I just want to get down a few scattered, end-of-the-week thoughts about Ducey's proposal that Arizona dig deeper into the Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund to add $360 million per year to K-12 funding for five years starting in 2017. There are a lot of moving parts in this proposal, and I want to lay out a few of them.
First, unexpected tax money has flowed into the state coffers lately, and some people are saying, "Let's hold a special session to give some of that to our cash-strapped schools right away." Ain't gonna happen. Ducey wants to reduce income taxes to zero — there's been a carefully orchestrated effort recently to publish some "thoughtful," even "scholarly," op eds on the joys of zero income tax to prime the pump—and if Ducey starts off the next legislative session with a surplus, he can use that as an excuse to begin chipping away at the income tax.
Second, a group of business people have said they want a sales tax increase with the revenues dedicated to education, just like the proposed increase Ducey fought against so vigorously a few years ago. Increasing the money from the trust fund could slow the momentum of that movement, something Ducey would far prefer to fighting members of his business base over a tax measure.
Third, Republicans have been trying for years to get permission to sell off parts of the land the state holds in trust to business interests. They always say they want to do it "for the schools," because who's gonna say, "We want to sell some of that prime land so our fat cat friends can grow even fatter"? I'm thinking, if they can lower the amount in the trust fund sufficiently, or get schools addicted to using those funds, Republicans will be in a better position to make a case for selling off the most attractive parcels to their friends.
Fourth, the amount Ducey is talking about—$360 million per year — is coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, very close to the amount the courts say the state owes to K-12 schools. Ducey swears the added trust fund money won't be an excuse not to honor the debt, but who does he think he's kidding? Of course it will be used for exactly that purpose. You can go to the bank on it.
Fifth, Ducey has a plan to change Arizona's education funding formula. He wants more money to flow to schools he considers successful, meaning high-scoring schools, district and charter, filled with high-income kids, and away from "failing" schools filled with kids from low income families who are in the greatest need of educational enrichment. A boost in funds will give him cover, since he can throw a few bones to the "loser" schools while he sends steak to schools with his kinda people—all without raising a penny in taxes. Golden!
Finally, Ducey wants his plan to be on the 2016 general election ballot. So, no more money for the 2015-16 school year, and maybe none for the 2016-17 school year unless the money starts flowing in January, 2017, after the year is half over. In the meantime, the underfunding of our schools will continue.
If the governor wants to show some good faith, he should call a special session yesterday and put a big chunk of the projected $300 million in unexpected tax money into our K-12 schools and universities. Say, $150 million for K-12, $75 million for universities, and hold the other $75 million in case the actual revenues don't meet projections. Then let's talk about what he wants to give schools a few years down the line.