Pass HB 2158 to permanently extend Prop. 301 education funding

State Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, on Wednesday introduced legislation that would permanently continue the Proposition 301 education sales tax that brings in about $600 million a year to Arizona schools, which is set to expire in mid-2021. Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, is signed onto the bill as a co-sponsor. Republican bill would permanently extend Arizona’s education tax:

The education sales tax, which voters passed in 2000 as Proposition 301, is set to expire in mid-2021.

State Rep. Doug Coleman told The Arizona Republic that House Bill 2158 would essentially “get rid of the cliff” surrounding Prop. 301.

Prop. 301 is a 0.6 cent per dollar education-funding sales tax. Its future has been a point of contention and concern among education and business advocates and state leaders. The money funds things such as teacher salaries and classroom expenses.

The sales tax — and the hundreds of millions of school-funding dollars that come with it — will be gone unless voters approve an extension of the tax in the 2018 or 2020 election or two-thirds of the state’s 90-member Legislature pass legislation to maintain the funding.

Democratic lawmakers last year introduced legislation to extend and expand Prop. 301, but Republican leadership never granted it the required public hearing or votes.

Coleman said his House Bill 2158 would not have additional funding beyond what schools already receive and would not change how the money from the sales is doled out to schools.

“This bill is just keeping what is there, there,” Coleman said. “I just want to make sure that everyone is left whole, and we can do that with this bill.”

“… I just don’t think it’s good policy to be facing what could be a catastrophic cliff for everybody.”

There has been wide support among education and business advocates for extending and increasing the sales tax under Prop. 301 — viewed by many as a crucial step toward restoring hundreds of millions of dollars of education-funding cuts following the recession.

State schools Superintendent Diane Douglas and a coalition of business CEOs have recently proposed separate plans to expand the sales tax.

Coleman said Wednesday that he, too, believes the tax should be increased to generate more money for the state’s underfunded public schools.

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Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, described a potential extension-only effort by the Legislature as a “moderating step.”

“This would give time for the education community to work with policymakers without the threat of a fiscal cliff,” Ogle said, “because clearly just renewing it is not enough to impact a change in the dynamics.”

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The offices of House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, Senate President Steve Yarbrough and Gov. Doug Ducey did not respond to requests for comment on the proposed legislation.

Ducey last year told The Republic he was open to extending the current sales tax. He has said several times that he would like to see a broad coalition examine the issue, and possibly modernize Prop. 301. He hasn’t publicly said how he’d like to see Prop. 301 changed.

He said as recently as Wednesday that there was still “plenty of time” to tackle Prop. 301 before it expires.

The governor won office in 2014 on a pledge not to increase taxes and had said his position on Prop. 301 didn’t change that.

Gov. Ducey did not broach the issue of Prop. 301 in his State of the State address.

Two points: Gov. Ducey does not want the Prop. 301 extension on the ballot in 2018 while he is running for reelection. This is why the “broad coalition” of business and education leaders proposing an extension and increase in the education sales tax have proposed a ballot measure for 2020.

And our anti-tax zealot governor will never support any increase in taxes while he is governor. House Bill 2158 only proposes a continuation of the current status of Prop. 301, not an increase.

There is no good reason for the governor to oppose this bill. It is an opportunity to be fiscally responsible, for a change, and to forestall a fiscal cliff for school funding in 2021.

Rep. Doug Coleman in an op-ed at the Arizona Republic writes, Our bill would extend Arizona’s education tax in 2018 – permanently:

I have been a teacher, working alongside some of Arizona’s most hard-working educators, for more than 30 years. Now, I am sponsoring legislation that will permanently extend Arizona’s voter-created, 0.6-cent funding program, protecting a vital revenue stream for Arizona’s schools.

In Arizona, K-12 education receives roughly $600 million a year from Proposition 301, a special six-tenths of a percent sales tax that voters approved in 2000. These valuable funds are distributed by formula to the school facilities board, universities, community colleges, tribal colleges, income tax credits, classroom site fund, and to enhance school accountability.

This tax expires in June 2021.

Here’s the political reality we’re facing

Gov. Doug Ducey has not supported new taxes but is committed to the extension of Prop 301. Last spring, he told The Arizona Republic, “Things haven’t changed — there are not going to be any new taxes … Prop. 301 is a funding program, and we’re going to continue a funding program.”

Last month, a group of Arizona CEOs committed to champion a 1.5 cent ballot initiative in 2020 that will deliver nearly $2 billion of new funding for teacher pay, full-day kindergarten, capital funding, universities, construction workforce development and the permanent extension of the 0.6 cent funding stream under Prop. 301.

I wholeheartedly support their goal. That said, I do not plan on being in the Legislature past the current session and will not have the opportunity to help bring the 1.5-cent, CEO-led proposal to fruition.

Lawmakers can extend the tax now

Arizona Republic columnist and staunch conservative Bob Robb recently wrote a powerful piece reinforcing the importance of extending Arizona’s current 0.6 cent funding stream because our schools need the resources.

He also articulated the dangers of waiting until 2020 to send the CEO-led 1.5 cent proposal to the ballot without first extending our current 0.6 cent revenue stream, calling the all-or-nothing 2020 proposal a “bad bet” for Arizona’s schools.

I agree.

In his piece, Robb suggests a “two-step approach” to addressing Arizona’s education funding needs. The first step is to secure what the schools are currently getting from Prop. 301 with a simple permanent extension this legislative session — that is, this year.

A simple extension may be enacted directly by the Legislature with a two-thirds approval vote, because we would NOT be increasing taxes above existing law.

This week state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee and I are sponsoring legislation that permanently extends the current revenue and distribution formula of Prop. 301. Now is the time to come together and support our schools.

Education groups pursuing a ballot measure to increase Prop. 301 education sales tax funding can continue to do so as a second step, once the current funding has been secured. This should be a no-brainer.

Let’s get this done.

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