Sure, we want good schools, and we want to preserve Arizona’s majestic landscapes—not everyone, of course, but that statement would poll pretty high. Still, in the last decade the Republican majority in the legislature has sliced K-12 and higher ed more than any other state, the lowest spending per pupil in the nation. The results are sobering: always 49th or worse in every significant category. Hey, where’s that Knowledge Economy?
More money for education always polls high, because most Arizonans know what’s happened in their districts—huge class sizes, no books, crumbling buildings, teachers leaving. But our education leaders at the legislature have more important things to do than advocate for schools. See, we need more god in the classroom, the heck with well-paid teachers. And let’s get rid of ethnic studies, just because. Maybe church attendance should be mandatory, pondered the Senate chair of education.
Here’s how fucked up it is: A sales tax that voters passed in 2000 to support education was virtually ignored by the legislature, which used the added revenue for its own purposes, like making up for tax cuts. So the schools sued the state and in 2010 the courts ruled that the legislature illegally withheld up to $1.6 billion from the education budget, covering years of tea-bagger bullshit abuse. The ruling also ordered the state to repay the schools $317 million immediately. The case is on appeal because Republicans, starting at the top with Gov. Ducey, don’t want to give the schools what the voters intended but the wingnuts stole.
Rather than do what they should do—repay the schools and use the state’s current budget surplus to get us back on track—the boneheads appealed the ruling and substituted a plan to increase education funding and piss all over the environment at the same time. A twofer!
Ducey and his flunkies say there’s no money for education, which is BS. The state’s running a surplus, built partly on the backs of underfunded schools. Also, legislators could (but they won’t) restore a smidgeon of the corporate taxes they reduced substantially (from 7 to 4.9 percent), which has resulted in an estimated revenue loss of $530 million by 2019. The business-friendly tax cutters said the lower rate would attract more companies and grow state revenue—the old trickle-down crap—but corporate tax revenues are way down and we haven’t seen any big national headquarters or major employers relocate here, unless minimum-wage call centers and Walmarts count.
The GOP solution instead is Proposition 123, which voters will decide on May 17, assuming the system works better than Arizona’s recent primary. Prop 123 increases the distribution from the State Land Trust Permanent Endowed Fund from 2.5 percent to 6.9 percent over the course of 10 years, resulting in an extra $175 per K-12 student per year—not insignificant but we’re still a bottom-feeder budgetwise. The Arizona land trust contains more than nine million acres deeded by the federal government, which are leased or sold with conditions—one being the profits ($318 million in FY13) must benefit education. A couple dozen states have a similar arrangement.
The “Yes on Prop 123” side includes a lot of powerful players: the governor, mayors, legislators, business leaders, teachers, and major education organizations. Their slick commercials feature teachers, students, and community leaders, along with Gov. Ducey promising, “Proposition 123 will inject $3.5 billion into our public schools over the next 10 years without raising taxes.” Translation: “without us doing our job.”
The “No” contingent does not include nearly as many recognizable names, but even some teachers and the League of Women Voters call it a fraud. Arizona Republic columnist Ed Montini wrote:
Proposition 123 is a con game. Remember the old expression that talks about "robbing Peter to pay Paul?" Prop. 123 is worse than that, or, in six words: It’s robbing Peter to pay … Peter. And in this particular political flimflam “Peter” is our kids. And their kids.
Opponents argue that the plan is a short-term quick fix—a necessary infusion of cash, but a scheme that’s unsustainable, given the bigger bite of trust dividends. It might work for 10 years, but then what? We’re just leaving a dump for the next generation to clean up, and we’re raiding the land trust at an alarming rate.
Most importantly, say critics, Prop 123 lets the Darwin Award recipients at the legislature escape their responsibility to provide schools what they’re owed—not to mention get the budget back to something resembling 1992, when Arizona was at least 39th in funding, not 50th. Others who don’t trust this legislature (a big crowd, given what the bozos did with the last voter-approved education initiative) claim the measure will lead to more privatization of schools, something the Arizona GOP has pushed for decades.
And here’s the best part: Republicans get to sock it to the environmental community, something they never tire of. Recall, these pinheads, with Koch brothers backing, are fighting a ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon; they egged on the swap of sacred indigenous land to a foreign mining company; Ducey and his business-friendly flacks overturned tiny Bisbee’s ban on plastic bags. If there’s a way to mine, develop, drill, clear-cut, or otherwise abuse Arizona’s landscapes, they’ll find a way, and Prop 123 is a poison pill that leads to just that.
I haven’t seen a “No on Prop 123” TV commercial or many signs. On the other side, yard signs, billboards, and TV spots supporting Prop 123 are everywhere—it’s clear where the money is. Both sides make for strange bedfellows and unfortunate opponents. The “Yes” gang includes liberals whose Number One issue is education and conservatives who don’t want to raise taxes. The “No” side includes liberals whose main issues are the environment and responsible government, along with conservatives who don’t want to spend anything on schools. All because the numskulls at the capitol won’t do what they were elected to do—follow the state constitution and listen to voters.
I can't choose! Please! I can't choose! — Sophie