Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Arizona School Board Association (ASBA) is a non-profit organization known for supporting a wide array of liberal education causes.  While their membership includes individual members, most of their funding comes from taxpayer funded K-12 school boards, accredited community colleges, charter school boards, and state accommodation schools.

This is significant given their involvement with the referendum effort on SB1431, legislation that expanded the Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) program for all students in Arizona. Under the bill, students and parents who decide to utilize the program will receive an ESA scholarship to attend the school of their choice.  ASBA is strongly opposed to the program, and has partnered with the political committee Save Our Schools to collect the needed 75,321 signatures to refer SB1431 to the November 2018 ballot.

Over the last month, ASBA has sent emails urging people to contribute, volunteer and sign up for the referendum efforts. They even hosted a panel discussion where they boasted that it would be a great opportunity for people to sign, collect, and drop off petitions in support of the referendum effort.

Suffice to say, taxpayer dollars being diverted to overt electioneering activities—public funding specifically allocated to educate students—should be setting off alarm bells at the state capitol. Under A.R.S. 15-511(F), it states that “a school district shall not spend monies for membership in an association that attempts to influence the outcome of an election.”  Arizona campaign finance law is clear on this point; organizations that engage in support of the circulation of a petition is by definition attempting to influence the outcome of an election. ASBA has decided to jeopardize their largest funding source on a partisan electioneering crusade.

In addition to the potential legal issues associated with taxpayer funded electioneering by ASBA, it is a bit surprising that the same organization that has been relentless in their attacks against the legislature and Governor for refusing to “fully fund” education have the ability to divert precious resources away from the classroom and into campaign activities.

While individual School Board members have a right to personally advocate for the education policies they believe in, they owe a sacred duty to utilize every tax dollar they receive for its intended purpose – educating our children – not pushing their own political agendas through 3rd party non-profit organizations.

Regardless of where one stands on the ESA issue, it is not too much to ask that taxpayer money intended for education is actually used for education. Lawmakers should take a very close look at this issue and do whatever it takes to end the abuse.

As reported by the Club last year, Pinal County officials began turning the political wheels to send a $640 million-dollar tax increase to voters to fund a wide array of transportation projects throughout the region.  This new 20-year ½ cent transportation excise tax would be in addition to the existing ½ cent tax for transportation that is set to expire in 2025.

After unveiling the plan, the effort quickly spurred opposition from retailers, home builders, auto dealers and multiple taxpayer watchdog groups. However, instead of taking this as a sign that the community wouldn’t accept their proposal, Pinal officials developed a new plan to try to buy-off their political opposition.

Added to the plan was a special carve-out for purchases over $10,000 from paying the new incremental tax amount, language specifically designed to eliminate opposition from certain businesses.  Only one problem—special sales tax carve-outs are illegal. They attempted to remedy this issue last session with House Bill 2156, but fortunately for taxpayers the legislation was quickly killed by lawmakers and the authority to provide the exemption was not granted.

End of the story? Not quite.

The proponents of the tax hike are moving forward anyway, and have included the carve-out in the transportation plan. Despite their public acknowledgement that this can’t be done, Pinal officials are now citing a Legislative Council opinion to defend their actions. Such an opinion is not legally binding and is heavily questioned by attorneys and tax policy experts. If pursued by the County, it is very likely that this power grab will be challenged in court.

It is pretty clear at this point that the various special interests looking to benefit from the tax hike will do whatever it takes to get it passed. With the vote scheduled for November, Pinal taxpayers should expect a well-funded, glitzy campaign that won’t discuss the insider deal making and highly questionable legal maneuvers that made it all possible.

As predictable as the sun rising in the East, the usual suspects are again pushing the same rejected proposals to improve Arizona’s education system. Last weekend, several establishment members of the business community published an op-ed, urging the political class to rally around a billion-dollar sales tax increase to fund a cornucopia of various education proposals. The tax increase would be included with the extension of Proposition 301, the 6/10th of a cent sales tax set to expire in 2021.

If this idea sounds familiar, it’s because a similar tax hike to fund education was proposed in 2012, only to be voted down in a landslide. This plan is not much different—the massive tax increase would allegedly go to fund higher teacher pay, all day kindergarten and building renewal and construction.

And no tax hike proposal would be complete without a little crony capitalism sprinkled in; $25Million per year is included to fund job training for specific industries, likely to curry favor with financial backers of the plan.

Arguments in favor of the tax increase haven’t changed much over the years either. Voters have heard it all before, so they shouldn’t be surprised when these new promises likely go unfulfilled. For proof, look no further than the current Prop 301 tax, which was sold as the ‘silver bullet’ needed to fix our underfunded education system.

Instead, 18 years after its inception the state Auditor General has determined that only 53 cents of every dollar is being spent in the classroom, a record low.  Rather than talking about a new tax, perhaps we should take a closer look at how existing dollars are being spent.

Also ignored by advocates of the tax increase have been the strides made in recent years to increase funding for K-12. Due to the passage of Prop 123 and action by our legislature and Governor, over $500 million in new funding has been allocated to K-12 in FY 2018. This is money above and beyond spending increases to deal with inflation, and includes dollars specifically earmarked for teacher pay raises and new building construction.

None of this probably matters to the establishment asking for the tax hike, but it does matter to hardworking taxpayers and small business owners that will be forced to pay for it. Now is not the time to saddle Arizona’s economy with a billion-dollar tax increase that is poorly conceived and unnecessary.

Rather, when it comes to education the focus should remain on how best to improve outcomes and choice, reward achievement and reform our broken school funding formulas. Focusing on these areas of concern will do a lot more good for our students than any tax increase pushed by the establishment.

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The Arizona Free Enterprise Club is a free market policy and advocacy group dedicated to promoting a strong and vibrant Arizona economy.