#RedForEd marchers as they moved toward the Capitol in April 2018 as part of a protest over low teacher pay. Photo by Jesse Stawnyczy | Cronkite News
This legislative session will go down in history as one gigantic missed opportunity.
Thanks in part to record federal spending and the passage of a skinny budget last year, legislators faced a more than billion-dollar revenue surplus.
Our Republican-led legislature could have done what they, Gov. Doug Ducey and our so-called business leaders promised for years that they would do, if only there was enough money in the budget: restore the cuts to classrooms and make our schools whole.
But they said NO.
Over and over and over again, Republicans — with the blessing of Ducey and his chamber of commerce cronies — said NO.
NO to raising teacher pay from 50th to 25th in the nation, even though it would have cost less than 25% of surplus revenues.
NO, even though more than one-fourth of teacher vacancies remain unfilled, resulting in the nation’s most overcrowded classrooms.
NO, even though the Governor’s Office and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry (the loudest cheerleaders for this budget) signed on to the Arizona Education Progress Meter goal of reaching median teacher pay by 2022. Median pay won’t happen now or anytime in the future, even though we had the funds to make it a reality.
Republicans also said NO to restoring funding for full-day kindergarten, even as they noted the importance of in-person learning for young children.
They said NO to fully funding the special education programs that are massively shortchanged every year, even as they attempted to push through more funding for private school vouchers.
NO to restoring Arizona’s financial aid trust fund, which helps low-income students afford higher education.
NO to settling the $2 billion lawsuit the state is facing for unpaid school construction costs and repairs, knowing that, when the bill eventually does come due, we’ll be too broke to afford it without massive cuts to other education programs.
And it wasn’t just education funding that Republicans rejected in favor of expanded corporate welfare and a massive giveaway for the uber-rich.
They also said NO to cost of living adjustments for state workers, even though they haven’t had a raise in eight years.
NO to a measly $12 million investment in KidsCare that offered federal matching funds and would have insured an additional 30,000 Arizona kids in a state that has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the nation.
NO to a meager $6.1 million for additional hydrologists to help mitigate drought in a state facing a serious water shortage crisis.
NO to paving a Hopi highway. NO to provider increases for the developmentally disabled. NO to additional dollars to help the homeless or offer rental assistance even as thousands of Arizonans continue to suffer economic distress after the pandemic.
But while Republicans said NO to investments in our kids and our state’s future, the things they said YES to show where their priorities truly lie.
They said YES to gambling, allocating $5 million for horse racing “purse enhancement” along with another $5 million for racetrack “operations and maintenance.” They also gave $2 million to county fairs for racing promotion, putting taxpayers in the gaming business, even if we don’t gamble or believe in gambling.
They said YES to $30 million over four years to help the state attract and pay for large sporting events — including the Super Bowl — even though the state recently gifted professional sports teams lucrative gaming licenses that should more than cover the costs of large events.
They said YES to another $50 million for the Arizona Competes Fund, even though a recent analysis by the Arizona Republic found most of the fund’s previous distributions went to businesses that were already profitable, raising questions about whether or not the money was needed or was simply a slush fund for businesses with ties to the governor.
They said YES to a $1.9 billion tax cut that offers a whopping $3 in tax relief to low-income families but $350,000 to those making over $5 million.
They said YES to the fairy-tale belief that surpluses last forever, and YES to ignoring our state’s recent history, when a recession forced us to sell state-owned buildings, deny coverage to patients in need of organ transplants and slash billions of dollars from classrooms.
Ducey and Arizona’s Republican legislators made their priorities crystal clear this year. They said NO to fully funding education and NO to millions of working families, but gave a resounding YES to wealthy special interests and campaign donors.
A group of education nonprofits and advocates are readying a veto referendum of the flat tax, a chance to upend this morally bankrupt budget and create an opportunity for a do-over. Arizonans should say YES to putting that on the ballot.
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