Thursday, September 20, 2012

PROP 204: A penny for education


Cronkite News Service

PHOENIX – Is deciding how to fund education in Arizona best done by lawmakers or voters?

That’s a key point of debate with Arizonans ready to decide whether to adopt a permanent 1-cent per dollar sales tax that would be earmarked primarily for education but also for human services and transportation.

The money raised, estimated at $1 billion in the first year, would be off limits to state lawmakers.

Arizona State Treasurer Doug Ducey, chairman of a political committee opposing Proposition 204, said allocating resources is best left to the Legislature.

“This takes power away from the democratic process and puts the decisions in the hands of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats,” he said.

But state Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said the measure is necessary precisely because the GOP-controlled Legislature has failed to adequately fund education in recent years.

“We have to make up for things that this majority has decided to take away from our schools,” Farley said.

Because of the Voter Protection Act, a ballot measure approved in 1998, lawmakers aren’t allowed to overturn voter-approved initiatives. And changes that advance the cause of a ballot measure require a three-quarters vote of the Legislature.

E.J. Perkins, a policy analyst with Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said that protects the will of voters but also makes changes difficult if a legitimate need arises.

“If you have a very complex ballot proposition that might warrant a full vetting. It might not get that if it’s coming from a ballot initiative,” he said. “If it passes, we might have to live with it.”

Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association, said the citizen initiative process takes away the safeguards of the legislative system, in which bills are read and vetted multiple times.

“When you’re running an initiative a very small group of people get to draft legislation,” McCarthy said. “Inevitably you are going to have not only policy problems but problems with how it is going to be written.”

He said the problems with Proposition 204 include not planning enough for inflation and difficult-to-administer provisions.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that if the initiative passes it could interfere with legislators’ ability to make adjustments in the budget.

“So if we have another economic downturn, next year or in five years, we will have amply funded education and will be stopping other programs,” Kavanagh said.

Some of that concern centers on what supporters call a funding floor. That provision would prevent lawmakers from reducing per-student and capital appropriations for K-12 education and general fund appropriations for higher education from fiscal year 2011-2012 or 2012-2013, whichever is higher.

“Whenever you say we are never going to spend less, no matter what, that’s a recipe for disaster,” said Jonathan Butcher, education director at the Goldwater Institute, an independent watchdog group that promotes limited government and free enterprise.
Kavanagh said the Legislature has already started restoring education funding and will continue doing so if the initiative doesn’t pass.

“I think we need to trust the Legislature, who gets to look at the entire budget issue and not just education,” he said.

But trusting the Legislature to adequately fund education is the last thing in initiative’s advocates say they are ready to do.

Ann-Eve Pedersen, chairwoman of the political committee pushing for Proposition 204, said that while education is Arizona voters’ top priority lawmakers haven’t invested enough in recent years.

“If the Legislature were willing to reinvest in education, then this proposition would be completely unnecessary,” Pedersen said.

Proponents have pointed to a recent report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a national policy group, ranking Arizona last among 48 states measured on per-student spending decreases since 2008.

George Cunningham, the pro-204 campaign’s volunteer treasurer and a former state senator, said the initiative wouldn’t affect the ability of lawmakers to budget but would ensure a minimum funding level for schools.

“We did not impose constraints upon the Legislature’s ability to move money around within the K-12 system,” Cunningham said.

Farley, the Tucson representative, said that while the ideal scenario would be for voters to elect lawmakers who support more education funding an initiative is necessary in this case.

“Given the recent history of the Legislative majority, I think somebody has to do it and the people might as well do it,” he said.

   Proposed funding breakdown:     
(based on $1 billion raised)
  • $500 million: Quality Education and Performance Fund, distributed to school districts and charter schools based on enrollment.
  • $10 million: Education Learning and Accountability Fund, statewide education data system.
  • $90 million: Education Accountability and Improvement Fund, based on measures of performance.
  • $100 million: State Infrastructure Fund, transportation projects.
  • $25 million: Children’s Health Insurance Program Fund, health insurance programs for children from low-income families.
  • $100 million: Family Stability and Self-Sufficiency Fund, low-income health and welfare grants.
  • $50 million: University, Scholarship, Operations and Infrastructure Fund, scholarships and performance-based funding.
  • $125 million: Inflationary adjustment for K-12 funding formula, as necessary.
Source: Joint Legislative Budget Committee


Anonymous said...

Uh, what does "temporary" mean in YOUR dictionary?

We voted for that one PERCENT tax (stop calling it a penny; it's only a penny if the sale is a dollar) as a TEMPORARY measure.

So of course, now that everyone is used to paying the highest sales taxes in the country, you want to make it PERMANENT.

Thanks, but no thanks. The deal was it ENDS. So let it END.

Anonymous said...

If we have the highest sales tax in the country, why do we rank 49th out of 50 states in spending on education. What in the hell are they doing with our money? It's time to take the power away from our state legislature.

Anonymous said...

You do that by voting the bums out if they don't do what you want. We don't need more taxes. If we're not spending enough on education, what ARE we spending on that we can do without? Raising sales taxes just drives sales out of state, or to the internet.

Anonymous said...

Why do we rank 49th out of 50? Because people were gullible enough to believe that this tax would be temporary in the first place and that the legislature wouldn't touch the education budget that was already in place. Duhhhhh! We gave them the freedom to raid the education fund when "we" decided to pay for it separately in the first place in the form of this tax. Now that it is critical to the education system, of course they now need to make it permanent. This is how all temporary taxes go. Tie it to an emotional issue, get it passed, steal the funds that were originally slated for the item, and then cry and whine that the system can't be supported without making the "temporary" tax permanent. Stop giving the legislature the means to continue cutting educational funding. Vote against Prop 204, and instead vote in people who will make education a top priority. It's as simple as that.