Half a Loaf
State lawmakers extend education sales tax, but it's still not enough to fix Arizona schools
Well, it turns out the It Arizona Legislature can get things done quickly if it wants to, even if it includes a tax increase—or at least a tax extension.
Last week, state lawmakers overwhelming passed an extension to Prop 301, the ballot prop passed by voters in 2000 that established a six-tenths-of-a-cent-per-dollar sales tax to benefit education. The vote required a two-thirds majority because it established a new tax once Prop 301 expires in 2020.
The Prop 301 extension is remarkable in many ways—including the willingness of GOP lawmakers to support a tax "increase" (even though it's really a tax extension, but these terms get twisted around in the political arena). And it's remarkable that both sides of the aisle just did something reasonable for a change.
Overall, it's good news for education in Arizona. It spares everyone from having to negotiate whether to have a higher tax, a lower tax, a tax that puts more money in the universities, a tax that puts more money in the classroom, yadda yadda yadda.
That said—as the education community and legislative Democrats have pointed out—there's still not nearly enough money for education in this state. More funding will have to be found somewhere if Arizona is going to improve its schools. And that's going to be harder to do, as Gov. Doug Ducey and Republicans lawmakers continue to find ways to reduce taxes, hollowing out the state's resources.
But, it does give Ducey a new talking point about supporting schools as he hits the reelection campaign trail this year. And Ducey can also point to his raid of state land trust dollars in the form of 2016's Prop 123 as another way to getting more funding for education—even though that was really settling a lawsuit that claimed that lawmakers had been underfunding schools for years. And it didn't even make schools whole for all the money that lawmakers had illegally withheld. (Earlier this week, a federal judge in Phoenix ruled that Prop 123 was an illegal grab from the state land trust, but that decision could well be overturned on appeal, though it bears watching.)
But Ducey still has a problem selling himself as the "Education Governor." And that problem is Prop 305, which will appear on the same November ballot as Ducey.
Prop 305 is a referendum that seeks to overturn one of the worst education bills passed by Republican lawmakers during Ducey's reign. The legislation opens the door to a massive expansion of vouchers in Arizona, allowing a big transfer of public dollars to private schools. Republicans have said it's a way to get low-income kids into private schools they couldn't otherwise afford, but since the money the state is offering isn't enough to cover the cost of private school tuition, it's mostly a way to subsidize parents who are already sending their kids to private schools, or parents who might want to put their kids in private school if they had a bit more financial support. That's generally a lousy policy because it further undermines funding for public education, which leads to more people seeking to pull their kids from public schools, which leads to less funding—and then rinse and repeat as the public schools continue to decline in quality.
Ducey will have to defend that policy (although he can count on big-spending organizations opposed to public education to provide him with backing on that one). The question remains: Will the majority of voters back voucher expansion? We'll find out in November.
Lane Closed Ahead
Pima County is ready to talk about a sales tax to fix the roads, but a certain wacky supervisor stands in the way
Pima County's sales tax Advisory Committee has delivered its final report to the Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to discuss options at its next meeting on Tuesday, April 3.
The committee, which was established to go hand-in-hand with a committee examining road needs, had four recommendations:
• Establish a half-cent sales tax for road repair for 10 years and rope the Regional Transportation Authority into helping manage it.
• Use some of the sales-tax revenue to eliminate a recent property-tax hike dedicated to road repair.
• Use some more of the sales-tax to reduce property taxes even more so that Pima County has a better taxing structure.
• And use some of the sales-tax revenue to assist low-income Pima County residents who will face economic hardship as a result of the sales-tax hike.
We can be sure of one thing. Supervisor Ally Miller is a hard "no" on the idea of raising sales taxes, even though she complains relentlessly about the state of Pima County roads. Miller has gone so far as to lobby state lawmakers to make it impossible to even ask voters to increase the sales tax for transportation without a unanimous vote of the board, which she can then block. (Wonder if members of the biz community are starting to regret backing such a wackjob for the Board of Supervisors yet? We know fellow Republican Supervisor Steve Christy has had it with Miller's lunacy.)
So if the county is going to get more sales-tax dollars to fix roads, they're going to have to first persuade the Arizona Legislature to let them do it—and time is starting to run short for this session at the Capitol.
The televised edition of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs 6:30 p.m. Fridays on the Creative Tucson network, Cox Channel 20 and Comcast Channel 74. This week's guest is Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik. The TV show repeats Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. and Thursday nights at 6:30 p.m. The radio edition of Zona Politics airs at 5 p.m. Sundays on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM. Nintzel also talks about what's happening in Tucson entertainment on The Frank Show at 9:30 Wednesday mornings on KLPX, 96.1 FM. This week, Nintzel will also talk politics on the Buckmaster Show at 12:30 p.m. Friday on KVOI, 1030 AM.