Monday, January 25, 2016

Ducey, Democrats, Education Funding and the T Word

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2016 at 2:00 PM

Here's the background. Gov. Ducey wants us to vote in $300 million a year to fund K-12 schools. His plan is controversial because he wants to use money from the state land trust and put in all kinds of economic triggers that could cut the extra funding back to zero. And it's money the state already owes the schools by court order—actually only 70 percent of what the state owes. So Ducey shouldn't be patting himself on the back proclaiming he supports education—which, of course, hasn't stopped him from going on a 24/7 "I support education" public back patting tour.

But for now, let's put everything aside but that one figure: $300 million added to school funding.

Money matters in education despite protests to the contrary from the "Don't throw money at education" crowd. And our per student funding level is very low compared to most other states. The census puts us in 49th place. Bottom line, we need more funding.

How much more? I went through the figures in a post last week, so I won't repeat the details here. The fact is, if we want to reach 46th place in per student funding, tied with Tennessee, we need to add a billion dollars a year. Let me say that again. If we want to move up three notches and only have 45 states spend more money to educate each of their children than we do instead of the current 48, we need to increase our total K-12 spending by $1 billion a year. Including the $300 million Ducey is recommending, we have another $700 million to come up with.

No matter how you play with our current surplus and the rainy day fund, there's no way Arizona can add $700 million a year to its education budget and sustain it year after year. Yet somehow, other states manage to spend considerably more than we do, even states with similar average incomes and poverty levels, so it's not ridiculous to say we can do it as well. But there's only one way to make the numbers work, unless you believe in magic ponies. Raise taxes.

There it is, the dreaded T word.

I'm not expecting to get any love from Ducey and the rest of the Republican office holders for my suggestion that we raise taxes. But the sad thing is, Democrats don't think much of the idea either, or at least that's what they say in public. When Democratic legislators held a press conference before Ducey's State of the State Address, they explained how to raise school funding without raising taxes, because as everyone knows, you shouldn't be for higher taxes. How do we know that? Because Republicans and Democrats both tell us all the time, that's how. Democrats, are supposed to believe in science, facts and basic arithmetic, not magic ponies, and they say correctly, we need more funding, not just for schools but for child services and road repair and other things we've been slighting for years, but they say they can do it without raising taxes. True, Democrats want to bring in a little more money—not nearly enough, but a little more—by ending some tax breaks. But new taxes? Who needs 'em?

All three Democratic presidential candidates are talking about raising taxes. They agree, we have to raise taxes because it's the only way we can pay for things we need for the country to function as it should. All three agree, we can do it by making the rich pay their fair share. But here in Arizona, Democrats don't agree. Their mantra is, no new taxes.

In Arizona, people at the top of the income scale don't pay anywhere near their fair share of state and local taxes. According to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, the top one percent pays 4.6 percent of its income in state and local taxes while the bottom 20 percent pays 12.5 percent. We've been cutting the progressive income tax back for decades, and whenever we absolutely have to find more money, we slap on a few more regressive sales taxes, which means the inequality of the tax burden keeps growing. Those are facts and basic arithmetic, both of which Democrats claim to believe in. But they won't say out loud that we can make the rich pay their fair share, keep other people's taxes constant and pay for the services we keep cutting back. And that's shameful.

The only way we can fund state services adequately is to raise taxes, and the only equitable way to raise taxes is by making the wealthiest among us pay their fair share, and the only way to get that message out so people will agree is to state the facts out loud. And the only people who can possibly do it are Democrats. It's past time the Democrats begin.

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