Public school advocates hold signs at a June 15, 2022, press conference opposing an expansion of the state’s school voucher program. Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror
Arizona’s budget is precariously perched on a two-legged stool, and Republican lawmakers want to saw off yet another leg, as the erstwhile party of fiscal responsibility has lost sight of any shred of economic stewardship, blinded by obsessions with cutting taxes for the rich and defunding public education.
And Arizona voters are waking up to the fact that shrinking taxes also means defunding the public services we rely on — from public schools to public safety, rural roads and modern urban transportation, child safety, and health care.
As much as Arizonans may think we love tax cuts, we love strong public schools and public services even more. But with former Gov. Doug Ducey’s 2021 massive tax cuts going into effect this year, there couldn’t be a worse time to double down on tax cuts like Sen. J.D. Mesnard’s short-sighted proposal.
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Senate Concurrent Resolution 1035 would mandate automatic cuts year after year, delivering lucrative kickbacks to multi-millionaires and reducing our general fund by more than $250 million a year — enough to fund 5,000 additional teaching positions across the state.
Arizona already falls far behind the national average in K-12 education funding, racking up a $4.5 billion deficit every single year. Tax cuts subtracting from the general fund keep a competitively funded public education system forever out of reach. And since reversing course requires a two-thirds supermajority vote from our deeply divided state legislature, undoing the damage from SCR1035 would be all but impossible.
With Ducey’s massive tax cuts just beginning to phase in, Arizona is collecting less revenue and giving away (to the rich) much more of what little revenue we still keep. The legislature’s nonpartisan budget analysts project our current surplus will have all but dried up by 2025 — even without current cuts. And, as these analysts warned lawmakers in January, “with tax cuts, net growth is negative.”
Meanwhile, Arizona has grown its total tax credits and carve-outs to $24.5 billion every single year — far more than our legislature’s entire general fund.
Republican lawmakers’ newly passed universal ESA voucher fiasco is compounding this economic crisis. Lawmakers entirely failed to budget for this program, which is now spiraling out of control at well over $200 million in unbudgeted costs and growing. And instead of reining in the program, lawmakers are proposing more tax cuts? Last we checked, subtracting from a deficit isn’t sound fiscal policy.
Putting special-interest voucher dogma above fiscal responsibility and the needs of our 1.1 million public school students is a recipe for disaster. Arizona only recently began to dig itself out from the Great Recession, which left the state underfunded in nearly every area and our K-12 schools a jaw-dropping $4.5 billion behind the national average. It’s hard to overstate the catastrophe we’re headed into if we don’t alter course and focus on augmenting state revenues for the public good.
Republican lawmakers are refusing to learn from history, knowingly repeating failed tax-cut experiments from Kansas and Colorado, while also redoubling efforts to defund public education. According to the Arizona Center for Economic Policy, SCR1035 is such bad policy that it has been rejected by 29 other states. Colorado is the only state to have put a similar policy in its constitution, and that did so much damage that, 13 years later, voters backpedaled.
We call upon the Arizona Legislature to avoid a similar fate and reject SCR1035. This persistent and bewildering unwillingness to invest in our state and its people must stop. Investing in Arizonans and our neighborhood public schools will create a thriving Arizona that works for everyone.
If our lawmakers stubbornly insist on continuing to slash revenues, they’ll create the opposite: an Arizona forever mired at the bottom.
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