Those in and around Arizona politics know I am a steadfast believer in maintaining a strong pro-business climate that promotes job growth and long-term economic development.
While I believe low tax rates and limited government regulation are essential components to such a system, having a high quality education system that embeds competition and accountability is also critical for Arizona’s future and quality of life. This is why I am disappointed in the decision by certain business groups, who portend to be leaders in advocating for long-term economic growth, when they sign on carte blanche to a never-ending tax that offers absolutely no accountability.
Under the so-called “Quality Education and Jobs” initiative, the amount of money given to employees of an “F” school will be exactly the same as those of an “A” school. Moreover, this proposal will have no provisions to bar dollars going for administrative costs — meaning even those bureaucrats who have no interaction with students also will have access to these new sales tax dollars. According to two former State School Superintendents (Lisa Keegan and Jaime Molera), “Arizonans should expect such an effort to result in genuine, documentable achievement gains for all students ... We look for proven key ingredients such as ... teaching versus administration, performance bonuses for excellence and consequences at every level for failure.” This initiative will require an additional billion dollars from Arizonans without any hope that needed reforms such as these get implemented.
At a time when the global economy is teetering, job growth forecasts are stagnant, and mounting pressure on the national debt is starting to alarm many economists, it is bizarre that Arizona would even consider (let alone have business organizations support) permanent and large scale tax increases. If this tax increase were to pass, Arizona would have one of the highest sales tax rates (9.5 percent averaged) in the United States. It seems to me that responsible business leaders would want to weigh very carefully the need for new taxes particularly when there is no clear notion of how these new tax dollars will get used.
Unlike the federal government, and states like California, where the budget situation is out of control, we have made difficult decisions, and made responsible choices to get our fiscal house in order. And even though we still face a daunting revenue challenge for at least the next two years (mainly because of the implementation of Obamacare which will require the state budget to add hundreds of millions of dollars to cover the new federal requirements), we still understand the value of targeting monies to K-12.
This past legislative session, the State of Arizona added an additional $40 million dollars per year specifically to K-3 reading programs. Unlike the initiative, this plan is specific to a critical area and provides incentives for schools that are excelling. Moreover, it does not write a blank check to underperforming (“D and F”) schools. There is a requirement that such schools use these new dollars based on proven methods of instruction and curriculum. Even in tight fiscal times the Arizona Legislature and governor realize investing in public education is needed, however we must do it in a manner that balances effective policy without burdening Arizona taxpayers.
Arizona voters are very deliberate: I am confident that as the facts become more known about the shortcomings of this initiative and risks of raising taxes when we are just starting to emerge from a long recession, Arizonans will vote this down and work for real reforms and accountability that our students and parents deserve.
Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, is Senate President of the Arizona Legislature.