Arizona Funding

Arizona: Governor Ducey Packed the State Supreme Court to Block #RedForEd Funding (and Broke His Promise)

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Governor Doug Ducey added two new members to the Arizona Supreme Court to ensure that the court would strike down an effort to raise the state income tax off the ballot in November. Last week, the court dutifully complied.

This was a slap in the face to the #RedForEd movement, which campaigned for increased funding. It raises the stakes in the Governor’s Race this November, when Ducey will face the Democratic nominee, educator David Garcia.

“The measure, recently titled Proposition 207, was expected to bring in $690 million in additional funding for Arizona public district and charter schools.

“Supporters had framed Prop. 207 as a way to fully restore the more than $1 billion in cuts to education funding since the recession.

“Prop. 207 would have raised income-tax rates by 3.46 percentage points to 8 percent on individuals who earn more than $250,000 or households that earn more than $500,000. It also would have raised individual rates by 4.46 percentage points to 9 percent for individuals who earn more than $500,000 and households that earn more than $1 million.”

The increase in taxes was opposed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and a group deceptively called “Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy.” Yeah, great schools with bare bones funding.

The opponents claimed that the referendum misstated the tax increase. Instead of saying that taxes would go up “by 4.46 percentage points to 9 percent,” they wanted the referendum to characterize the increase in the worst possible light:

“The complaint alleged the petitions were misleading because they referred to the proposed tax-rate increase as a “percent” increase and not the more accurate “percentage point” increase. According to the complaint, the tax rate would have seen a 76 and 98 percent increase and not a 3.46 and 4.46 percent increase.”

Supporters of the tax increase had collected 270,000 signatures.

“Supporters of Prop. 207 immediately placed blame for the measure’s defeat on Ducey, who is running for re-election.

“David Garcia, the Democratic nominee for governor, on Wednesday said Ducey had “stacked” the state’s highest court, leading it to shoot down Prop. 207.

“Ducey has appointed three of the seven judges who sit on the court’s bench. The governor also signed legislation in 2016 that expanded the court from five justices to seven.

“The stakes for the race for governor in Arizona just changed utterly and irrevocably,” Garcia said. “We must elect pro-public education candidates up and down the ballot to prevent this kind of corruption in the future. I’m proud to stand with our educators, parents and kids.”

“The Ducey campaign did not immediately comment on Wednesday’s court ruling. A spokesman for Ducey said Wednesday evening that the governor was still reviewing the five-paragraph ruling.”

Obviously, Governor Ducey reads slowly. He is still digesting the five paragraph ruling.

Jan Resseger has an excellent analysis of the slapdown of the AZ funding measure, which was supposed to be the means for Ducey to keep his promise to raise teachers’ salaries 20% by 2020.

She writes:

“In May, after Arizona teachers walked out of school and flooded the capitol, the legislature passed a budget to give the teachers the first installment in what Governor Doug Ducey promises will be a 20 percent pay raise by 2020. Wanting to ensure there will be a second installment of that promised raise, however, and worrying about catastrophic cuts in state expenditures on other necessities at their schools, organized teachers gathered thousands more signatures than were required to put an Invest in Ed initiative on the November ballot to raise taxes on families making over $250,000 annually, with the money designated for public education.

“The teachers secured the signatures before the deadline, but the Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit to block the referendum—alleging that the ballot language was not clear enough. A trial court okayed the ballot language, and on August 16, an appeals court affirmed that the initiative could go forward. However, last week, siding with the Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Supreme Court yanked the referendum off the ballot.

“Here are some facts to explain why the tax increase was so desperately needed in Arizona, and why the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision to block the initiative is such a serious matter.

“The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Michael Leachman describes Arizona’s desperate revenue shortage, the product of years of tax cuts: “At least 12 states have cut ‘general’ or ‘formula’ (school) funding—the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools—by 7 percent or more per student since 2008…. Seven of these states have also cut income taxes over the decade, making it particularly hard for them to raise revenue needed for their schools.” Arizona is one of the seven.

“In a recent report, ‘A Decade of Neglect’,: the American Federation of Teachers describes what the tax cuts have meant for Arizona’s schools: “In the years following the Great Recession, the Arizona Legislature cut funding for K-12 schools by $4.6 billion…. For 2015-16, Arizona ranked 49th among the states and the District of Columbia for per-pupil funding. Spending was down 12.7 percent compared with 2007-2008, and only two other states saw a larger decline in per-pupil spending between 2008 and 2016. The state ranks 46th for teacher salaries… After a 15 percent decline in the student-teacher ratio, Arizona ranks 50th among the states… Arizona also ranks near the bottom for support for higher education. For FY 2017, spending was 55 percent below pre-recession levels, and the state ranked last for spending on higher education. No other state showed a larger decline in post-recession support for higher education. Arizona’s failure to fund education is the result of what has been described as an ‘ideological aversion to taxes.’”

Arizona’s teachers trusted Ducey to keep his promise. He won’t. If he is re-elected, he will forget he ever promised to raise salaries.

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