Monday, November 9, 2015

How NOT to save AZ public education: Back to the future to find education money

Prop. 123 has us going back to the future - where we will find public education's money tomorrow that will be used to fund public education today.

Prop. 123 is the initiative that will raid the state land trust to provide money to public education that should instead come from the surplus. Whatever else you think of Il Duce, you've got to give him credit for a political master stroke. He's got business, education groups, and even Democratic politicians all lined up behind him to support Prop. 123. You see, anyone who wants the Lege to do the responsible thing and fully fund public education should vote against 123. However, anyone who advocates a "no" vote will be branded as anti-education. A master stroke.

The vote "yes" machine cranks up

Here are snippets from the story in the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required).

Now, many of the business and education groups that contributed to the success of Prop. 100 [2010 sales tax measure] are expected to line up behind Prop. 123. J.P. Twist, an aide to Gov. Doug Ducey who will serve as the Prop. 123 campaign manager, said $3 million to $4 million is a "reasonable target" for the campaign’s fundraising efforts.

"It’s going to be well-funded, well-organized. It’s going to be made up of not just leaders in the business community and in the education community, but you’re going to see teachers and parents and grandparents, everybody who has an interest in putting more money into education, everybody who has an interest what happens in the classroom. Everybody’s going to be involved," Twist said. "I think you’re going to see a campaign that is very large in its grassroots and messaging effort. And I think it will be on a scale larger than most of the initiative campaigns or referendum campaigns that the state’s ever seen."

Ducey signaled that the business community will play a major role in the campaign when he announced that Plaza Companies CEO Sharon Harper, who serves chairman of the Greater Phoenix Leadership’s board of directors, would chair the campaign for Prop. 123.

"Now it is up to the voters to do their part and conclude the Legislature’s actions by voting yes for our schools, yes for our teachers, yes for our children," Harper said during an Oct. 30 bill-signing ceremony for the education package.

The Ducey administration is expecting an opposition campaign of some kind. Twist said the campaign is hoping there won’t be much opposition but will prepare for any "vote no" campaign that emerges.

"We’ll be prepared for any sort of opposition that comes our way," he said.

No doubt.

Dem legislators boxed in

A second report in the Capitol Times, quoting legislators on in both houses from both parties, shows how Ducey's plan put Democratic legislators in a real bind. No matter what they do, they will be painted as hypocrites or as anti-education. The report picks on Eric Meyer, House Democratic Leader, but the charges could be leveled against any Dem.

In a span of less than 24 hours, House Democratic Leader Eric Meyer went from railing against the special session package designed to settle the lawsuit over education inflation funding, to vowing to support it at the special election in May.

The package didn’t significantly change in that time, and every one of the amendments Meyer sought was shot down by his Republican counterparts.

Republicans, including Sen. Adam Driggs, who Meyer will challenge in the 2016 election, immediately seized on Meyer’s "flip-flop" on the issue, and called his reluctant promise to support the $3.5 billion education funding package at the polls "political hypocrisy."

"If (Democrats who opposed the deal at the Legislature) later claim to support the settlement agreement, they are wrong," Driggs said.

The proposal put Meyer and the vast majority of Democrats in the Legislature in an awkward position of opposing the new money for schools at the Capitol, yet urging voters to support it at the ballot.

Actually, that last paragraph is wrong. Dems do NOT opposed new money for schools. They do (or should) oppose using future money that already belongs to schools to fund schools at present. It is NOT new money if Il Duce robs from education at time 2 to fund education at time 1.

But the Democratic legislators are aware of their problem.

Democrats’ political conundrum was not lost on Senate Democratic Leader Katie Hobbs, who took a different approach than Meyer. She actually voted for the entire proposal in the Senate Appropriations Committee, then opposed two of the three bills on the Senate floor. Meyer opposed the entire package in the House Appropriations Committee, and then supported one of the three bills on the House floor.

FYI: the other two bills not supported by Meyer and Hobbs were those authorizing the special election and putting the proposal to raid the state land trust before the voters on May 17.

"I was going back and forth with (Meyer). It was a tough thing for us as leaders because, you know, we had this conversation: He says, ‘I don’t know how I get to yes without being called a hypocrite.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know how I get to no without being called a hypocrite,’" she said.

Here's the bottom line.

"(The proposal) was designed as a Hobson’s choice to put political damage on Democrats while maybe doing something good for Republicans," [Democratic strategist] Robbie Sherwood said.

Funds for education likely diverted to tax cuts

So what is the real point of the raid on the land trust? The answer is covered in another report from the Capitol Times.

Now that Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican legislative leaders have found a way to resolve the ongoing K-12 funding lawsuit without draining the general fund, Democratic lawmakers are concerned that the governor will use the projected budget surplus on tax cuts.

Ducey isn’t doing much to disabuse them of the notion.

Rather than use the general fund to settle the K-12 lawsuit, as legislative Democrats proposed, the settlement plan pushed through by Ducey and the GOP leadership relies primarily on the Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund.

Ducey touted the land trust money as a way to avoid using general fund money that could go to other state needs.

Whether those needs include a tax cut is a question that Ducey isn’t yet answering. When asked whether he would use some of the surplus money for tax cuts, the governor skirted the issue.

"I think you can look to the responsible effort that we had with last year’s budget and a much different type of situation. We’re in a much more positive outlook than we were last year at this time. So we’re going to begin that budget process at the end of the conclusion of this special session," Ducey said. "It will be a responsible budget and it will have a focus on balance as well."

During his 2014 campaign, Ducey pledged to reduce personal and corporate income taxes, with a long-term goal of getting the rates "as close to zero as possible." He also vowed to cut taxes every year of his administration.

Democrats in the Lege can see it coming.

With the general fund surplus preserved for other uses, Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, expects Ducey to use the extra money to follow through on his campaign pledge.

"We expect that this is exactly what’s going to come down and we’re asking voters to really pay attention to see what exactly does happen with those surplus revenues," Quezada said.

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, shared those concerns.

"After all, he did promise to make a tax cut every year. And he’s promised to get rid of the state income tax, which is a huge chunk of state revenues. So I think it’s probably not a conspiracy theory … to think they’re going to do tax cuts," he said.

Here's is the Doozey's mouthpiece on tax cuts.

Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Ducey, insisted that the Democrats’ tax cut criticism was nothing more than "grasping at straws" to find ways to criticize the K-12 deal. But he wouldn’t rule out tax cuts in 2016, including the income tax cuts that Ducey frequently spoke of during his campaign.

It's no conspiracy. It's out in the open. The Republican plan is to execute a transfer payment from education of the future to tax cuts of the present. And their political ploy is to say, if you oppose this transfer, you are against education.

For the record: I oppose this transfer and I am for education, for having the Legislature do their constitutional duty and fully fund K-12. Just not with education's own money.

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