Arizona budget battle brewing over education funding

Budget negotiations are still in the early stages between our “Koch-bot” Governor Doug Ducey and our Tea-Publican legislative leaders. The Senate has not started detailed discussions with its Tea-Publican caucus, but the House has put forward its budget outline which directly conflict with the governor’s priorities on education matters (we’re still waiting for that “next step” the governor promised after selling the bogus Prop. 123 to voters last year).

The Arizona Republic reports, Arizona House budget rejects most Ducey education proposals:

An initial budget proposal from Republicans in the Arizona House focuses available new funds on teacher raises and school capital costs, rejecting Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposal to parse it out over more than a dozen education-funding programs.

It also offers a larger tax cut than Ducey suggested.

Always with the tax cuts!

House Republicans propose $219 million in new ongoing and one-time funding for next year, primarily for teacher raises, school construction projects, tax cuts and highway repairs. It includes a handful of Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget ideas, but excludes more than two dozen of his proposals that total $227 million.

Ducey’s budget proposed funding for full-day kindergarten in low-income schools, teacher bonuses and additional money for high-performing schools.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said budget “frameworks,” as the two-page House budget document is labeled, are fine, “but we need a budget.”

Here’s a comparison of some of the numbers:

Teacher raises: Ducey proposed a 2 percent raise for teachers spread out over five years, which would have cost the state $13.8 million for next year’s 0.4 percent raise. The House plan proposes 1 percent raise next year, at a cost of $34 million. [Arizona teachers would remain at the bottom for teacher pay in the nation.]

School construction: Ducey proposed $17 million in one-time money for the School Facilities Board to fund school construction and building maintenance. Ducey and the Legislature last year approved $15 million of that, meaning the governor’s proposal would add $2 million. The House plan proposes an additional $63 million in one-time money for next year. Since 2009, the state has cut $2 billion from capital funding and a lawsuit to restore some of that is looming.

Tax cuts: Ducey proposed adjusting the personal income tax exemption upward to match inflation each year. The proposal would cost the state about $2.8 million and save each taxpayer about $42. The House proposes a flat tax-exemption increase of $100 per person, at a cost to the state of $11 million a year. [The GOP is always looking to dig the state’s revenue deficit hole deeper to justify deeper cuts to essential government services, like public education.]

Department of Education IT: Ducey’s budget omitted any funding for Arizona Department of Education technology costs. Last year, the department got $7.3 million. Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas requested $17.6 million to complete various IT projects, saying a lack of funding would be catastrophic for the department’s aging system and could mean teachers don’t get paid. The house proposed $7.3 million in one-time money.

University funding: Ducey proposed redirecting $37 million in sales taxes paid by the state’s universities to help the schools tap $1 billion in bonds for research facilities and deferred maintenance. That sales tax change would cut local collections from cities and local school districts, but would likely spur construction activity in those areas.

House and Senate Republican leaders have said while they support funding universities, they oppose Ducey’s tax mechanism. The House instead proposes $15 million in one-time general fund money next year.

Highway projects: Ducey’s budget proposal sweeps $96 million from the Highway User Revenue Fund to help cover Department of Public Safety costs. The House proposes to put $30 million of that back in the highway fund. The money comes from a variety of gas taxes and fees intended to cover counties’ and cities’ highway-maintenance and construction costs. [Arizona hasn’t raised the 18-cent-per-gallon gas tax since 1991 because of Prop. 108 (1992), the “Two-Thirds for Taxes” amendment.]

Minimum wage hike: Ducey proposed $7.7 million for this year, and $21 million starting next year to mitigate the cost of the voter-approved minimum wage increase for state contractors who serve some of the state’s most vulnerable populations, including individuals with developmental disabilities and those in nursing homes. The House proposal includes $8 million for the current year and $58 million for next year.

Other proposals: The House plan includes $29.7 million in available money for other initiatives. At least a few of Ducey’s $125 million in ongoing proposals and $102 million in one-time proposals that didn’t make it into the House plan could be revived using this money. They include additional funding to expand the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, dental services for low-income adults and complete testing of sexual assault kits, along with other education proposals.

The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) adds, House budget plan has more teacher pay, bigger tax cut:

The opening budget proposal from Arizona House Republicans includes bigger teacher pay raises and a larger income tax cut than the governor seeks.

The $9.8 billion spending plan also excludes nearly $100 million in new proposals sought by Gov. Doug Ducey.

Republican House members were briefed on the proposal put together by House Appropriations Committee members early this week and talks were beginning with Ducey’s office and the Arizona Senate.

Also included in the proposal is a partial restoration of road funding for counties and cities that is an annual fight in the Legislature. Lawmakers have been raiding the Highway User Revenue Fund for years.

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In an interview, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said that he tasked the appropriations committee members with coming up with a set of spending proposals possible with current funds, and after that was left with a “box” that can handle $30 million in other new spending priorities.

“And that is into which everything else must fit, unless you start breaking down the framework and I think that would be pretty challenging,” Mesnard said.

The plan has an open line for additional spending requests from House members, with placeholders showing they could include payments to offset costs shifted to counties for juvenile corrections, additions to the nearly $460 million rainy day fund, reducing the state’s current $7.4 billion in debt, or more tax cuts.

* * *

The teacher pay proposal from the governor was widely panned as far too low, just two percent over five years. The House plan includes a one percent raise for the coming school year at a cost of $34 million, as opposed to the governor’s $13.6 million.

Ducey requested that the personal income tax exemption be adjusted annually for inflation at a $2.8 million yearly cost. The House budget calls for an immediate $100 increase in that exemption at a cost of $11 million, as well as ongoing inflation adjustments.

Other House proposals include providing $7.3 million to the Arizona Department of Education for computer staff and projects. Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas wants $17.6 million, and the governor offered nothing in his budget proposal.

Notably absent from the House spending plan is $30 million in ongoing spending the governor proposed to help universities pay interest on nearly $1 billion in new construction bonds. Instead, the House plan contains $15 million in one-time university spending.

As you can see, our Tea-Publican legislators continue to give short shrift to public education funding. Nothing has changed since Prop. 123 ended the education inflation adjustment lawsuit, which was supposed to be the “first step” toward improved public education funding.

The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) takes a deep-dive look into where things stand after Prop. 123. Unsettled strife over Prop. 123 clouds future of education funding. Shorter version: Our Tea-Publican state legislators continue to insist that they did no wrong in stealing funds from the school districts, and that school districts have already been paid a substantial amount of money (far less than they were owed), so shut the hell up about more funding!

One response to “Arizona budget battle brewing over education funding

  1. Frances Perkins

    ANY tax cuts are criminal considering the raids on HURF funding to cities and counties, and massive education needs. AND ANY money for laundered vouchers are equally criminal.