OTHER VIEWS: Arizona Daily Star: State's education reputation at risk. Targeting public education to cut budget is harming Arizona's future.
PHOENIX -- Yesterday, in another rushed move resulting from a one-sided backroom deal, Governor Jan Brewer and the Republicans in the State Legislature are pushing bills to balance the state budget on the backs of schools, teachers and Arizona's children.
The proposed Republican plan closes the remaining $650 million gap in the state budget due to low tax revenues in the 2009 state fiscal year budget by withholding a monthly payment of $300 million, due to Arizona schools Friday, and using the funding as a “loan” to fill the state budget deficit hole.
“Arizona’s school budgets were already cut by the Governor and Republican legislators by $300 million earlier this year,” said Representative David Lujan, in reference to the budget plan passed in January by the State Legislature on a party-line vote and signed in to law by the Governor. “Now they are again balancing the budget on the backs of the schools by withholding an additional $300 million payment and raiding school fund balances. It is irresponsible and the public will be justifiably outraged when they find out about this.”
Additionally, the plan proposes to pay back the $300 million “loan” taken by the state from school funding in 2010 by sweeping balance funds from school bank accounts, penalizing schools that have exercised good accounting practices. School organizations strongly opposed the raid on school funding balances and expressed many specific concerns about implementation issues related to the “loan” of funding to the state from the school districts in the form of a “roll-over” payment.
“You can call this a loan, call it a roll-over, dress it up however you like, but the bottom line is withholding this $300 million payment with two days notice puts a terrible burden on schools and creates uncertainty for teachers and families,” said Dr. Matt Heinz, (D-Tucson), a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “The fact that the state can’t pay its bills doesn’t justify taking away the ability of school districts to pay theirs.”
Raiding the school fund balances will result in property tax increases in many districts.
“It’s not right to take taxes paid by property owners in support of their community schools and use that money to pay the state’s bills,” said Representative Kyrsten Sinema, also a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Districts will likely have to increase local property taxes to pay for what these funds are obligated for. This kind of backhanded tax increase is not honest or fair for voters. We all know that revenue is needed to protect education, but these budget bills raise taxes while hurting education.”
The budget plan being considered was first discussed publicly yesterday afternoon and the proposed legislation was not made available to the public until late afternoon Tuesday.
"As a pro-education lawmaker with a daughter in public school, I am outraged the majority is ignoring our realistic alternative budget proposals that would protect schools and children," said Representative Daniel Patterson (D-Tucson). "With only 27 working days left in the legislature before the end of the fiscal year, it is critical the governor and majority leadership open up the process to all and get serious about producing a fair budget, but that is not yet happening."
The Appropriations Committee hearings, which are the only place in the legislative process for public input, were held this morning, giving school officials less than 24 hours to analyze the impact of the proposed legislation and provide comment or notify school districts of the potential of not receiving payment as scheduled on Friday.
“This continues the largest raid on our children’s education in Arizona state history, generated by the Governor and Republican legislature,” said Representative David Schapira (D-Tempe), also a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “There are other alternatives that could be used to address the remaining shortfall and, make no mistake, supporters of this legislation are making a policy choice to place the burden on schools yet again. There is no excuse for waiting until the last minute and not considering more reasonable options.”
House Democratic Whip Chad Campbell said he was disappointed to see that finally, when the Governor decided to engage, she chose to raid education funding.
“It is way past time for Leadership and it is disappointing that when the Governor finally engages with the legislature to address the budget problem, the result is a bill that places the budget deficit burden on schools,” said Campbell. “This just confirms that good, common sense leadership will not come from the Governor and Republican legislative leaders on the budget issue.”
HB 2028 – S/E: supplemental reductions; appropriations; 2008-2009, the bill that would withhold the $300 million payment to schools schedule to be paid on Friday passed the House Appropriations Committee 7-5-1 with Republican Representatives Vic Williams, Rich Crandall, Russell Jones, Nancy McLain, Richard Murphy, Andy Biggs and John Kavanagh voting “yes,” and all Democratic Representatives voting “no.” One member of the Committee, Republican Steve Court, voted “present.” Later the bill passed the full House with all Democrats, and GOP members Court and Doug Quelland voting 'no'.
HB 2029 -S/E: school district balances; allocations, the bill that raids school balance funds in 2010, passed the House Appropriations Committee 8-5 with all Republican Representatives voting “yes” and all Democratic Representatives voting “no.” Later the bill passed the full House with all Democrats, and GOP members Tom Boone, Quelland and Williams voting 'no'.
Governor Brewer is expected to unwisely sign the bills in to law today.
- adapted from House Dems PIO