Courtesy of Robbie Sherwood.
On Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 4:54 PM, Steven B. Yarbrough
Thank you for your recent email regarding the state budget relative to K-12 education funding. I apologize for not being able to respond sooner and for doing a general response. However, the process was all-consuming in recent days. I did read every email I received and they were considered as we voted on the issues before us.
My summary of the key issues in the budget process is as follow:
Read the rest of the letter below the break.
1. A multi-billion dollar deficit over the current and future years could only be resolved with some painful budget cuts. A realistic projection of 3.8% revenue growth for fiscal 2015-16 was as good as one could fairly defend. If revenue is better we can do more in the second half of the next fiscal year but our previous habit of accepting unrealistic revenue projections to justify more spending only made the problem worse and we weren’t going there again.
2. Protecting K-12 public school funding was a high priority. Therefore, even with the rest of the budget taking some really significant cuts, K-12 was increased by a net of more than $100 million. That is notable. How any additional money to satisfy the pending lawsuit will be found is an open question but for now K-12 public school funding fared the best of any budget area.
3. Universities were cut by nearly $100 million. This was hard but collectively they have over $5 billion in annual revenue from all sources and even this cut was less than 2%. I am a passionate proponent of improved student academic achievement and have a long history of K-12 and university support. My degrees are from ASU and I spent 4 ½ years there as a Student Affairs Office legal counsel and administrator. No one has to convince me of the value of our higher education system. But the overall spending could not be sustained and this was one place where high quality can still be achieved with less money from the general fund.
4. Corrections asserted the need for 3000 new prison beds over the next three years. We required them to do with less. They were not authorized any new beds for 2015-16. They were approved for 1000 in 2016-17. They were authorized to put out an RFP for 2017-18 for 1000 more beds but required to allow the counties to bid on those. This resulted in DOC getting less than one-half of the $100 million requested. We believe this can be done without putting public safety at risk. Many of you wrote "educate instead of incarcerate." We did our best to do exactly that.
5. Maricopa and Pima County Community College Districts were removed from the state general fund. They already receive the lion’s share of their revenue from other sources (primarily local property taxes) and they will be able to maintain high quality without the additional funds from the state general fund.
6. We also listened to the K-12 public school districts and gave their school boards additional latitude to deal with how best to move in the direction the Legislature and Governor prefer which is to focus on teacher pay and classroom spending. They were not placed in any kind of straight jacket as to how to best do this but hopefully they will realize how strongly the Legislature believes that a great teacher in every classroom is critical to improved student academic achievement.
There were many other hard decisions in implementing the move towards truly living within our means as the State of Arizona that I could address. The developmentally disabled and mental health communities were protected as much as possible and we did our best to preserve public safety including the funding of DPS. The courts were given added latitude too and they told us they could manage despite the significant cuts that came their way. Many other areas of state government will have to adjust to no increase or cuts going forward. Finding people who are happy with the cuts is admittedly hard but there is no new borrowing, no new taxes, and no more budget gimmicks in what we did.
Personally I commend Gov. Ducey and my colleagues in the Legislature from both sides of the aisle who helped put Arizona on a fiscally sound path. I hope you will agree, even with whatever serious concerns you may still have, that doing this was wise and necessary and that the future will be brighter because hard decisions were made.
Also, for those of you concerned about HB 2303 regarding the school calendar, I do not plan to vote for that bill if it makes it over to the Senate.
Sen. Steven B. Yarbrough
Arizona State Senate
Legislative District 17
1700 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007