Governor Jan Brewer, left, receives a gift from Mesa Community College president Shouan Pan while speaking at breakfast with the governor, Wednesday, March 9, 2011 in Mesa.

Mike Sakal/Tribune

With the Maricopa Community Colleges facing state funding cuts of up to 85 percent, Bernie Ronan knows education is in for a challenging future.

But Ronan, the director of public affairs for the Rio Salado/Maricopa Community College District who was one of 320 in attendance for Gov. Jan Brewer’s speech during a breakfast event at Mesa Community College on Wednesday, sees the role of the community college as “picking up the slack” for job creation and preparing students for the workforce.

Brewer vowed to fight and “hold the line” against any further education cuts and said during the breakfast that she hopes to have community colleges transition to provide four-year degrees inside of four years.

She also touted the passage of legislation that will provide tax incentives through enterprise zone laws with hopes of luring businesses to the state and allow existing ones to expand.

Citing the recent announcement of a $5 billion expansion of Intel in Chandler and an 188,000-square-foot facility for PayPal, Brewer said: “Arizona needs to be more competitive against other states. This is not the time to be timid. It’s a time for boldness. Our policies have encouraged investment in Arizona and will allow for expansion of existing businesses. Arizona will provide a skilled workforce that will result in attraction, retention and expansion in the state.”

Although the latest round of proposed cuts in education will ultimately raise the cost of tuition, Ronan vowed the 10-college Maricopa County Community College District will remain the largest source for workforce training and development in the state.

“The governor sees ourselves as we do in the role we will play in training and preparing members of the workforce,” Ronan said. “We’re all being realistic that the state is facing the worst recession it has seen in 50 years, but we will pick up the slack. I think the governor is correct in saying Arizona is moving in the right direction.”

Brewer also centered the speech on her “four cornerstones of reform” plan that focuses on establishing a viable education reporting system to show the progress of students and teachers, economic competitiveness to attract and expand business, modernizing state government she said is overly bureaucratic from a bygone era, and renewed federalism to free the state from what she said is an overreaching federal government.

During the breakfast, which was sponsored by the East Valley Chamber of Commerce Alliance, the East Valley Partnership and Mesa Community College, Brewer took the opportunity to again criticize the federal government for “failing to secure the nation’s borders, and engaging the state in a battle it did not ask for, “but now that the state is in it, it won’t rest until the border is secure.”

Brewer originally was scheduled to speak before the East Valley Chamber of Commerce Alliance in January, but rescheduled because of the Tucson shootings that involved Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, who also attended the breakfast on Wednesday, said it is interesting to see Brewer settle into her role as an elected governor and important and refreshing to hear her plans for leadership.

“It’s a change when you’re elected, and it’s a different role,” Smith said. “It’s good to see her vision become crystallized. She is beginning to show her leadership role, but the real rubber hits the road at the city level. You can’t be successful without leadership from the top.”

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