by David Safier
Lots of people are worried that if we pass the one cent sales tax renewal initiative, the legislature will just lower the amount it puts in the education budget, add the sales tax money on top of that, and we'll end up in the same place we are now. However, the wording of the initiative has been crafted to keep that from happening. It states, the legislature has to appropriate as much money as it did during the 2011-12 fiscal year or the 2012-13 fiscal year, whichever is greater. The money from the sales tax would be added on top of that amount.
Here is the relevant part of the initiative. If you're not used to reading proposed legislation, what is being retained from the old legislative language is in black. The part removed is crossed out in red, and the additions are in all caps in blue.
Section 1. Section 15-901.01, Arizona Revised Statutes, is amended to read:
15-901.01. Inflation adjustments; prohibited funding reductions
A. If approved by the qualified electors voting at a statewide general election, for fiscal years 2001-2002 through 2005-2006, the legislature shall increase the base level or other components of the revenue control limit by two per cent. For fiscal year 2006-2007 2013-2014 and each fiscal year thereafter, the legislature shall increase the base level or AND other components of the revenue control limit by a minimum growth rate of either two per cent or the change in the GDP price deflator, as defined in section 41-563, from the second preceding calendar year to the calendar year immediately preceding the budget year, whichever is less, except that NEITHER the base level NOR THE AMOUNT APPROPRIATED FOR EQUALIZATION ASSISTANCE PURSUANT TO SECTION 15-971 shall never EVER be reduced below the base level established OR THE AMOUNT APPROPRIATED FOR EQUALIZATION ASSISTANCE for fiscal year 2001-2002 2011-2012 OR FISCAL YEAR 2012-2013, WHICHEVER IS GREATER.
B. IF APPROVED BY THE QUALIFIED ELECTORS VOTING AT A STATEWIDE GENERAL ELECTION, FOR FISCAL YEAR 2012-2013 AND EACH FISCAL YEAR THEREAFTER, THE BASE SUPPORT LEVEL PRESCRIBED IN SECTION 15-943, THE MAXIMUM INDEBTEDNESS ALLOWED FOR SCHOOL DISTRICT BONDS AND THE MAXIMUM ALLOWED FOR SCHOOL DISTRICT BUDGET OVERRIDES SHALL NOT BE REDUCED BELOW THAT AMOUNT ALLOWED BY LAW ON JANUARY 1, 2012.
I'm not a lawyer. I can't promise some son of a bitch of a legislator won't figure out a work-around to screw over school children and deny them the increase in education spending. But the language sounds very clear and direct to my ear. The state is forbidden from appropriating less than the larger figure appropriated for the 2011-12 or 2012-13 fiscal year. Then the sales tax money will be added to that amount.
The rest of the initiative spells out exactly where the sales tax dollars will go. I posted a Q&A breakdown of the initiative in April which I believe is still valid. Bottom line: Arizona's K-12 education spending will increase between $500 and $650 per student. If that sounds like a large increase, it's not. We'll still be in the bottom few states in per student funding. We would need to increase our funding by more like $1000 to $2000 per student to equal low spending states like Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Anyone who tells you the amount of money spent on education doesn't matter is either lying or deluded. The simple fact is, we're depriving our children of the education they deserve and the future we want for them by keeping our education expenditures low. The initiative is a significant step in the right direction.