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.