School bond provision in state budget sparks debate

July 04, 2013

Arizona voters may get to decide whether to repeal a controversial provision of the new state budget involving school bonding. 

Right now, the amount school districts can borrow is tied to the value of all property in the district. But when the housing bubble burst, property values tanked, leaving many school districts with voter-approved bonds they couldn't sell because of the cap. 

The new law would double the cap, but Wesley Harris, founder of the Original North Phoenix Tea Party, said the logic of that escapes him.

"When the rest of us have no money and our homes have been devalued, then we need to give government the ability to tax more? If that isn't a statement of insanity, I don't know what is," Harris said.

Harris is pushing a referendum to put the repeal of that provision on the ballot next year.

But the issue stems from the 1994 decision by the Arizona Supreme Court which found dependence on local resources to build schools violates the Constitutional requirement of a 'general and uniform' school system, because some districts were better able to raise funds. 

That ultimately prompted state lawmakers to take over school funding, but State Senator Rich Crandall says they've failed to live up to their obligations.  He calls that dishonest.

"When you say yes, we'll pay for everything and you don't consistently, for year after year after year, even in good years we didn't pay for a building renewal formula," Crandall said.

Crandall said since most lawmakers were unwilling to provide construction and repair money, he supported the increased bond capacity as the best way of generating dollars, a move Harris calls a political cop-out by legislators. 

Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest said the increase in bonding capacity papers over the Legislature's failure to properly fund public schools. He said he's preparing to challenge the law to force lawmakers to come up with the needed money.

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