Well, now that the Legislature and governor have agreed on a state budget we finally know where most of the sales-tax windfall from the improving economy is going to land – the state’s savings account.
That’s not what the 750,000 people who voted in May 2010 to increase their sales taxes were told was going to happen with the extra $1 billion a year the new tax would bring in through May 2013.
They were told most of it would be spent on education and some on social services and state police.
But the Republican-dominated Legislature this session decided to take half of that extra money, about $450 million, and drop it into a savings account rather than give it to schools, or CPS investigators, or highway patrol officers.
See, they’re worried about July 1, 2013, the month after the sales tax increase sunsets, when the Republican’s ill-timed, poorly conceived tax cuts passed last year start going into effect, creating the proverbial double budget whammy.
So rather than give voters what they wanted (heaven forefend), they’re saving up the money this year to pay for the tax cut.
Schools, which were to benefit from the lion’s share of the tax increase, will get a paltry $100 million this year, about $80 million for K-12 and $20 million for the universities.
That’s half what the governor wanted but $100 million more than the zero Republican budget writers proposed in February.
While it’s something, and certainly not a budget cut, as schools have had to endure the past four years, it’s a far cry from the $400 million more the schools and universities could be getting if legislators had spent the revenue as voters intended.
The 2010 tax increase, Proposition 100, passed by a 2-to-1 margin. The state’s teachers led the Yes on 100 effort. If they don’t want to see their budgets eviscerated further next fiscal year and beyond as the tax cuts go into effect, they will have to mount a new campaign to renew the tax increase.
The Legislature is certain not to do it since a two-thirds vote for any tax increase is required. That leaves only the voters and their only chance to vote on it is this November.
Holding out hope for a new batch of more reasonable legislators to be elected this fall is foolhardy. Clean Elections and the state’s broken primary system will ensure that a majority of tax and public-school hating Republicans will control the Legislature next year, irrespective of redistricting.
A reasonable Legislature would vote to extend the tax increase another three years and repeal the tax cuts and wait until the state is on firmer economic footing before deciding whether to repeal the former or instate the latter.
But, as we’ve seen the past few years, reason has no home at the Arizona state capitol.