News Ticker

Sales Tax Initiative to be on November Ballot; GOP Leaders Fight Back

By Eric Jay Toll for The Arizona Builder’s Exchange

Repubican candidate for State Treasurer, Doug Ducey addresses the East Valley Tribune
Editorial board during a question and answer meeting at the Tribune offices in Mesa.
Photo Credit: Darryl Webb / Tribune

Building and trades groups support it. Technology industry leaders support it. Morrison Institute polls say almost three-quarters of Arizona voters agree it’s needed. Parent and education groups say it’s necessary.

Voters will decide – and if Proposition 204 passes in November – take control of the revenue and direct it to education and job training. The measure strictly prohibits the legislature from its now regular sweeping of dedicated revenues away from intended recipients and into the general fund. Highways, parks and school construction are among the dedicated funds the state “swept” into the general fund to balance the budget.

Following years of slashing education budgets in Arizona pushing the state further and further into the student funding cellar, voters enacted a temporary sales tax measure adding one cent to the state rate to re-fund the legislature-created education funding cuts. Arizona ranks 49th, beating only Utah, in the 2011 census data.

Despite the continuing cuts in education, Arizona public school performance ranks 26th in the country in current stats compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Book.

Legislature Undermines Education Spending

The Arizona legislature promptly responded to the sales tax revenue increase by cutting general fund support to education. With money for school construction at zero, legislators further eroded public school financing with tax credits for private school donations. At the same time, business and industry leaders in the state cried for enhanced education, more technology, improved job training and better facilities for students.

Industry and economic development leaders feared Arizona’s continuing education funding cuts will undermine the ability to attract quality businesses and corporate headquarters.

This broad coalition of educators, parents and private sector leadership combined to present the public with a ballot measure that makes the one cent sales tax permanent and specifically directs the proceeds into education and job training. The public responded with nearly 50 percent more signatures on the petition than required by law.

Significant Bipartisan Support Does Deter State Leadership Opposition

Despite a bipartisan groundswell behind the penny for education, Arizona’s Republican leadership is choking on the public passing a law that keeps politics out of proceeds. Stymied at every attempt to stop the measure from getting on the ballot, State Treasurer Doug Ducey now steps into the fray with a campaign to defeat the extension of the temporary sales tax.

Initially, Prop 204 was blocked from the ballot by Secretary of State Ken Bennett over a clerical error. He lost in Superior and the state Supreme Court. The state was ordered to reimburse Prop 204 proponents for legal costs. Next the courts overturned the GOP-written ballot measure description because of inaccurate language that the court said “slanted the meaning of the measure.” The state had to pay court costs for all parties.

Ducey claims that the increase “is not necessary because the state’s financial position has improved” to the point that the money collected by the temporary tax is now back in state coffers.

Prop 204 Supporters Don’t Trust Budget Process

Ann-Eve Pederson, the leader of the pro-204 campaign says Ducey is right, the state has the money, but the legislature has refused to return school spending to prerecession levels for books, supplies and school repairs. Proposition 204 makes sure, she says, to prevent education revenue sweeps from happening again.

The bone of contention appears to be the issue of control. Pederson says the GOP-led legislature doesn’t like the idea of voters taking control of this much money—between $800M and $1B—away from the political decision process. Governor Jan Brewer says that she promised the tax would be temporary, and intends to fight to ensure it expires in 2013.

Original source: East Valley Tribune