I keep getting e-mails from Matt Capalby, a former vice chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, who has formed Save Our Students, a political action committee for the purpose of:

[O]rganizing a citizen’s initiative for 2016 that would cap tuition increases for in-state students at Arizona’s universities and community colleges to no more than the increase in the Consumer Price Index. By capping how much Arizona’s universities and community colleges can raise tuition, we’ll be forcing the legislature to stop balancing the budget on the backs of our students.

UofAReally? “We’ll be forcing the legislature to stop balancing the budget on the backs of our students”? Yeah, that’s not going to happen.

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I find this effort to cap tuition entirely misguided, and it would have unintended consequences if enacted.

The problem in Arizona is a Tea-Publican legislature ideologically committed to defunding public education in order to privatize it, in violation of the Arizona Constitution.

The Arizona Constitution in plain language declares that the universities can depend on state funding, and the state is to provide that university education to students for “as nearly free as possible”:

Article XI, Section 6: The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible. The legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be established and maintained in every school district for at least six months in each year, which school shall be open to all pupils between the ages of six and twenty-one years.

Article IX, Section 3: The legislature shall provide by law for an annual tax sufficient, with other sources of revenue, to defray the necessary ordinary expenses of the state for each fiscal year. And for the purpose of paying the state debt, if there be any, the legislature shall provide for levying an annual tax sufficient to pay the annual interest and the principal of such debt within twenty-five years from the final passage of the law creating the debt.

Our lawless Tea-Publican Arizona legislature has for years been in violation of the Arizona Constitution because: (1) it is failing to provide for the cost of public education, and (2) it refuses to raise taxes sufficient “to defray the necessary ordinary expenses of the state for each fiscal year.”

And do you know how our lawless Tea-Publican Arizona legislature has been able to get away with this? Proposition 108 (1992), the “Two-Thirds for Taxes” Amendment, Arizona Constitution Article 9, Section 22.

As I have posted previously:

I consider Prop. 108 the GOP’s “weapon of mass destruction.” Here is why: it only takes a simple majority vote of the legislature to approve cuts to tax rates, or to enact tax exemptions and tax credits (tax expenditures). But these tax revenue reducers become permanent in practical reality because Prop. 108 requires a two-thirds super-majority vote in both chambers of the legislature to increase tax rates, or to reduce or eliminate any tax exemption or tax credit.

Since Prop. 108 was enacted by voters in 1992, the Arizona legislature has not increased tax rates, and has not closed “tax loopholes” as all the pundits decry that we desperately need to do. A tyranny of a minority of anti-tax zealots in the Arizona legislature are empowered to prevent any such tax reforms: 11 members in the Senate, or 21 members in the House.

This is how the anti-government, anti-public education, anti-tax GOP game is played: in each legislature since Prop. 108 was enacted, the legislature has enacted tax rate cuts and/or special interest tax exemptions and tax credits. This has had the intended effect of reducing tax revenues, creating a structural revenue deficit which results in a budget deficit. Because raising tax revenues is always off the table in the ideological GOP, the legislature takes out its meat axe and cuts the budget to essential state services like public education, health care and infrastructure (primarily roads).

The Arizona GOP can manufacture a perpetual budget crisis in Arizona by a simple majority vote for yet another one of their faith based supply-side “trickle down” tax cuts that have not magically produced the unicorns and rainbows they  promised us. And because a tyranny of a minority of anti-tax zealots can prevent any reversal of these tax policies, Prop. 108 thus becomes a “weapon of mass destruction” of Arizona’s government, and of sound public policy.

This can continue in perpetuity unless Arizona voters repeal Prop. 108. If the proposal to cap tuition were to be enacted without additional state funding for public education, and a Tea-Publican legislature that remains hostile to public education,  the unintended consequences would be cutbacks to degree programs, layoffs of university instructors and other personnel, and limited admissions and enrolment — in effect, our lawless Tea-Publican Arizona legislature could shrink the college and university system to the size of ever-decreasing state funding, which could not be offset by tuition increases as it is today. Has Save Our Students really thought about these unintended consequences?

UPDATE: “Andy Barr, a political consultant helping to coordinate the campaign, acknowledged a tuition cap alone would be counterproductive, if the universities could not make up for the funding cuts lawmakers have imposed. So the initiative would include some sort of funding mechanism, perhaps a sales tax, that would kick in if lawmakers shorted the schools. That way, Barr said, residents would know exactly who to blame.” Plans for college tuition cap initiative in the works. This is terrible public policy.

We need to restore democracy to Arizona with a simply majority vote on tax matters. This would restore to a working majority in the legislature the flexibility it needs to adjust taxes to changing economic circumstances. If Save Our Students wants to restore state funding to public education and the universities, it should place on the ballot a clean repeal of Proposition 108 (1992), the “Two-Thirds for Taxes” Amendment, Arizona Constitution Article 9, Section 22.

Do that, and you will have my full support.

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