Most people know that when houses or buildings are built, a solid foundation is needed for the structure to remain standing.
With their 2023 budget proposal, Arizona Republicans have presented a financial blueprint that, if it is approved as is, threatens the long-term foundational funding of K-12 schools in future fiscal years, putting it on a slippery slope by shifting over $300 million dollars from the state equalization (property) tax that normally goes into education funding to a general fund obligation.
The $300 State Equalization Property tax would be zeroed out as a tax cut for mostly high-income individuals and businesses.
As pointed out by House Democratic members like State Representative Kelli Butler and Mitzi Epstein at a June 21, 2022 caucus meeting with Richard Stavneak and others from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC,) this monumental shift would threaten the long-term funding apparatus for K-12 Public Schools.
The State Equalization Property Tax, according to Democrats at the Caucus meeting, is a stable source of revenue that also does not fall under the Aggregate Spending Limit Guidelines.
The General Fund side of the ledger is not as stable (especially during economic downturns: remember 2008) and, unlike the property tax, does count toward the Aggregate Expenditure Limit.
This is another example of the Republican war on public education albeit with a little more stealth.
Republicans have still not fully replenished the funding levels lost to schools from the 2008-09 Great Recession.
They have used the courts to declare Proposition 208-Invest in Education, a measure the majority of Arizonans supported, unconstitutional.
They are trying to drain monies from public schools in favor of a massive voucher expansion program (another tax cut for the rich) voters already said no too. In the budget, they are including funds for an oversight committee composed of voucher supporting parents.
Now, they are attempting to undermine the foundational stability of public school funding because they think their patrons in the one percent need more tax cuts.
While this measure may not hurt schools this year or next, it definitely may in the long term when there is another recession and Republicans, if they are still in power, have run out of shell game gimmicks and mirrors like the ones they employed in their latest budget blueprint where they are giving the illusion of over $925 million in new K-12 education when, according to House Democratic spokesperson Robbie Sherwood, it is actually, after you take away the property tax shift and rollover payments, closer to $500 million.
Commenting on this latest Republican Budget, House Democratic leader Reginald Bolding wrote in a statement:
“We still have an opportunity to get this budget right, but somewhere it has taken a hard turn off the cliff. With a $5 billion surplus and a rare opportunity to finally meet the needs of our students and remove our public schools from the national funding basement, this proposed budget is a failure. Republicans have used shell games, accounting gimmicks and tax shifts to massively inflate the amount they are telling the public they are investing in schools. In reality this plan only invests about $500 million in new money in our schools, which doesn’t even match inflation. At the same time, this budget spends more new money on a border fence than on our universities or our affordable housing crisis. It also takes away money designated for teacher compensation while adding tens of millions for school police officers as their only solution for gun violence.”
Beth Lewis of Save our Schools Arizona, focusing more on the voucher expansion, stated:
“It’s shameful to see members of the state legislature claim that they are making meaningful investments in the state’s education budget while they entertain universal expansion of voter-rejected ESA vouchers. Let’s be clear: universal ESA voucher expansion is a grift and a sham to line the pockets of privatizers. It is unreasonable and unethical for lawmakers to claim that they’re making investments in our education budget while they are simultaneously drilling holes in the bottom of it.”
David Lujan, the head of the Arizona Children’s Action Alliance and former Democratic Legislative leader, remembering what the State Supreme Court did to Proposition 208-Invest in Ed, posted:
State budget proposal rewards Arizona Supreme Court justices with a 20% pay raise. The same justices that struck down Prop 208 which would have raised millions for teacher pay raises.
— David Lujan (@DavidLujan) June 21, 2022
It is time for Arizonans to have all their legislators represent one hundred percent of the people instead of slim majorities serving the perceived whims of the plutocratic class and the desires of the oligarchical American Legislative Exchange Council.
It is time for voters to elect public servants this November that will improve the foundations for public school funding and not tear them down.