by David Safier

The Saturday Daily Star has it exactly right in its editorial, Legislature continues to shortchange kids. “Arizona’s record of supporting public education is abysmal,” it states.

Arizona is the worst in the nation on per-student school spending, according to Quality Counts 2008, an annual education report by the non-profit organization Education Week. Only Utah spends fewer dollars per student, but with other economic factors included, Arizona came in last. Arizona spends an average of $6,232 per student, compared with $8,973 per student nationally.

Arizona also ranked near the bottom for K-12 achievement, teacher pay and chance for student success. There is nothing to be proud of here.

The legislature is in a no-win situation this year, with gallons of red ink spilling everywhere and budgetary needs far exceeding revenue. It doesn’t have the cash to raise school funding, or any other funding, for that matter.

So what should it do? Keep underfunding schools at the current unacceptable levels, or even lower spending and tell school districts to tighten their belts a little further? Cut other programs to find a few extra dollars for schools? Drain the rainy day fund and pass the buck (or lack of bucks) on to the 2009 legislature?

The fact is, there is not enough state money to go around. And as long as everyone keeps screaming “No New Taxes!” we’re going to be stuck with the same problems and the same non-solutions endlessly. We’ll continue to underfund education and health care and alternative energy and our infrastructure needs and on and on, at our own peril. Our quality of life will crumble around us, and the next generations will have fewer economic opportunities than their parents..

This Tax-and-Spend Liberal sees another answer. We need to raise state revenues by raising taxes on individuals who can afford it and by cutting tax loopholes that boost profits for businesses at taxpayer expense.  Good public services do not come cheap. If we don’t invest in our state, we will pay the consequences.

I know. I know. To raise taxes in Arizona, everyone who has set foot in the state for the past twenty years has to sign an oath in blood and personally hand it to Russell Pearce, or something like that. (See Mike’s post below, “Why is the GOP’s Top Legislative Priority the Elimination of the State Education Equalization Property Tax Levy?” for a thorough explanation of our tax-cutting mania.) The anti-tax crowd has dug us deeper and deeper into a financial hole. It’s time for us to start facing reality (Don’t the conservatives like to call themselves realists?) and give the government the revenue it needs to invest in Arizona’s future.

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