Potential return of state funds to Pima Community College
Story and photos
by JOE GIDDENS
Doug Ducey won his second term for governor in November over Democrat challenger David Garcia by nearly 15 points.
Ducey was inaugurated for his second term on Jan. 7 and presented with the State of the State Address from Phoen on Jan. 14. He took his message the next day to the Tucson Convention Center for the State of the State luncheon presented by the Tucson Metro Chamber.
“I told him, it was a good speech, a bipartisan speech, and I hope that he can accomplish, at least part of what he wants to; his action with regard to gun safety in schools is commendable,” Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said.
Ducey opened his State of the State by making water and the drought his first priority because the Bureau of Reclamation warned in December unless Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, California and Arizona approved drought contingency plans by midnight Jan. 31, the bureau would draft its own drought plan.
This means that the federal government would decide how much water the states will get — a move that impacts the 40 million people in the American West who get their water from the Colorado River system.
Ducey’s budget proposal has $30 million earmarked for conservation efforts to protect the water level in Lake Mead. Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the nation, is less than 40 percent full and approaching a shortage for the first time.
If water levels fall under 1,050 feet, electricity can’t be generated from the dam. If it falls under 895 feet, water won’t leave the lake, thus creating a “dead pool.” A dead pool is a scenario that “worst case” could occur within four years, according to Kathryn Sorensen, Phoenix’s water services director in a recent interview with Yale Environment 360.
“Approximately one-third of the flow loss is due to high temperatures now common in the basin, a result of human-caused climate change,” according to the American Geophysical Union in 2017. “Previous comparable droughts were caused by a lack of precipitation, not high temperatures.”
Higher temperatures, greater evaporation and less water in the Colorado River are driven by humans’ carbon emissions. Absent from the governor’s discussion on the drought plan, however, is climate change. In fact, state Budget Director Matthew Gress avoided using the phrase “climate change,” instead referring to a “drier future.”
The state government approved the governor’s drought plan, with $90 million paid to Gila River and Colorado River Tribes to leave water in Lake Mead. Another major portion of the plan is that Pinal County will receive $9 million from the state and potentially $30 million from the federal government to improve its groundwater pumping ability.
An increase in pumping groundwater in Pinal County is a move to support agriculture at the cost of putting additional stress on the earth. Over-pumping causes subsidence, where the ground resettles with the absence of water and opens up fissures. Central Arizona Project delivers water from the Colorado River to Pinal County as a means to prevent ground subsidence.
Arizona’s drought contingency was passed and signed by Ducey about 6 p.m. Jan. 31, six hours before the federal government’s deadline. In a press release about the passage, the governor called it a historic day for the state and called for a culture of conservation, “as Arizona transitions to a drier future.”
The city government has been one of the lead players, and the city water director has been at every meeting in support of getting the drought plan passed, according to Rothschild.
“The governor was 100 percent right about that: Get it done now,” Rothschild said. “Because, quite frankly, this is just the beginning. We’ve got to get through this, then move on to the interstate.”
The governor’s budget was released on Jan. 18, with $20 million for an expansion of Pima’s Aviation Center.
If approved, it would be the first time the college has received state funds since austerity measures cut state support to community colleges across Arizona in 2015. Funding from the state government in 2009 was $20 million; in 2012, it was $7.1 million. In fiscal year 2016, it was zeroed out, according to online publication Inside Higher Ed.
The Aviation Technology Center on South Park Avenue first opened in 2001, and the program has usually grown in increments of 25 students to keep a 25-1 student-to-instructor ratio.
“There’s no shortage of individuals that are interested in our program,” said Jason Bowersock, Pima’s academic director of the aviation-tech program. “And they hear that we have a waiting list of over a year to get into the program. It can be a little bit defeating.”
In Pima County, Bombardier and Ascent are the two largest employers of graduates from the program, according to Pima’s internal documents.
In the expansion plan, it’s reported that Bombardier Aerospace and other local employers that the 25 graduates the program produces each semester aren’t enough to “offset vacancies due to attrition within their company and for the industry in Southern Arizona.”
This issue will probably be exacerbated without more graduates. The demand for Aviation Technicians is projected to increase both nationally and locally. Tucson’s climate makes for good flying weather and aircraft storage, more flights leads to more aircraft wear and tear.
“Southern Arizona is home to a very large aerospace and defense industry,” said Amber Smith, Tucson Metro Chamber’s president and CEO and board member of the Pima Community College Foundation, in a recent email. “As part of this local and statewide industry, one of our strengths is the Pima Community College Aviation Technology Center that produces aviation technicians in air-frame and power-plant, avionics and structural repair.
The proposed budget is divided with $1.2 million for staff, $15.3 for construction of classrooms and hanger and $2.9 for new equipment.
The proposal would create 14 new Pima staff positions, half of which are new full-time instructors for $1.2 million. State funding would cover the first year of staff salaries, with future salaries coming from Pima’s general fund. The availability of salaries beyond the first year is tied to last April’s elimination of 6 percent of Pima’s staff, which is mostly through attrition.
Pima’s Arizona contact lobbyist Jonathon Paton at the Feb. 6 Board of Governors meeting voiced his opinion that everyone at Pima should be excited at the proposal even if it doesn’t directly impact you, because “it’s like the gateway drug of getting more funding and more recognition.”
Ducey’s proposal calls for $21 million to expand the Arizona Teacher’s Academy. The program was initiated to boost the number of teachers in the state by having tuition waived in exchange for commiting to teach in Arizona. Presently the program is only available to university students.
“However, if the governor’s proposal goes through, our students going through the Post-Degree Teacher Certification Program will be able to access it,” said Pima spokeswoman Libby Howell by email.
The budget proposal still needs to be passed. If it is, the state’s joint committee on capital review likely will meet in June to provide oversight if the aviation expansion is approved.
“Pima would have to go before that committee to get review that would unlock the money that was appropriated in the 2020 budget,” said Matt Gress, director of Ducey’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting at the Jan. 23 Governor’s Budget Roadshow Meeting, which took place at Pima College’s District Office.
The college’s target for completion is within two years of obtaining funding. Pima appears to be confident that the state’s budget will pass with the expansion included, and it might proceed with early stages of the permitting process. This is partially because Lambert serves on the Tucson Airport Authority’s Blue Print Committee.
“We are willing to take the chance that it will be approved by proceeding with the site work and permits,” according to Pima’s internal documents. “For example, we have an excellent relationship with the Tucson Airport Authority, who fully support this project, so we believe we can speed through their normal approval process.”
Lambert also has been scheduled to testify before the Arizona House Education Committee on Feb. 18, and at the Arizona Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on March 11, according to Howell. Meanwhile, Ducey is scheduled to tour the Aviation Tech Center Feb. 15.