Rocky Progress For Asu Campus

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Hopes for an Arizona State University campus in Payson have acquired a certain Rocky feel — a bruised and battered boxer with heart, training for a fight no one thinks he can win.

Lord knows, Rocky eventually ended well.

We hope the same will hold for the plan to build what amounts to Arizona’s first state college here in Payson.

This week, Payson and ASU reaffirmed their commitment to the plan — despite a worrisome delay in signing a promised memorandum of understanding.

The proposal could have a huge impact on Rim Country, second only to the Blue Ridge pipeline in long-term importance. Our economy will grow, our culture will deepen and our kids won’t have to leave town to get an education.

The visionary plan has already survived enough plot turns to keep a team of screenwriters awake all night.

Now it faces as daunting a challenge with one eye swollen shut. In this case, the threat comes from the relentless attacks on the state’s vital public universities as a result of the Legislature’s financial nervous breakdown.

The universities have absorbed hundreds of millions in cuts, taking state per-student funding back 20 years. In inflation adjusted dollars, state funding per full-time student rose from $5,933 in 1982 to $9,151 in 2000 before falling to $5,970.

As a result, ASU’s tuition has gone from near the bottom to right at the top for public universities nationwide. Bear in mind, Arizona lacks the network of private schools that give students alternatives in most other states.

Of course, that actually makes ASU’s plan to build a four-year campus in Payson to offer a selection of undergraduate degrees at Pell Grant tuition levels more important than ever. With tuition on the main campus spiraling out of control and the university moving for the first time to limit enrollment, a campus in Payson would be sure to draw strong enrollment.

Of course, in practical terms, the plan still depends critically on Mayor Kenny Evans’ ability to hold together some $70 million in private pledges, despite the tragic death of Nazy Hirani. We wish him God’s speed in that quest.

And in political terms, the move forward has gotten enmeshed in ASU’s budget problems — particularly its reluctant cuts at two branch campuses in the Valley. ASU can’t move boldly on the Payson campus until the fiscal blood stops running down the gutters in the Valley.

Still, we took heart this week from the joint announcement explaining the delay in signing the agreement to move forward.

Feels kind of like that moment in training when Rocky danced with his fists raised atop the steps. Granted, the championship match still lies ahead — but, still, you gotta appreciate the moment.

Water use drops Way to go, guys

Way to go, guys: 81 gallons a day. That’s the average water use in Payson this past year. The average American uses twice that much water. Heck, Payson residents came in under the town’s already conservative target of 89 gallons per person per day.

The annual water report made note of the number, but didn’t fully explain it. Certainly, residents’ continued commitment to water conservation plays a leading role. Total water use levels haven’t risen in a decade, although the population in that time rose from about 13,000 to perhaps 17,000.

Of course, the recession might have played a role in reducing average daily water use in the past 12 months. And the finally near-normal rain totals no doubt helped, reducing the need for outdoor watering.

So now well levels are on the rise and the town last year used a little more than half as much water as snow and rain put back into the once-dropping water table.

We hope that residents won’t change their water-thrifty ways just because we’re not staring down the gun barrel of water rationing.

We also hope that the town won’t slacken its efforts to bring Blue Ridge water to town. After all, because of that far-sighted planning and discipline, we’ve gone from a region critically limited by its water supply to one of the few rural areas in the state with an assured supply sufficient to underwrite our future.

Way to go, guys.

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