Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Want More Money For Schools? Get Rid of Prop 108

Posted By on Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 9:34 AM

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It was a miracle 26 years in the making. Last week the Arizona legislature passed a tax hike.

Well, not a tax hike exactly. SB 1390 is a new tax, but it's not a new new tax. Prop 301, the six-tenths of a cent sales tax for education, is set to expire in 2020, and the new law gives it another 20 years of life. It's a new tax without any new money attached.

It's taken 26 years for the legislature to pass any kind of new tax because in 1992, voters passed Prop 108 which says tax increases of any kind need a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate.

Under most circumstances, two-thirds of our Republican-controlled legislature voting for a tax hike is an impossibly steep climb. I don't know of another instance when the legislature voted for a revenue increase since 1992, and neither does AZ Blue Meanie from Blog for Arizona, who first told me about Prop 108 and has been pushing to get rid of it for as long as I can remember. SB 1390 is a rare alignment of Democratic and Republican interests. Everyone but 4 senators and 6 representatives — all Republicans — voted for it. Then "No New Taxes" Ducey signed it.

Passing this new tax isn't exactly a cause for celebration for public education supporters. It doesn't bring an extra penny to schools. It just means schools won't lose $600 million a year. Actually, the new law could come back and bite schools in the ass if Republicans decide to tinker with it during another legislative session, as they say they might. Still, it's being greeted with a sigh of relief from public education supporters. These days if you're an educator, not losing feels almost like winning.

We may have to wait another 26 years for another moment like this roll around if we stay under Prop 108's supermajority rule. That means no substantial raise in state revenue in the foreseeable future, which means schools won't see the kind of revenue boost they need to pay teachers a decent wage, put more money into educational equipment and supplies, or fix our crumbling educational infrastructure.

If we want significantly more money for schools, the first step is to allow the legislature to pass revenue increases with a simple majority, and that means the voters will have to get rid of Prop 108.

Prop 108 is a clever piece of work. The anti-taxers who put it together made sure there was no way to sneak in any kind of revenue increase. No new taxes. No increases in tax rates beyond inflation. No increases in most state fees and assessments. And no reduction or elimination of tax exemptions.

That last item is a biggie. Reducing or getting rid of tax exemptions takes the same supermajority as raising taxes. Democrats make a good case for the the state increasing its revenue substantially without increasing taxes by getting rid of some of the tax exemptions carved out for special interests. That makes a whole lot of sense. But the problem is, once you identify the special interest giveaways, you still need a two-thirds majority to get rid of them. Good luck with that. And if by some miracle the legislature puts together the needed supermajority, the governor can still veto it. Courtesy of Prop 108, it takes a super-supermajority, three-quarters of both houses, to override a veto.

I love Arizona teachers' #RedForEd movement. It's great to see the new spirit of activism which has been sweeping the country reaching our state, and I'm for every dollar they can get from the legislature. The last thing I want to do is rain on the #RedForEd parade. But even though I was an English teacher, I'm good enough at basic arithmetic to figure out there's not enough money in the state coffers to raise our schools out of the bottom five states in per student funding, and there never will be so long as the legislature needs to muster a two-thirds majority to vote in new revenues. That's got to change.

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