Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The AZ education funding plan sucks

It sucks because the lege slithered out of their constitutional responsibility to fund public education. It sucks because the education groups caved, wanting less money than was their due - now. It sucks because it sucks money from future kids by sucking money from the state land trust. It sucks because it sucks money belonging to education to pay for education so that Guv Doozey and the GOPlins in the lege can go on cutting taxes. It just sucks.

Tim Steller has a more refined, but just as sharp, critique in this morning's Daily Star.

Members of the Legislature unwrapped the education-funding package Tuesday and revealed an unsightly gift.

It’s such a convoluted contraption I can’t help but wonder if this is really the best we can give our schools, kids and teachers.

The Arizona Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl quoted one observer looking over the proposal for the first time Tuesday as saying it "looks like it was written on three different napkins, from different bars." Indeed.

Moreover, the plan could be illegal, according to State Treasurer Jeff DeWit. Steller again:

Previously, Ducey proposed withdrawing between 5 percent and 10 percent of the trust every year for 10 years. While Ducey is the former state treasurer and informed on this subject, he ran into an unmovable obstacle in current treasurer Jeff DeWit, who said Ducey’s plan was financially unwise because it proposed withdrawing too much from the trust.

I talked to DeWit on Tuesday, and he said the withdrawals in the plan revealed Tuesday — a proposed 6.9 percent-per-year rate — would add up to almost the exact same amount as under Ducey’s plan. He and the state Board of Investment maintain that 3.75 percent per year is the maximum financially responsible amount, he said. Right now, withdrawals are capped at 2.5 percent, so that’s 1.25 percentage points of wiggle room right now.

Like legislative Democrats, DeWit, a conservative Republican, would instead use the state’s budget surplus to pay for the required inflation increases. He noted that, because the plaintiffs in the suit were willing to accept about 70 cents on the judicially approved dollar of inflation funding, the Legislature could simply tap the surplus to pay for it now.

"This is like we just agreed to let them burgle our house, steal our money, then give back 70 percent of it," state Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, told me. "Then we agreed not to press charges because the trial would take too long."

"Why would we not just jump on that, solve this thing and finish it on Friday?" DeWit asked. The governor, he said, "can still accomplish his goals, solve the schools’ lawsuit, and have money to spare without touching the schools’ trust."

But the education groups who brought the suit against the lege have a shorter term perspective.

And from the plaintiffs’ perspective? I asked Tim Hogan, one of the plaintiffs’ lead attorneys, and he essentially said there was no alternative.

"The point is to get money to schools now, compared to the risk of going forward and the risk of litigation," he said.

It would probably have taken two more years to resolve the case, he said. The land trust funds "are what were on the table."

"Here’s my interest: Getting money in the classrooms as quickly as possible," Hogan added. "I’m convinced that balanced against the risk we face, against the delay, this is a good deal."

But against the alternative of actually paying our bills straightforwardly, without gimmicks or complications, this is a real stinker.

So basically all the parties are happy with robbing from future kids to pay for the education of present kids. Like I said: it sucks.

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