Teachers, Taxes and Tea-Publicans, Oh My!

Our Koch-Bot Governor Doug Ducey, the self-annointed “education governor”(sic), claims that he wants to put more money into public education and to give teachers raises.

But the Arizona Republic recently took a look at the actual numbers. How much are Arizona teachers paid?

The Arizona Republic took a closer look at the numbers. Here’s what we found:

Median teacher pay

According to an analysis by the Arizona School Boards Association published in January, the median teacher pay in 2018 is $46,949.

This number takes into account how the allocation of Proposition 123 has so far factored into teacher pay. It shows the median salary has risen 4.6 percent since 2015, giving teachers about $2,000 more a year.

The number does not reflect a 1 percent pay increase for teachers that the Legislature and Ducey approved last year. Because of the way that money was allocated [i.e., a bonus], it is not part of teachers’ base pay.

How does Arizona compare?

The most recent — and arguably most equitable — comparison of teacher salaries nationwide is a May 2017 analysis by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. That analysis adjusted the numbers to take into account the cost of living in each state.

According to that data, the median salary for Arizona elementary school teachers in 2016, adjusted for regional purchasing power, was $42,474. The median salary for high school teachers was $47,890.

When all state salaries are adjusted in this way, Arizona ranks 50th in the nation for elementary teacher salaries, and 49th for high school teacher salaries. Oklahoma ranked 50th for high school teachers.

“Education governor” my ass! What a fraud.

Our Koch-Bot Governor Doug Ducey also promised that “I will submit legislation to reduce taxes every year, with the goal of pushing income tax rates as close to zero as possible.”

This kind of ideological-driven fiscal irresponsiblity by Republicans since 1992 — with the passage of the “Two-thirds For Taxes” Amendment, Prop. 108 — is the reason why there is no money for public education and teacher raises. Every tax cut, tax exemption, and tax credit enacted since then becomes permanent and accumulates, adding to the state’s revenue deficit.

Gov. Doug Ducey won’t promise to veto new tax cuts even as he says the state is putting as much money as it can into public education. New proposed tax cuts abound as need for K-12 funds persists:

In fact, the governor is already committed to sign at least one measure that will cut state revenues by up to $15 million a year.

The issue arises amid rising complaints from teachers and educators that the state is short-changing public schools. That comes not only because per student funding is actually less than it was a decade ago after inflation is taken into account but that teacher salaries in Arizona are at or near the bottom of the nation.

Ducey, for his part, said he is doing what he can to turn around the situation which was made worse by the Great Recession. His current budget includes an additional $400 million in state aid to education, which he said is 80 percent of new spending for the coming fiscal year.

More than a quarter of that is mandatory, accounting for student growth and inflation. There’s also $34 million for the second half of the 2 percent pay hike for teachers lawmakers approved last year.

Ducey also proposes adding $100 million in what’s called “district additional assistance,” money that can be used for things like computers, books and school buses, and $88 million for new school construction.

Both of those, however, come in response to a lawsuit filed against the state which points out that the governor and lawmakers have ignored the legal requirement to provide those funds every year. In fact, Ducey himself cut more than $100 million from the formula in prior budgets.

In the meantime, Republican lawmakers have been pushing their own ideas for changes in the state tax code that would reduce future revenues.

Ultimately it could be Ducey who gets the last word. But the governor is unwilling to say those are off the table.

Gov. Ducey “did not dispute that any cut in revenues, by definition, means a smaller amount available for total new spending — and, by extension, fewer dollars for K-12 education.” We’ve been over this before in The first rule of holes revisited: When you’re in one, stop digging!

One cannot be for more money for public education and teacher raises and also be for cutting taxes every year; the later renders the first an illusory promise that is impossible to keep. This has led to the Progress Now Arizona campaign #DoubleTalkDuceyWatch Here.

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So what are public education advocates to do? The #RedforEd movement has sparked discussion about a teachers strike in Arizona, comparable to what just took place in West Virginia. (Oklahoma teachers are considering it).

Resident GOP apologist at The Republic Robert Robb says This should be #RedforEd’s next move (hint: it’s not a teacher strike) (excerpt):

Gov. Doug Ducey made a colossal blunder when he proposed that the state get into the teacher pay business by approving what turned out to be a 1 percent bonus at the state level.

He meant it as a sweetener to the pay hikes teachers would receive in the normal course of events given the increase in state funding, in significant part as a result of the passage of Proposition 123. The average teacher in Arizona has received a raise of nearly 5 percent since then, according to the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, or roughly what the strike in West Virginia produced.

* * *

Of course, the Legislature largely determines how much money the districts and charters have for all operational expenses, including teacher pay. Might a strike force legislators to pony up more?

You need a tax hike to fund that

To simplify the math, there are in the vicinity of 50,000 public school teachers in Arizona. So, a $5,000 increase in pay would cost roughly $250 million. A $10,000 raise would cost $500 million.

Without a tax increase, the state doesn’t have that kind of money. So, a strike would have to induce the Legislature to vote to increase taxes to produce anything meaningful.

According to the state Constitution, it requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature to enact a tax increase. And a three-fourths vote to overcome a gubernatorial veto. [The “Two-Thirds for Taxes” Amendment, Prop. 108 (1992).]

This governor and this Legislature aren’t going to approve a tax increase for K-12 education, irrespective of how long a strike might endure.

Let’s assume that the 2018 election goes well for Democrats, and they take over the governorship and both chambers of the Legislature. Does anyone really believe that, even in the aftermath of a Democratic tidal wave, there won’t be 21 conservative Republicans in the House or 11 of them in the Senate willing to stop a tax increase?

Note: If Sen. John Kavanagh really wants to refer voter-approved ballot measures back to the ballot for reconsideration by the voters, then he should start with referring this godawful “Two-thirds For Taxes” Amendment, Prop. 108 (1992) back to the ballot in order to restore the democratic principle of a simple majority vote on tax matters, like all other regular order legislation. This undemocratic law empowers a radical minority of anti-tax zealots with a veto power over the majority who would exercise fiscal responsibility and sanity in this state, something sorely lacking in the current leadership.

A better path: Extend Prop. 301 tax now

There are, however, ways in which the #RedforEd energy can be constructively channeled. One of the movement’s memes has been: Where’s the plan? If the goal of the plan is to restore K-12 funding to around its prerecession level, neither the governor nor the Republican legislative leadership have one. And that’s understandably a source of frustration.

However, there is an identifiable path forward, which the #RedforEd movement could help make a reality.

The first step is passage of House Bill 2158. That would extend the existing Proposition 301 education sales tax, due to expire in 2021, for an additional eight years.

Well, genius, the education organizations already do support HB 2158. Do you know who does not? Governor Ducey and Tea-Publicans in the legislature. HB 2158 was approved by the House Education Committee, 9-1, on Feb. 13. The measure stalled after Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, failed to hear it in the Ways and Means Committee. A companion bill introduced in the Senate by Phoenix Republican Kate Brophy McGee, SB 1390, which had 56 cosponsors, was never heard in either Senate committee to which it was assigned.

There may be some movement on this bill. Speaker gives bill to extend education sales tax new life:

A bill seeking to permanently extend a sales tax dedicated to public education is getting a second chance in the Arizona House.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, announced today on the House floor that he would be withdrawing HB2158 from the House Ways and Means Committee.

The move removes a legislative obstacle to the bill and breathes new life into an effort to extend Proposition 301, a six-tenths of a cent sales tax passed by voters in 2000, which funds teacher salary and performance pay.

By withdrawing the bill from the committee, it will allow it to continue moving through the legislative process and get a vote on the House floor.

Governor Ducey has not taken a position on this bill, but has previously suggested that he does not want a renewal of Prop. 301 on the ballot with him in 2018 because it is a tax measure. This could be a set up to have the House vote the bill down.

The bill can be referred to the ballot by a simple majority vote to let the voters decide. This obviates Robert Robb’s contention that “this bill also requires a two-thirds vote, since technically it increases taxes above what current law would provide.” That’s possibly true only if the law is extended by legislative action, rather than a ballot measure to be approved by the voters.

What Robb does get right is that “What’s needed is for Ducey [and] the GOP legislature leadership to give the effort just a minor push.” They have done nothing.

If #RedforEd would make passage of HB 2158 its current cause, and direct its activism toward the governor and legislative leadership to get behind it, that might very well make the difference.

Then fight for a tax increase in 2020

HB 2158, of course, only keeps intact what K-12 education already has. A meaningful increase in teacher pay requires a tax increase.

* * *

[T]he support is there – in the education and [some] business communities – to put a tax increase for education on the ballot in 2020 one way or another. The grassroots energy of #RedforEd and Save our Schools will be important to overcoming what’s sure to be difficult opposition, whether led by Ducey or not.

There is widespread, bipartisan support for doing something meaningful on teacher pay in Arizona. The lack of a plan by state leaders is understandably frustrating. There are, however, highly productive uses of the #RedforEd energy that won’t jeopardize that support.

Yeah, like “vote the GOP out.”

So how has Governor Ducey responded? With a GOPropaganda campaign from his corporate masters to confuse and mislead the voters. Laurie Roberts of The Republic writes, 1 million reasons Doug Ducey supporters are panicking over public education:

The business community, it seems, is plenty worried that Ducey isn’t seen among the masses as a champion of public education.

As in seven figures worried … and growing.

The Republic’s Craig Harris reports that the Arizona Education Project has now spent more than $1 million in recent weeks on TV ads extolling the wonders of Arizona’s public schools.

$1 million ad blitz

This, as teachers wear red and become increasingly vocal about woeful state of education funding in Arizona. About a governor and Legislature that continue to cut taxes and allow tax credits to balloon even as our teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation.

Enter the Arizona Education Project, a non-profit corporation that is running the ad blitz and is funded by some of the biggest political players in the state, including Pinnacle West Capital Corp. (read: Arizona Public Service) and Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The group doesn’t have to report its funding [read “dark money”] but spokesman Matt Benson confirmed to Harris that the ad campaign is now north of $1 million, with more to come.

“The message is we are making progress,” he said. “We haven’t reached where we want to get on student achievement or funding public schools, but we are making progress.”

If you operate on the theory that something is better than nothing — that giving schools via Prop. 123 only a portion of what they were already owed is a bold move forward — then sure, things are fantastic.

Kids still getting stiffed

But if you operate on the theory that Arizona’s kids can’t wait, that Arizona’s students deserve the same investment in their schooling as other kids across the country – or even other kids in this state a decade ago – then you’re probably not quite ready to break out your tambourine.

The state is now investing $924 less per student, when adjusted for inflation, than it did a decade ago, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

Meanwhile, corporate tax collections have plummeted due to tax cuts and other reasons. (I’m guessing the Ducey administration laying off the state’s tax auditors didn’t help.)

Corporate taxes are plummeting

Corporate tax collections were $663 million in 2015. By 2020, they’re expected to fall to $263 million. [Thanks Jan Brewer!]

Meanwhile, corporate tax credits for private school tuition, which drained away a modest $10 million in 2007, are now sucking $74.3 million from the state treasury, according to JLBC. By 2020, that could jump to $107 million.

Is it any wonder that the business community is touting Ducey’s re-election with $1 million worth of happy talk ads promoting this champion of public education?

Benson told Harris that “mainstream” business organizations believe “it doesn’t do anyone any good if all we do is bad mouth what is happening in Arizona classrooms.”

Especially in an election year.

Actually, I agree with them. It doesn’t do anyone – especially a certain governor — any good if all we do is bad mouth what is happening in Arizona classrooms.

We also have to properly fund Arizona’s classrooms.

We can start by disempowering GOP lgislators and governors – “vote them out.”

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