This piece was published on the Arizona Republic on January 22nd, 2022.
Note to Arizona lawmakers: Do an end-around on huge tax cuts at your own risk
Opinion: Voters don’t want tax cuts for the wealthy while schools remain woefully underfunded. It’s risky for lawmakers to do an end-around their wishes in an election year.
Arizona Republicans want to repeal and replace the huge tax cuts for the wealthy, which they forced through in the 11th hour last legislative session, to avoid a citizen’s referendum that has halted them.
This referendum should be on the November ballot as Proposition 307. Arizona voters demanded the opportunity to weigh in on the GOP maneuver.
Yet it’s clear that these politicians don’t want to hear what Arizonans have to say. They remain hellbent on favoring tax cuts that dramatically favor the wealthiest individuals, while our schools and public services remain woefully underfunded.
Voters are tired of improperly funded schools
Our volunteers – parents, teachers and everyday citizens – spent countless hours in the summer heat collecting hundreds of thousands of citizens’ signatures, and repeatedly heard from voters of all political stripes that enough was enough.
Voters are tired of the legislative majority ignoring Arizonans’ consistent and repeated demands for more state revenue to properly fund education.
They see firsthand in their schools the impact of having the worst teacher pay in the nation (50th), the most crowded class size in the nation (23.5, compared to the national average of 16), and a school counselor to student ratio of 848 to 1, compared to the national average of 424 to 1 (the recommended ratio is 250 to 1).
If any “repeal and replace” were to happen, it would be carried out by 47 Republican legislators and the governor turning their backs on the 1.7 million Arizonans who voted yes to fund education.
That makes no sense in a new election year.
Most don’t want a ‘repeal and replace’
Polling conducted on behalf of Stand for Children Arizona in December shows that these legislators are vulnerable despite redistricting. A full 55% of voters say that they would be less likely to vote for a candidate for state office who worked to “repeal and replace” Senate Bill 1828 and nullify Proposition 307.
More than 60% of voters are convinced that “repeal and replace” shouldn’t happen because the Legislature shouldn’t use dishonest gimmicks to push through their tax cut for the wealthy.
And they believe legislators must be held accountable in next November’s election for undermining the will of the voters.
Meanwhile, 71% of Arizona voters still insist on additional funds for public schools, with 48% saying that there is a “great need.”
The Proposition 208 – Invest in Education election victory in November 2020 shows that our coalition knows how to turn polling into reality.
How lawmakers can help schools
If legislators are smart, and if they truly believe the budget can be improved from last year, they should consider:
- Using the projected budget surplus to honor the will of the voters. That means fully funding K-12 education, including teacher pay and other teacher recruitment and retention measures, more school counselors, classified staff pay (bus drivers, instructional aides), and strengthening Career and Technical Education.
- Proposing permanent solutions to the outdated caps on education spending. The Legislature knows that Arizona’s schools need at least a short-term fix by March or else schools are going to have to slash their budgets, which will irreparably hurt Arizona’s children.
Word is that they plan to attach a one-time fix to the “repeal and replace” of the old budget bill, thus strong-arming the education community into going along with their tax break for the wealthy because we want to keep school budgets intact.
This cynical, short sighted approach adds insult to injury and does nothing to solve the real problem: Every time the Legislature slashes state revenue it shrinks the pie, so to speak, and further strains school funding under the current expenditure limit.
We don’t think that makes any sense, and voters agree with us. According to the December poll, two-thirds (67%) of voters believe the state spending cap for education needs to be addressed. This includes 76% of rural voters and 52% of Republican voters.
It’s a no brainer: Fix the cap. Fund education. Because Arizonans are extremely frustrated with politicians and are ready to take it to the ballot box – again.
Rebecca Gau is executive director of Stand for Children Arizona, a non-profit education advocacy organization. This opinion piece also reflects the views of the Invest in Arizona campaign, which includes the Arizona Education Association, Stand for Children Arizona, Children’s Action Alliance, Arizona Center for Economic Progress, Arizona Interfaith Network, and is now joined by Save Our Schools Arizona, and Friends of the Arizona School Boards Association. For more information visit www.investinaznow.com.