Our lawless Tea-Publican legislature resorts to what it always does: the ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ plan to avoid raising taxes for education

NorquistOur lawless Tea-Publican legislators are driven by religious devotion to the anti-tax orthodoxy of their lord and master, Grover Norquist, whose First Commandment is: “There shalt be no new taxes.”

These deadbeat debtor Tea-Publican legislators are derelict in their duty: they simply refuse to comply with their constitutionally prescibed duty, Article IX, Section 3, to raise taxes to pay for the judgment debt owed by the state to its school districts as restitution for the legislature’s sweep theft of Prop. 301 school funds, i.e., “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” so they could falsely assert that they have “balanced” the state budget.

It has been almost two years since the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in Cave Creek Unified School District, et al. v. Doug Ducey, et al (cv-13-0039) (.pdf) that our lawless Tea-Publican legislature violated Prop. 301 (2000), a ballot measure referred to the voters by the legislature, which requires the legislature to adjust the “base level” education funding formula for K-12 each year in accordance with inflation.  The Court further held that our lawless Tea-Publican  legislature violated the Voter Protection Act, Prop. 105 (1998).

In July 2014, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Catherine Cooper, following the mandate of the Arizona Supreme Court, ordered the state to adjust base funding for schools in the coming fiscal year to $3,560 per student, a collective increase of about $317 million. Ruling on school funding (.pdf).

Rather than comply with this order, our lawless Tea-Publican  legislature appealed from this order and only increased school funding by a miserly $74 million in FY 15-16 — asserting that the state did not have the funds to pay more — only because of their religious devotion to the anti-tax orthodoxy of “no new taxes,” and their refusal to comply with their constitutionally mandated duty, Article IX, Section 3, to raise taxes to pay for the judgment debt owed by the state to its school districts.

In June, Governor Ducey proposed his own “robbing Peter to pay Paul” plan, i.e., raiding funds from the Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund for ten years. Gov. Ducey’s ‘nothing burger’ of a proposal for K-12 education funding. The State treasurer blasted Ducey’s education plan; Treasurer: Why I oppose Gov. Doug Ducey’s land plan.

Within minutes after the “gag order” in the lawsuit was lifted yesterday and it was announced that Settlement negotiations are at an impasse in Prop 301 case, the leaders of our lawless Tea-Publican legislature came out with their own “robbing Peter to pay Paul” plan to give the state’s school districts a little more money, but always subject Grover Norquist’s First Commandment of “no new taxes.”

The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports, Despite pleas and promises, state can’t deliver on school funding settlement:

As the failure of mediation was revealed, Biggs and House Speaker David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, disclosed a plan that they said would infuse “as much as $5 billion” in new money for schools over the next 10 years. They made no mention of the ongoing K-12 inflation litigation nor of the mediation impasse.

The lawmakers’ statement today included a broad outline of where the new money will come from, but was short on details.

The leaders said it will come from four revenue streams: continuing a “supplement” to the basic state aid that lawmakers approved in the last budget process, a “new increase” to the yearly basic state aid, a partial shift of money from First Things First early childhood education program, and “a plan to use increased earnings from the state trust land” — both of which require voter approval.

The “supplement” referred to is the $74 million legislators allocated for inflation spending in both FY15 and FY16 [rather than the $315 million ordered by the Court], BIggs told the Arizona Capitol Times. Previously, legislative leaders have insisted that any allocation above the mandated inflation spending in previous years should be counted by the court in calculating how much the state owes the schools.

The “new increase” in basic state aid is roughly $100 million annually, Biggs said, and would come from ongoing revenues as a part of the estimated $325 million surplus in revenues from FY15. Though Republican lawmakers have argued most of those revenues are one-time dollars, the legislative staff has estimated that roughly half consists of ongoing revenues.

Liz Barker, a spokeswoman for First Things First, said this is the first time the agency has heard of Biggs and Gowan’s education funding plan.

“Naturally, our leadership is very interested in hearing the details of the proposal,” she said.

In the past, the voter-approved program has resisted diverting any of its funds to pay for state operations. The last time legislators tried to sweep funds from the agency, they lost in court ( LINK). Voters also rejected lawmakers’ attempt to dismantle the program in 2010, when the public rejected a referral targeting the Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Board by a 70-30 margin ( LINK).

Biggs did not specify how much money the legislative leaders would propose shifting from First Things First, but said the proposal would ensure the program still has enough money to pay for its operations.

The last piece of the funding formula incorporates Ducey’s proposal to draw down funding from sales of state land trust, which the governor’s office estimates will generate roughly $2.2 billion over 10 years. However, Biggs said Ducey’s proposal would likely need to be adjusted to please enough legislators to send it to the ballot. [And it is opposed by the State Treasurer.]

“We think this is a good proposal going forward for the state to normalize and increase K-12 funding,” BIggs told the Capitol Times.

However, when pressed, Biggs admitted the proposal has no bearing on the K-12 inflation funding lawsuit.

“ I’m going to say, from a perfectly technical legal matter, nothing,” Biggs said of the plan’s impact on the case.

* * *

House Democratic Leader Eric Meyer of Paradise Valley said the courts have been clear that the Legislature owes much more than that – roughly $320 million, which he notes is almost the exact amount the state has in surplus right now.

Meyer said Republican lawmakers originally argued that they couldn’t pay more than that $74 million because the state’s checkbook was empty.

“ Well, now the checkbook is not empty and they still aren’t able to come up with the money. So I don’t know what happened, but it would suggest that their claim that the checkbook is empty and we can’t find the money wasn’t a real one. Now that we have the money, they’re still not willing to spend any of it,” he said.

He called the GOP legislative leaders’ new plan nothing but “smoke and mirrors,” noting that two of the four components only redirect money that is already dedicated to education, and need voter approval.

The other component, increasing annual basic state aid, is already happening, just not at the level the courts have deemed necessary.
“ It’s not new money, it’s just different allocation. It’s smoke and mirrors. There’s no new money for our schools,” he said.

Rep. Chris Ackerley, R-Sahuarita, said the new plan put forward from GOP leadership appears to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”

Ducey and Republican lawmakers have taken any kind of tax increase for education funding off the table, and without increased revenues, Ackerley said it will be difficult to find the money courts have declared that the Legislature owes.

“It would be nice if we could build a budget from the ground up, and say here are the services we need to provide, here’s what it’s going to cost us, and here’s how we’re going to raise the money. In that order. But that’s not how we do things,” he said.

[This would require the repeal of Prop. 108 (1992), the “two-thirds for taxes” amendment, to allow for necessary tax reforms and fiscal sanity in budgeting.]

Senate Democratic leader Katie Hobbs said schools were “clearly willing to negotiate in good faith” and lawmakers failed in their responsibility to settle the lawsuit.

“The Legislature has refused to fund schools at the levels voters have approved and at the level that the courts have said we need to,” said Hobbs, D-Phoenix.

She called on Ducey to order a special session immediately to settle the lawsuit, but she said even if the governor did, it is not clear if Republican lawmakers even want to settle the suit.

“ The fact that (Republican leadership’s) four-point plan, and I’m using air quotes around the word plan, came out after this announcement indicates they’re not interested in settling this lawsuit,” she said.

I have warned you previously that our lawless Tea-Publican legislature has no intentions of ever paying the judgment it owes to the states’ school districts. It intends to create a constitutional crisis by saying to the courts, “you have entered your judgment, now let’s see you enforce it.”

As I told Sen. John Kavanagh in an exchange of comments to an earlier post, “At some point the Arizona Supreme Court will come to the same conclusion as the Washington Supreme Court did this week.” Washington State Faces $100,000-a-Day Fine Until Schools Plan Is Reached:

Washington State’s highest court, which has threatened, cajoled and pleaded with the state Legislature and governor for years to close the gap in spending between rich and poor schools, said on Thursday that it had finally lost its patience. In a unanimous decision, the nine-member Supreme Court imposed a fine of $100,000 a day on the state until a plan to reduce the gap was accepted, and in a written order “encouraged” Gov. Jay Inslee to call the Legislature into a special session.

The financial sanctions, which started on Thursday with the filing of the order, will be owed every 24 hours, seven days a week, with the money going into an education fund. The court said that some of the fines might be returned — for each day the House and Senate are back in session working on the problem — but only if their work resulted in what the court called “full compliance.”

“The State still has offered no plan,” the justices said. “Accordingly, this court must take immediate action to enforce its orders.”

What our Tea-Publican legislators and governor are doing to Arizona’s children ought to be considered criminal. These Tea-Publicans should be doing time for their theft of education funds intended for our children. The deprivation of an education is a form of child abuse. They should have to pay more than mere restitution for their crime.

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