transportation. But the need is much greater than that. Officials in Mohave and La Paz counties, along with rural communities throughout Arizona, say their roads are in dire need of maintenance and upgrades. (And that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon, at least not without legislative interference. ADOT’s five-year transportation plan seems to go out of its way to ignore Mohave County, with just two road projects planned for Kingman and nothing anywhere else in the county.)
The state helped make a bad problem worse as it pulled millions of transportation funding from counties to balance its budget over the years. Appropriation bills like State Rep. Leo Biasiucci’s proposal to repave State Route 95 through Lake Havasu City and Bullhead City are a good start to fixing the problem. But more is needed.
However, we don’t believe the best solution is new gas tax, which Ducey presumably won’t support anyway considering his stated commitment to veto any new taxes.
We also can’t imagine a new tax would be very palatable with voters considering that massive budget surplus we mentioned. No, legislators and the governor are going to have to get creative if they truly want to fix rural Arizona’s roads. It’s the Arizona Way.
— Today’s News-Herald