State Republicans Cut Programs to Help Seniors and Poor Children when the Richest Hoard $175 Million in School Voucher Accounts

From AZ Central

Republican leadership at the Arizona State Legislature adjourned legislative proceedings until this morning (June 15, 2024) without passing any of the 16 budget bills necessary to operate the state government for the next fiscal year.

According to reporting from AZ Central, former Speaker Rusty Bowers, who was at the Capitol to work on water legislative issues expressed surprise that the Republican leadership allowed the budget process to take a break, saying “You gotta shut it down before the plague sets in.”

Mary Jo Pitzl of AZ Central posted:

What is causing the impasse?

Simple.

This budget, with its cutbacks to Maricopa County programs to help seniors, state-approved water and road infrastructure projects, and aid to public schools with a high poverty rate among the student body, along with trying to shift more funds than legally allowable from an opioid settlement to fund the Department of Corrections (Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes went ballistic, threatening to sue the state and going to the State Capitol to rally Democrats to support her position) while allowing 79 families of the one percent to hold $100,000 or more in their Empowerment Scholarship Private School Voucher Accounts without spending them, is not appealing to the Democrats at the State Legislature whose calls for major reforms to the ESA system have been rebuffed.

Having to deal with a flat tax system Republicans passed along with the ESA expansion is not helping the budget process either.

The voucher revelation was made possible by excellent reporting by the Fourth Estate and revealed in a social media post by State Senator Priya Sundareshan potentially showing an attempted racket by the state’s richest to fleece the state coffers to the tune of $175 million.

Several questions about this reporting come to mind

How could people get so much money into their ESA accounts (one account has $210,000) in two years (universal expansion of the ESA program passed in 2022) when the maximum amount allowed per year is just under $10,000?

Why are these people not required to spend the funds on permissible education expenses like tuition before the end of the school year (which happened two weeks ago?)

What are they holding on to the money for?

Tyler Kowch, the communications director of Save Our Schools Arizona, commented to the Fourth Estate that this is more evidence of the ESA program being “welfare for the wealthy.”

He added:

“It should come as no surprise that many ESA voucher recipients are simply sitting on their funding to use as a de facto college savings fund,” he said. “The vast majority of voucher recipients were already attending private schooling – this is just another example of AZ taxpayer dollars being funneled to education extras while our public schools and the 90% of Arizona families that choose them are forced to foot the bill for not only these extras but college as well.”

What Democrats at the State Legislature and the people who are paying attention rightly point out is why should the new budget cut programs for senior citizens or poor children in public schools when there is $175 million lying around in some rich person’s account doing nothing except maybe being held over for that family trip to Europe or the kid’s tuition to an Ivy League University when no one is watching.

In three words: It should not.

Arizona House Democrats posted this yesterday evening.

Arizona Senate Democrats posted this:

Hopefully, their holding out to fight for the People’s priorities in the State Budget will pay off and a better budget that does no harm to the state’s most vulnerable will prevail.

Stay Tuned.


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