Saturday, September 26, 2015

Arizona GOP legislators find way to fund public schools

Gotcha! The headline was merely a way to sneak this story into my "Of Course Not" series.

Basically what Andy Biggs plans to do is ask voters to get the GOP legislators off the hook. If voters repeal the 2000 law that indexes education funding to inflation, then these guys won't ever have to properly fund public education. moreover, for the plan to succeed, the voters would have to trash another voter initiative that provides funds for early childhood development. Moreover moreover, the plan rests on raiding the state land trust this decreasing available funds for the future.

So it boils down to three nefarious actions. (1) Get voters to go back on their own law. (2) Steal from pre-school children. (3) Steal from future children.

My newspaper is laying on the driveway. It's dark outside. I could run into snakes. Scorpions. Javelinas. Republican legislators. Yuck!

Please let me settle for the story in the on-line edition of the Daily Star.

Republican legislative leaders are crafting a plan to ask voters to let them reduce the amount of inflation help schools could get each year.

Senate President Andy Biggs said the proposal would set annual increases in state aid at 1.6 percent. By comparison, a 2000 voter-approved plan requires the increase to match actual inflation, up to 2 percent.

Biggs said voters should consider this a good deal, as current inflation is running about 1.1 percent. He conceded the lower figure could shortchange schools in years of rapid inflation.

But there’s actually less to the plan than meets the eye.

The plan is based on adding inflation not to the $330 million a trial judge already has ruled the state owes schools but on the $74 million that Biggs and House Speaker David Gowan contend is the proper number. It effectively would wipe out that court ruling.

It also would be part of a larger financial package, one that includes an immediate $100 million addition in state aid plus tapping land trust proceeds and raiding a voter-approved fund for early childhood development.

What all that means is that 1.6 percent inflation factor would apply to a much lower number than the court says the state already owes.

Chuck Essigs, who lobbies for the Arizona Association of School Business officials said there’s an even bigger problem.

He said the plan as he understands it actually would allow future Legislatures to legally withhold that 1.6 percent and not be subject to lawsuit. And that, said Essigs, is a nonstarter.

Biggs and the other GOPlins want the voters to go back on two things.

At the heart of the fight is the 2000 ballot measure that hiked the state’s 5 percent sales tax by six-tenths of a cent, with the funding all earmarked for education. The same measure also mandates annual inflation adjustments in basic state aid, up to 2 percent.

Essigs said another hole in the overall plan, at least from the perspective of schools, is that some of the additional dollars Biggs and Gowan are promising would come from raiding the First Things First program. Approved by voters in 2006, that program uses the proceeds from an 80-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes to provide grants for early childhood development.

And these guys want us to trust them?

But [Essigs] said any promise would be legally unenforceable because it would not have the constitutional protection of having been approved by voters. And that, Essigs said, would let legislators decide to ignore it when they want — or simply decide that because they had cut taxes for business they "simply don’t have the money."

Will this legislature ever fund public education as it should, and as the AZ constitution mandates?

Of. Course. Not.

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