Arizona Gov. Ducey Facing Pressure To Accept Education Tax

By Holliday Moore
Capitol Media Service
Published: Monday, September 4, 2017 - 10:07am
Updated: Monday, September 4, 2017 - 10:15am

Governor Doug Ducey's aversion to the word "taxes" could keep Arizona's students from competing for jobs in the 21st century.

That's what even staunch allies are finding after the Governor's own appointed Classrooms First Initiative Council reviewed its two year study on school finance and reform.

The leader of the Classrooms First Initiative Council, Jim Swanson, normally supports the Governor.

"In some regard I give him credit for keeping his word," Swanson said, referring to the Governor's pledge to cut taxes every year.

But, he indicated education is not the place, nor is this the time. "I think that we have an extraordinary need in this state," Swanson said.

Reviewing Arizona's patch-work funding formula, he can't ignore a decade of disparities between tax payer funded charter schools and traditional public schools and the lack of funding for special needs programs.

He blames Arizona's aversion to raising taxes for more than 25-years.

Swanson cited a 2016 study by Tom Rex of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. "If we hadn't cut taxes, we'd have about $4 billion more in our general fund today than we do, which I think is between $9.5 billion and $10 billion."

The council is planning to recommend a 6 cent education sales tax for Arizona to reasonably prepare students for the new job market.

But, the Governor will not touch the word "tax" while preparing for a run in 2018. He is proud of the $300 million deal passed by voters last year in Proposition 123.

"When I hear someone say 'We need a tax,' what I hear them saying, and I'm listening, is that we need more resources for K-12 education," said Ducey referring to Prop. 123. "That's why we put $168 million over and above inflation last year into K-12 education. So it's about more money. But more importantly, it's about where that money is spent."

Swanson is worried that settlement is only a short term fix for a decades old crisis that is forcing Arizona's best teachers to take jobs in neighboring states, where educators are payed livable wages or better.

"We want the governor to be successful. And we want to support him. But we also believe that this is really about Arizona's kids," Swanson said. "We have 1.1 million children in our public schools. And we have to figure out how to move the needle on that."

Ducey remains optimistic that needle will move as the market grows.

"We have a growing economy here. Maricopa County's the fastest growing county in the country right now," Ducey said. "Our tax base is expanding. I want to see those dollars go to K-12 education. I want to see them do that without raising taxes."

"I don't think we have time to do that,'' Swanson said."The clock is ticking in a way that is going to make those situations worse before it gets better.''

Whatever the council recommends, it will likely move through the legislature before it can go to the voters.

If that solution includes the word tax, Swanson is worried it will die before Arizona's education funding formula sees a real fix.