Thursday, November 12, 2015

State Senator Steve Farley debates Dicey Ducey on the education deal and Prop. 123 ...

... in Sen. Farley's news letter. (Il Duce won't debate Farley in person. You'll see why.)

Steve introduces the debate:

I’ll lay out details on what this plan does and doesn’t do, using a format inspired by a visit to my office from Governor Ducey during the recent special session — his first meeting with me since his election, despite several previous attempts on my part to speak with him.

After he swept in with a press gaggle and cameras rolling, I tried to engage him on the specific problems I have with different elements of his plan. He refused to address my points, instead simply reverting to rehearsed talking points. In the end, as he was shepherded out by his handlers, he told me that if I didn’t vote for his plan I don’t care about kids. I’m hoping that isn’t the Prop 123 campaign slogan, because I don’t think that will go over too well with voters.

So I’m going to structure this Report like a debate, using Governor Ducey’s own words as written in a press release from October 30 and a public email to his lists from November 1. Because it’s my newsletter, I will have a bit more space for my rebuttals [than] the Governor — as soon as he allows me space for rebuttal in his emails, I would be happy to revisit this policy. Pass the popcorn and read on…

Here are my favorite exchanges.

Governor Doug Ducey: "Maximizes the State Land Trust by drawing a modest amount as a shrewd investment in our kids."

Senator Steve Farley: I heard the current treasurer, Jeff DeWit (a professional money manager) and former treasurer Dean Martin, both conservative Republicans, testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee that the 6.9% draw from our education land trust is unsustainable and could invite a federal judge to declare our management reckless and remove our ability it manage that trust.

That land trust is going to our kids anyway. It is not new money. If we draw their money down at unsustainable levels, we leave less for future generations. If we use principal to pay for current expenses, instead of just interest — or better yet, the readily available surplus — then we are risking our future economic health by blowing it on a few more ineffective corporate tax cuts instead of investing it in our schools.

And once your ten year plan is over, and the draw drops back down to 2.5%, if Prop 301 is not renewed our schools will be facing around a $1 billion annual fiscal chasm. What happens then?

There was another simple option — pay for 100% of the settlement out of current ongoing surplus, and then enact a more reasonable, sustainable 3.75% draw in perpetuity to actually increase school funding, keep the trust healthy and avoid a fiscal cliff. Sadly, Democrats were not welcome at your table.

Governor Doug Ducey: "Who says you can't make government work? We just did it here with the most far-reaching, high-impact education funding bill in our state's history. News like this is too good not to share, so spread the word by forwarding this message along!"

Senator Steve Farley: Thanks, Governor, I will spread the word! But I fail to see how a lawsuit settlement that would give our schools only 70% of what voters approved in Proposition 301 fifteen years ago is the most "far-reaching, high-impact education funding bill in our state’s history".

If you are talking about money, how about the one-cent sales tax enacted by your predecessor, Gov. Brewer? That brought in around $800 million a year in actual new money for K-12, not the circa $350 million a year in pre-existing education money that yours would offer.

Or even closer to home, how about Prop 301 itself — it enacted a .6% sales tax for education, bringing in around $600 million a year. Your entire plan designates on average about $250 million a year less, from funds that are already designated for K-12 in the first place — the state land trust and the Prop 301 funds. Recycled money is not new money, particularly since you are skimming 30% off the top for your other stated priorities, like the new corporate tax cuts we will surely see in the upcoming session.

I might agree with your "high-impact" claim if you are talking about the high negative impact that comes from the arbitrary "Aggregate Trigger" that you personally placed in the deal. That provision says that if K-12 spending ever exceeds 49% of the budget, the Legislature can suspend funding basic inflation and reduce their funding by the amount of inflation they received the previous year. If it exceeds 50%, the legislature can take away twice that amount. Forever.

K-12 is currently at 42% of the budget. It is projected by the nonpartisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee to be at around 46% at the end of ten years, when this kicks in. If we decide to restore full-day Kindergarten at that time, that would put us over 49% right then, causing the cutbacks to kick in.

I’ll quote conservative Republic columnist Bob Robb on this trigger: "I don’t have a defense for it. How much of the general fund is devoted to K-12 education is a policy choice independent of economic conditions. If there is to be a mandate, there doesn’t seem to be a basis for suspending it because of such a policy choice." In other words, what besides ideology is the basis for refusing to allow K-12 to be more than half our budget? Education may be the most important thing we fund as a government. Why don’t private prisons have a percentage trigger?

Furthermore, because the package is going to the voters, this trigger will be placed in the state Constitution and can only be changed by voters, not by a future legislature. This is the Holy Grail of the corporate right wing — a constitutionally protected expenditure limit along the lines of TABOR that will keep our education investment last in the country as long as our state leadership doesn’t change.

That’s why I stated on the floor that it’s appropriate that this provision is called a "trigger" because the trigger is the part of a gun you pull what you want to shoot something. In this case, that something is public education.

By the way, you included two other triggers in there that threaten to hurt kids, both of which will be constitutionally protected if we vote for Prop 123. Number 1: The inflation funding can be suspended in any year in which economic growth is between 1% and 2%. Number 2: It MUST be suspended if economic growth is less than 1%. I understand that this provides budget flexibility during economic downturns.

But a student does not have the option of pausing his or her education for the three or four or five years of an economic downturn. Students will simply be forced to attend a school that no longer receives basic inflation funding, through no fault of their own. Why should we make our kids suffer and hurt their future prospects because of a global recession? Won’t our economy suffer in the long run if our kids don’t get the education they deserve, and our workforce is not qualified?

You can read the full Farley report on Facebook or at Steve's web site.

If one only cares about education funding today, then voting "yes" on Prop 123 jives with your outlook. But consider that, as Farley describes, if Prop 123 passes it locks in a very dismal funding picture for K-12 for a long, long time. Is moving from dead last to 49th worth it?

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