Ducey: You'll need to wait for budget answers

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona's governor-elect isn't ready to say how he'll deal with a looming budget deficit or if he'll scrap the new Common Core standards that he opposes.

State Treasurer Doug Ducey instead named a committee that includes Gov. Jan Brewer's current budget director to help him seek options to close a $500 million shortfall in the current budget. And he said Monday he'll appoint people to the State Board of Education that mirror his views that the state needs to focus on better outcomes, while repeating his opposition to the new standards.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the Republican said he's putting the pieces in place to take over from Brewer when he is inaugurated on Jan 5. Next up is the State of the State address on Jan. 12, the release of his first budget proposal on Jan. 16 and the 100th day of his administration in mid-April.

"We'll fill in all the variables and all the answers to your questions during that course of time," Ducey said.

Ducey will take office with a major problem right out of the gate: How to fill a $520 million hole in the current state budget year, which ends June 30. The next budget year will have a $1 billion deficit.

He said he's committed to not raising taxes, and instead will look for options that could rely in part on the state's $454 million rainy day fund. And he ticked off lines he used during his campaign about reviewing the 80-plus agencies that report to the governor for cost savings and not replacing retiring state workers to cut spending.

More than 25 percent of the state's workforce is eligible for retiring in the coming four years, and Ducey says he'll look to technology to replace them.

Just as important, he said, is the need to make Arizona a more attractive place for businesses, something he hopes pay off with larger state revenues.

"An upturn in the economy, which is possible, fixes a lot of budget issues," Ducey said.

Another major issue awaiting Ducey will be what to do about the state's new Common Core school standards, which were adopted by the Board of Education in 2010 with little opposition but which have since angered conservatives, who say the standards created by state were pushed on them by the federal government.

Ducey himself is a staunch opponent, but he will not say is he will urge their repeal.

"My priority for education is better outcomes for our kids inside the classroom," Ducey said. "I'm not happy with Common Core, I'm not happy with us being tied to Washington D.C. for funding or states having obedience purchased from the federal government to get out of certain waivers.

"But I'm going to look to put people on the Board of Education that share my values, that want to prioritize the improvement of outcomes inside the classroom and folks that are reform-minded. Those are my priorities."