Gov. Ducey’s State of The State Address is not well received

Our self-proclaimed “education governor,” Doug Ducey, yesterday delivered pablum in his State of  The State Address, making lofty promises of increased pubic education funding but failing to explain how he intends to pay for it. Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State speech: 6 big takeaways:

Education promises, but few details

Ducey focused the bulk of the education portion of his speech [2 pages out of a 17 page address] on trying to “get some facts straight” by touting improved student performance and additional K-12 spending under his administration.

Specifically, he noted that overall inflation-adjusted funding per student in Arizona has increased by 10 percent since 2015. Arizona spent an inflation-adjusted $3,782 per student in 2015, compared to $4,157 per student in 2018, according to documents from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

But both those figures remain below what Arizona spent per student in 2008 and are unlikely to satisfy those who argue that schools are underfunded.

A recent study by the progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found Arizona cut more K-12 funding than any other state between 2008 and 2015.

Ducey in his speech vowed to “restore long-standing cuts from the recession made before many of us were here.”

He listed seven specific areas — including full-day kindergarten and new school buses — where his budget would invest more dollars toward education, but he did not include details. Those details are expected in his budget proposal Friday.

Last October, the Legislature’s Finance Advisory Committee projected a budget shortfall of $104 million in 2018. Arizona Legislature’s budget analysts predict 2018 shortfall. And our Koch-bot governor is a true believer in the false religion of faith-based supply side “trickle down” economics, the First Commandment of which is “Thou shalt never raise taxes (on corporations and plutocrats).”

No income-tax update

Ducey did not mention reductions in personal-income taxes. During his campaign for governor four years ago, he said he hoped to reduce those taxes to “as close to zero as possible.”

“I’ve talked about an ever-improving tax situation, where year after year, we have an improving climate and if we can get it (income taxes) as close to zero as possible, that’s a positive, because the nine states that don’t have an income tax have double the job growth of the highest-tax states,” Ducey said in 2014.

Some economists called the proposal unrealistic.

He did mention a desire to increase the tax exemption for military retirement pay to benefit some of the state’s 600,000 veterans. The exemption amount hasn’t increased in the 30 years since it was created, he said.

“So please, send me a bill that increases the exemption and demonstrates to our vets that we value this service,” he said.

Gov. Ducey’s address was not well received. Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic writes, Doug Ducey fails to step up for schools (shocking, I know):

Well, that was a speech for the ages. Gov. Doug Ducey took to the podium on Monday and laid out a rather astonishing plan for Arizona in the coming year.

And by astonishing I mean there was precious little there there.

Oh, there were lots of pretty words and some well-deserved thanks to Arizonans who have displayed courage, leadership and dedication. He offered a timely tribute to women who have helped build this state, declaring that “they didn’t do it for women in the year 2018 to face discrimination, misogyny and disrespect.”

All good stuff.

Education only took up 2 of 17 pages

But where’s the plan, man? Where are the bold ideas from a governor who wants us to give him four more years? Where are the visionary proposals that will advance our beloved state?

And where oh where is the long-awaited plan to boost funding for public education?

A year ago, Gov. Doug Ducey devoted nearly half of his State of the State Address to the state of our schools. On Monday, it rated two pages of a 17-page speech.

“This week, I will release my budget,” he said. “It will include a full commitment to accelerate the state’s K-12 investment, and restore long-standing cuts from the recession made before many of us were here,” he said.

You’ll excuse me if I fail to get all whoo-hooo, until I see how he defines “full commitment.” I still recall last year’s State of the State speech wherein on Monday he talked about how we must value teachers and on Friday he released a budget that proposed giving them a 4/10ths of a percent pay raise.

In fact, Ducey seems to think things are going pretty well in the public schools.

How far is he willing to go for schools?

He pointed out that overall per student spending is up 10 percent since 2015, when adjusted for inflation. Never mind that we are spending $749 less to educate a child than we were a decade ago, when adjusted for inflation, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

Ducey says he’s committed $1.7 billion in new state spending for K-12 over the last three years. But how much of that was money that had been illegally withheld from the schools – money a judge ordered the state to hand over?

And how far is the so-called education governor willing to go to support some of the nation’s most poorly funded schools? To raise the pay of some of the nation’s most poorly paid teachers? To stop the stampede out of the classrooms and ensure that our children are being taught by people who are actually qualified to teach?

Cue Ducey: “I’ve pledged to increase spending on K-12 education, above and beyond inflation, every year I’m in office. I’ve also said, we’ll never check the box on public education. We can always do more for our kids and teachers.”

Increasing spending above and beyond inflation? That’s like tossing a step-ladder down a 40-foot hole dug a decade ago and expecting the woefully underfunded schools to magically pop up into the sunlight.

What Ducey’s speech was missing

Here’s what I didn’t hear in Ducey’s speech:

No commitment to putting Proposition 301, the state’s 0.6 percent sales tax, on the ballot this year. The tax expires in 2021, which leaves no breathing room in the event a 2020 proposition fails. I understand that Ducey doesn’t want a tax on the ballot when he’s up for re-election. So … what? We’re willing to chance schools losing the $600 million the tax brings in because it’s inconvenient to do anything about it this year?

No commitment to boosting state spending on public education to what it was a decade ago. In fiscal 2008, state aid was $4,949 per student. This year, it’s $4,760 – or $4,200 when adjusted for inflation, according to JLBC.

No pledge to doing the hard thing – to leading the way regardless of the political pitfalls and finding a new source of funding to feed the schools that have spent far too long on a crash diet.

Ducey could have called for a freeze in still-to-be-phased-in corporate tax cuts and saved $22 million. He could have called for an end to tax credits for private school tuition and saved $150 million. He could have tossed out the tax credit for public school extracurricular activities and saved another $57 million.

He could have called for hiring back all the laid-off tax collectors and auditors at the state Department of Revenue in order to boost compliance and bring in perhaps another $70 million.

He could have acknowledged that decades of tax cuts have left this state unable to properly fund the schools. He could have proposed a solution to fix, finally, the mess that we are in.

That he didn’t is tragic. Oh, not so much for you and me but for our children and grandchildren.

The Republic‘s editors are no less harsh in their assessment in their editorial opinions today. Where’s the beef in Doug Ducey’s 2018 agenda? We missed it:

If there’s going to be heavy lifting in the 2018 legislative session, you wouldn’t know it from the governor’s State of the State address.

On Monday, Doug Ducey outlined his policy plan for the year, and it can best be described as modest.

If there wasn’t much to feed the hungry beast, there also wasn’t much to serve challengers who might try to use it to take down the governor in the 2018 election.

This felt like a campaign-year speech. Rich in self-promotion. Poor in details.

Education plan had little meat

Those Arizonans who waited patiently with ears perked to hear the words “education funding,” were surely disappointed by such little specificity.

“This week, I will release my budget,” said Ducey. “It will include a full commitment to accelerate the state’s K-12 investment, and restore long-standing cuts from the recession made before many of us were here.”

He explained that 80 percent of his “new budget priorities” will be for public education.

What that means in dollars remains to be seen. But with the governor explaining he has identified waste in other areas of state government that will be directed to public schools, advocates of more robust spending must be bracing for bread crumbs.

Missing was talk of extending Proposition 301, the 0.6 cent education sales tax that provides $600 million annually and is on the verge of sunset in mid-2021.

State leaders will need to move assertively in the coming years to prevent that funding from going off the cliff and creating a crisis in Arizona schools.

Education advocates were hoping the governor could get behind not only an extension of 301, but an increase that could begin to address the state’s serious teacher shortage.

Which leads to this second editorial opinion from The Republic. Our View: Send education tax to voters in 2018 (and other priorities):

Priority 1: Boost education funding

Arizona’s K-12 public schools have not recovered from deep recession-era funding cuts, there are severe capital needs and rock-bottom teacher salaries have led to drastic teacher shortages.

Arizona’s elected officials must use this legislative session to respond to those needs.

Two recent polls show strong public support for education.

One done in December for Stand for Children Arizona found a whopping 78 percent of those polled think public schools need more funding.

Another December poll, done for Expect More Arizona, points the way to create revenue for our schools.

It shows strong support for extending and/or expanding Proposition 301, which was approved by voters in 2000 to increase the state sales tax 0.6 percent for schools.

Ask voters to expand tax in 2018

That tax currently raises about $600 million a year for education, but it is due to expire in mid-2021. To prevent the loss of this revenue, lawmakers should refer the measure to the ballot in 2018. It makes no sense to wait until 2020, as some have advocated.

What’s more, lawmakers should ask voters to increase the tax to create a dedicated funding source on which schools can rely. With Gov. Doug Ducey and GOP legislative leadership on record opposing tax increases, the best option for increasing revenue to public schools is to let the voters decide.

Given the depth of needs at our schools and the continued public support for better funding, elected officials should set aside their personal or political ideology and defer to the will of the people.

The Expect More Arizona poll found 72 percent support for simply extending the current tax.

Increasing the tax from 0.6 percent to 1 percent to raise teacher pay garnered 68 percent support. An increase to 1.6 percent, which is similar to a plan from some business leaders, was supported by 56 percent.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas has called for raising the tax to 1 cent.

If it’s rejected this year, we can come back

Phil Francis, former PetsMart CEO and one of a group of business leaders pushing to increase the sales tax to 1.5 cents, has said the business coalition will raise $2 million for a citizen-led initiative to put the expansion on the 2020 ballot if lawmakers do not act.

Business leaders should put their muscle into getting the measure for an expanded tax on the 2018 ballot. If voters reject an increase this year, there will still be time to come back in 2020 with a proposal to simply extend the tax at the current level.

There are a variety of options for an increase, but the need for more revenue is clearly recognized by Arizonans.

The grassroots group Save Our Schools is talking about a 2018 ballot measure to raise teacher salaries. This is the group that got enough signatures to challenge a legislative move to expand the use of public money for vouchers at private schools.

Business leaders and community members have expressed a clear desire for better education funding.

Elected officials have a duty to respond.

Governor Ducey, as well as the editors of The Republic, failed to even mention the lawsuit pending against the state of Arizona for its failure to capital funding to Arizona’s school districts, which is another huge hole in public education funding. Arizona schools to sue state over funding – again. This a BFD that is not even being mentioned.

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