Friday, September 15, 2017

Business Leaders Say, Raise Taxes to Fund Schools

Posted By on Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 9:58 AM

I've been out of town for three weeks. Did I miss anything?

Let's see. TUSD has a new superintendent, Dr. Gabriel Trujillo. Looks like a pretty smart choice. He's getting stamps of approval from people on various sides of district issues, which is promising. And board member Mark Stegeman has voted against him twice so far, which makes Trujillo sound even better to me. Best of luck, Dr. Trujillo. You'll need it.

Then there was the Mexican American Studies decision from Judge Tashima, a clear-the-bases, grand slam home run for MAS supporters. Ex Ed Supe John Huppenthal didn't like the program because it taught students they were victims of a racist system; the judge said Hupp's dismantling of the MAS program was the result of racial animus. Hupp didn't want Mexican American youth to think of themselves as oppressed; Hupp suppressed a program which used historical facts to show ways Mexican American students and their ancestors have been oppressed. Earlier Ex Ed Supe Tom Horne was upset that MAS taught ethnic chauvinism; he went around the state telling white people their privileged status was threatened by the program. One term to describe the Hupp and Horne statements in light of the judge's decision is "irony." MAS supporters are probably more fond of the term "vindication."

And then there's the statement by Jim Swanson, the leader of Ducey's Classrooms First Initiative Council, that our schools need an additional billion dollars in added tax revenue. It's not exactly new news. Other business leaders raised the idea in June. But for Swanson, Ducey's hand-picked head of his council to explore ways to improve education, to say Ducey isn't doing enough to fund schools, and to go into such detail about the reasons why the extra money is needed, that's really something. The public already supports increased education funding. A statement from Swanson and other business leaders helps build a statewide consensus which will make it harder for Republicans to pretend to be pro-education while saying they don't want to "throw money at schools."

Let's go through some of the things Swanson said in the article. Prop 301 expires in 2021, which would take away $600 million a year in school funding in the form of a 0.6 percent sales tax. Swanson wants to renew it right away, in 2018, and he wants to boost it to a 1.6 percent tax, which would add another billion dollars for school funding (Quick rule of thumb: 0.1 percent sales tax equals about $100 million in revenue, which adds about $100 per student). Ducey is in no rush to put the issue on the ballot, and he doesn't want a tax increase. He'd rather wait until 2020 when he's not running for office. A tax measure on any kind on the ballot could cause him electoral grief, as could taking a stand against more money for education. Also, if the issue is put off until the last minute in 2020, right before Prop 301 is set to expire, Republicans can put together a lousy package and school supporters will be forced to vote for it or take a hit to school funding.

How does a businessman like Swanson justify raising taxes? He says, correctly, we've been cutting taxes for 25 years. If we had the same tax rate now we had in 1992, we'd be bringing in $4 billion more every year, so adding a billion dollars just replaces a quarter of what tax cuts have taken away from state revenue. Also, after a big cut in school funding starting in 2009 as a response to the recession, not only haven't we brought funding back up to pre-2009 levels (which were already at the bottom of the national barrel), but we're spending $266 less per student after adjusting for inflation.

Increasing sales taxes is always a problem for me since they impact lower income people more than other forms of taxation, so I wince every time I support a sales tax hike. To my surprise, Swanson understands this and wants to include an income tax credit for people with low incomes, which they get even if they owe no state taxes, to compensate them for the added tax burden.

This is election year gold for pro-education citizens and Democratic candidates if they're interested in mining it, which they should. The headlines and campaign ads write themselves. "Business leaders: Ducey wrong on education funding." "Business leaders: Schools are significantly underfunded." "Business leaders: Raise taxes to fund schools." "Business leaders: Schools need a billion dollar cash influx." Like I said: Gold.

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