The overwhelming majority of Arizonans agree that increased funding for public education should be the top legislative priority in the incoming state legislature. Arizonans support higher taxes for education, how about our Governor and Tea-Publican legislature?
The state’s projected $24 million budget surplus (see interview below) is wholly inadequate and well below the amount of restitution that the courts found our lawless Tea-Publican legislature owed to the state’s school districts for its theft of inflation adjusted school funding in previous years — which they used to give away corporate welfare tax cuts.
Even with the sham of Prop. 123 funding, “total aid to education will still be $600 million less than it was in 2009 in real dollars — and $863 million less if inflation is taken into account,” according to Dana Naimark, president of the Children’s Action Alliance. Prop. 123 will do little to restore education funding to K-12 schools.
Governor Doug Ducey’s sham Classrooms First Initiative Council failed to produce any proposals for increased funding for public education. Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative Council produces bupkis.
Governor Ducey’s State of The State Address in January is likely to simply propose moving pots of money around without increasing tax revenues to pay for increased public education funding (the goal will be to pit interests groups against one another to fight over their slice of the budget pie, not to increase the size of the budget pie).
With this in mind, this AP interview of the new Speaker of the House, Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Gilbert, is deeply disturbing.
Mesnard is a right-wing ideologue who demonstrates that he is clueless as to responsible fiscal management of this state. New Arizona House speaker talks 2017’s top issues:
Mesnard sat down with The Associated Press for an interview on how he views the job and what he sees developing as the top legislative issues in the coming year. His answers have been edited for length.
Question: You’re now speaker, and after three, two-year terms you have the ability to push through legislation you want to see pass. What’s at the top of your list?
Answer: If I sponsored something it’s going to be Article 5 related (a call for a constitutional convention of states) or possibly some kind of major tax reform. And the latter I don’t even (necessarily) know what that looks like at this point. I’ve made it no secret that I’m interested in a single-rate, simplified income tax system. I think that’s conducive for those that one day want to go down the road of eliminating the income tax entirely.
If this was a game show, the buzzer would sound with the host’s admonition “Oooh, wrong answer!” For a baseball analogy, this guy just stepped into the box and picked up two quick strikes.
The Article 5 constitutional convention to which Mesnard refers is ostensibly to amend the U.S. Constitution to require a federal balanced budget amendment. This is a favorite of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other conservative groups, and a favorite talking point of the conservative media entertainment complex.
The wingnuts usually propose a companion resolution asserting to limit the scope of the constitutional convention to solely consideration of the balanced budget amendment, but States Likely Could Not Control Constitutional Convention on Balanced Budget Amendment or Other Issues. Former Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger warned in 1988:
[T]here is no way to effectively limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. The Convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. Congress might try to limit the Convention to one amendment or one issue, but there is no way to assure that the Convention would obey. After a Convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don’t like its agenda.
The only saving grace is that our current Constitution requires that any proposed amendment(s) would have to be ratified by three-fourths (38) of the states, something that is unlikely to occur. The balanced budget amendment is a truly terrible idea. 5 Reasons Why a Federal Balanced Budget Amendment Is a Bad Idea; Why a national balanced budget amendment would be an epic disaster.
Mesnard’s other top priority, his singe-rate income tax proposal, is just another derivative of the “flat tax” proposal. Even the conservative National Review says The Flat Tax: Questionable Economics, Bad Politics.
Mesnard admits that his proposal is “conducive for those that one day want to go down the road of eliminating the income tax entirely” — that would be Governor Ducey, who proposed reducing income taxes to “as close to zero as possible” during his gubernatorial campaign. This would leave Arizona with only the regressive sales tax (and some excise taxes and fees). Arizonans eliminated the state property tax years ago.
Just remember that only a simple majority vote of the legislature is all that is required to reduce taxes. But thanks to the GOP’s weapon of mass destruction, the “Two-Thirds for Taxes” Amendment, Prop. 108 (1992), these tax cuts effectively become permanent, because it requires a two-thirds vote of each chamber to either increase taxes or to reduce or eliminate tax exemptions or credits. Arizona desperately needs tax reform, but responsible tax reform is simply not possible without the prerequisite repeal of Prop. 108. What Mesnard is proposing would only make the state’s tax situation even worse.
The AP had another question for the new Speaker impacting on public education:
Question: We’ve seen yearly battles over school vouchers and groups called school tuition organizations where people can get tax credits for giving to these groups that fund private school scholarships. Efforts to expand vouchers to all children have failed in recent years. Will we see a new effort this year?
Answer: We have a lot of new members, so it’s a bit early to say. My gut is that I don’t know that construction of the Legislature on school choice has really changed that much during the past two years and the upcoming two years. I think a lot of the resistance to the expansion to the universal (vouchers) had to do with a timing issue, and that was Prop. 123 and not wanting to rock the boat there.
Oooh, strike three! Struck out looking with the bat still resting on his shoulder.
I can almost guarantee you that Cathi Herrod and the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) will be back with its demands for expanded (universal) school vouchers for all children, and it will get a hearing because Mesnard’s counterpart, Senator Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler), Arizona’s most corrupt state senator who uses his position to write charter school bills to steer state funding to his Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization in order to benefit himself financially, is the new Senate President. Outlook for the ‘next step’ in public education funding is not good.
If there is any movement on school funding next year, it will likely be a legislative attempt to steer tax dollars to private and parochial schools, something the Arizona Constitution expressly prohibits.
There is little reason to believe that Rep. Heather Carter’s so-called “grand plan” to infuse major new dollars into K-12 education and the university and community college system has any realistic chance of passage or being signed by the governor. School reforms lack funding.
The AP’s final question about education was:
Question: Education funding is a major issue, with the state at the bottom nationally for per-pupil spending. Yet there’s not a lot of cash available and little appetite for a tax increase. So how do you prioritize?
Answer: If I had to pick something, when I was a freshman both of my first two years I ran a bill to try to essentially carve out a portion of overall education funding that was specifically for instructor-staff salaries. I think that is the No. 1 thing we should be focused on. And I do bring up building maintenance not only from a practical but a legal standpoint in that we haven’t been building schools as much as we used to. It used to be a very expensive annual budgetary appropriation that we would fight over and also was the result of a previous lawsuit called Students First. So I don’t want to go down that road again.
Like I said, the priority is only to move pots of money around without increasing tax revenues to pay for increased public education funding.
Regarding the lawsuit over school capital financing referenced by Mesnard, I posted earlier this year about the threat of another pending lawsuit for our lawless Tea-Publican legislature’s failure to adequately provide for maintenance of schools. (Update) Our lawless Tea-Publican legislature faces another lawsuit for its failure to fund public education (snippet):
The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports, Lawsuit will seek funding for school maintenance:
A public interest advocacy group is planning a lawsuit alleging that the state has unconstitutionally underfunded building maintenance and soft capital for school districts, which could force the state restore hundreds of millions of dollars of budget cuts made in recent years.
The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest plans to sue on behalf of several school districts and taxpayers, said attorney Tim Hogan. The Glendale Elementary School District’s governing board in December  voted to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff, and Hogan said he plans to bring in several other school districts, along with property taxpayers from districts that have approved bonds to make up for funding shortfalls.
“It will allege that the current system is unconstitutional because it doesn’t provide any dedicated capital funding to school districts sufficient to ensure that they meet the state’s minimum standards,” Hogan said of the lawsuit. “School buildings have to be renovated. They have to be repaired. They have to be maintained. And all of that requires significant dollars.”
Hogan said he could file the suit within the next month. [Still pending.]
This lawsuit has been threatened for a couple of years now, but was put on hold over Prop. 123 and the school inflation adjustment funding lawsuit. We will have to wait and see what happens with this threatened lawsuit next year. It is doubtful that our lawless Tea-Publican legislature will raise additional tax revenues to meet its obligation for building maintenance and soft capital for school districts.