Now it is up to you, the voters. And maybe a legal challenge filed by State Treasurer Jeff DeWit to protect the beneficiaries of the state land trust for education from what he deems an “illegal” diminishment of trust assets. K-12 funding plan advances despite treasurers’ criticism.
The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports, Education settlement money approved, signed, off to voters:
Gov. Doug Ducey has signed a $3.5 billion education spending proposal that legislators gave final approval to earlier today, finalizing a plan that, if voters approve in May 2016, will settle a longstanding lawsuit against the state.
All three of the bills and resolutions comprising the settlement received bipartisan support in the Senate, though most Democrats chose to vote only for the bill that appropriates funding to schools, while casting futile no votes against measures that ask voters approve changes to the Constitution and authorize a special election, estimated to cost $9.3 million, to do so.
Yesterday, Democrats in the House did the same thing.
Republicans applauded the measure, calling it a cause for celebration, and chastising Democrats for voting yes for aspects of the deal while still taking time to criticize the negotiated settlement.
“This should be focused on a celebration that both sides of the aisle can come together and be rejoicing that we have reached a compromise,” said Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert.
Let’s stop right there. I have to question Andy Biggs’ mental and/or emotional stability after reading the above report, K-12 funding plan advances despite treasurers’ criticism:
A few minutes earlier in the committee hearing, former state Treasurer Dean Martin had told panel members he knew they had been threatened to back the negotiated deal. The remark angered Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, who sprinted from his office a floor above the hearing room, and, still panting from the run, derided what he perceived as a smear on lawmakers’ integrity.
“To make that kind of personal attack, is so far beyond the bounds, it’s ridiculous,” Biggs said. “To hear that kind of rhetoric from someone who has served in this body, I find so personally offensive.”
Biggs said Martin’s tone was so disparaging “his whole testimony should be flushed down the toilet.”
Martin, who served in the Senate before being elected treasurer, said he wasn’t talking about physical threats, but the usual push and pull of whipping votes.
Biggs has a history of similar unhinged conduct and comments. I would not take anything he says seriously. His theatrics are to divert your attention from the substance of the former state treasurer’s testimony:
In his testimony, Martin warned senators that if the state hikes the trust-fund distribution to 6.9 percent from the current 2.5 percent, the higher distribution would erode the trust’s investment power for future schoolchildren. It also would violate the state’s Enabling Act, he said, and at the very least would need congressional approval for any distribution change.
He questioned why the deal hinges on a deeper distribution from the trust fund (about $2 billion over the decade) instead of turning to the general fund, which has a projected surplus of $250 million. Democrats have made the same argument.
“By doing this shift, they free up all the money for their pet projects,” Martin said, a thinly veiled reference to concerns lawmakers are more interested in funding tax cuts and favored programs than meeting K-12’s needs.
The federal government granted Arizona 10.5 million acres of land at statehood, with the money from sales or leases earmarked for various beneficiaries, primarily public education. It is a perpetual trust, meaning it must be managed to the benefit of all recipients through the decades. Today, the state still holds 9.3 million of those acres.
Martin warned the plan lawmakers are considering would violate the trust’s long-standing rules and invite a court challenge. “You’re trying to settle an inflation lawsuit on education, and you’re going to end up with an inflation lawsuit on the trust fund,” he said.
And from current State Treasurer Jeff DeWit:
DeWit and Martin both suggested that several slight changes to the trust-fund provisions could prevent the doomsday scenario they foresee. For example, if the Legislature gave the treasurer authority to have a more aggressive investment strategy, the fund would likely return enough money to protect the principle from being eroded, he said.
But without such changes, DeWit told lawmakers, the trust fund will go away.
“Once you open the door, it’s gone,” he said. “If we do this, we can just rest assured that we are the people, right here, who opened the door. And this trust fund will be gone.”
Ah, never mind. “Il Duce” gets what he wants from his lawless Tea-Publican legislature:
The vote signaled the end of the special session, called by Ducey on Wednesday, to vote up or down on a settlement to the Cave Creek vs. DeWit case that for years has navigated Arizona’s court system.
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The entire package is conditional upon voter approval. If voters don’t approve the constitutional changes at a statewide special election on May 17, the schools won’t see an additional penny.
Democrats said they “reluctantly” voted in favor of the bill that appropriates the money needed to reset the baseline for schools, arguing that some appropriation of money to a struggling K-12 system is better than nothing.
Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, lamented that schools were backed into a corner and wound up settling for a fraction — roughly 72 cents on the dollar – of what they may have won had the case continued.
And invoking Biggs’ own words, he criticized the Legislature for continually fighting the case.
“That was not a decision of equals. That was an example of the raw power of the government,” Bradley said, harkening back to Biggs’ criticism of the Legislature for rolling the Republican majority to approve Medicaid expansion.
* * *
Republicans supported the measure as a way to increase appropriations to schools without a dramatic draw on the general fund, or raising taxes. Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said Democrats who argued against the measure sent the wrong message to voters.
“You just told the people of Arizona, ‘you don’t give enough. We want more of your money,’” Allen said.
Democrats made several attempts to amend the deal – a maneuver Republicans warned would ruin the settlement – but to no avail, as the Republican majority, joined repeatedly by Democratic Sens. Carlyle Begay, D-Ganado, and Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, rejected each proposal.
Those efforts attempted to get schools an amount closer to the $330 million under dispute in the lawsuit, or to remove various triggers put in place that would allow the Legislature to not inflate baseline funding for K-12 schools in years when the economy is suffering.
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, argued that caps on school spending, even those put in place with specific economic triggers, would bind future Legislatures and not allow Arizona to recover from the depths of rankings for school spending, particularly per pupil spending – Arizona is ranked 49th in the country by that metric, according to U.S. Census data.
“It isn’t all about money. That’s absolutely clear,” Farley said. “But when you’re last in the country, it’s a part of it.”
The Special Election will be held on the May 2016 consolidated election date (May 17, 2016).
Send the $9.3 million bill for this Special election to Gov. Ducey’s “Kochtopus” backers. They can pay for it with their “dark money.”