December 7-11, 2009
- More Cuts to Public Schools?
- Legislative Panel Shirks Responsibility on Tuition Tax Credit Problems
- News Link
Special Session Still in Doubt
Governor Brewer, Senate President Burns, and House Speaker Adams are still attempting to put together an agreement on some solutions to Arizona's continuing budget deficit. As of today, their plan to convene a special session on Tuesday, December 14 appears to be dead and attempts to call legislators together later in the week is looking less and less likely.
Unlike the last special session, there have been discussions with Democrats in both the House and the Senate this time. It seems likely that a Republican-only strategy will not allow enough votes to pass the Governor's proposed temporary sales tax increase. The House Republican Caucus is pushing hard for attaching corporate and personal income tax cuts to the deal which would actually increase Arizona's budget deficit in FY2011. The Senate is more likely to support a bi-partisan solutions with a straight sales tax earmarked for spending in education, health and human services, and public safety.
The Governor has asked the legislature to include a provision that would send a ballot measure to the voters allowing legislators to ignore the Voter Protection Act, a constitutional provision that protects spending on programs passed by the voters from legislative tampering. Such a measure would allow the legislature to raid Proposition 103 education funds and other voter approved programs. Democrats have opposed this and it is unclear if there is enough Republican support to pass it without them.
These discussions continue to center on the same issues that have been addressed and re-addressed since early in the year. There are additional solutions available, including other types of tax increases, closing tax loopholes and tax credits, and some remaining one-time fixes that buy time until a tax increase can be passed. View the latest budget options developed by AEA and the Arizona Budget Coalition.
More Cuts to Public Schools?
Arizona has now cut all that is allowed under the maintenance-of-effort (MOE) provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA - the federal stimulus plan). Some influential legislators like Senator Russell Pearce (R-Mesa) are suggesting that the Governor ask for a waiver from the MOE provision and if the waiver is denied, defy the ARRA provision and risk losing other federal funds. Such an action would also put Arizona out of the running for hundreds of millions of dollars of Race to the Top Grant funds for K-12 education.
It appears that the next budget battle for public education will be to hold the line on additional cuts in order to continue to meet the MOE provisions. Again, the extreme elements that are deeply entrenched in the House and Senate Republican Caucuses will be pushing for more K-12 cuts and must be stopped if Arizona wants a reasoned solution to our deficit.
Arizona has already spent the entire $1.1 billion provided for public education in the stimulus based on its pledge to abide by the MOE which requires spending for state assistance to public schools to fall no lower than its FY2006 level. Paul Senseman, a spokesman for Governor Brewer, said cutting below "maintenance-of-effort" levels is not an option. Other legislators from her own party will not likely take no for an answer on this issue without a fight if recent history repeats itself.
Legislative Panel Shirks Responsibility on Tuition Tax Credit Problems
In August, the East Valley Tribune published an investigative report that showed the Arizona tuition tax credit for private schools program is often abused, lacks oversight, and has failed to increase to any significant degree the access that disadvantaged children have to private schools. Other media and private citizens' reports uncovered additional violations of the public trust. In response to pressure from Democratic House members who launched their own bi-partisan study and the public, House Speaker Kirk Adams appointed a committee to form recommendations to deal with the issue.
To the surprise of most observers this legislative panel completed its work and recommended increasing the amount of the dollar for dollar tax credits by 50% while rejecting measures to require the funds to be spent on families below certain income levels and limiting the amount of funds being kept by school tuition organizations for their own use and profit. Some reform measures were adopted but lack the fiscal accountability measures that would eliminate the abuses found in the investigative reports. The recommendations fail to disallow wealthy parents from working directly with school tuition organizations to ensure that their children receive the benefits of the tax credit.
These recommendations would still allow owners of school tuition organizations to keep 10% of the tax credit dollars for their own use and use those dollars and dollars from other school tuition organizations to build for-profit business ventures that capitalize on the use of other tax credit dollars. Representative Steve Yarbrough (R - Chandler) has built a multi-million group of businesses using tuition tax credit dollars.
Testimony from Representatives Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert), Rick Murhpy (R-Peoria) and Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria) defended the tuition tax credit program and downplayed the need for many of the recommendations that had been suggested to protect our tax dollars from abuse. Senator Tom Chabin (D-Flagstaff) and Jack Brown (D-St. Johns) argued for stricter oversight, an income threshold for recipients of the tuition funds, and limits on school tuition organizations. Learn more.
A legislative panel refused Thursday to recommend changes to Arizona's Private School Tax Credits program that would require income limits for families receiving tuition scholarships or reduce the amount of money charities can use to administer the program.
Legislature's vote to have impact on local districts
Local school officials are bemoaning the latest round of budget cuts from the state and looking for ways to minimize the damage to education.
Teachers, businesses say public funding isn't enough for high-quality education
Daisy Alvarez rolls black ink onto a glass surface and presses her fingertips onto it, leaving prints that other seventh- and eighth-graders in her class dust to reveal the swirls and arches that make her unique.
In 1921, California was the first state to establish teacher tenure; in 2009, Arizona became the first state to abolish it. Never one for half-measures, this month the Arizona Legislature eliminated tenure, creating yet another reason for good teachers to teach elsewhere.
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