Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

GOP staging covert ops against schoolkids


Phil Lopes

After weeks of secret meetings, the latest Republican state budget plan offers no real, comprehensive solutions to the looming budget crisis and fails to address Arizonans’ priorities to protect education and the economy.

The budget proposal, released a week ago, again attempts to solve the state’s revenue shortfall through deep cuts to public education and massive state agency layoffs.

And this time, they add a new twist – covertly increasing people’s property taxes and raiding money collected by cities through impact fees to fund infrastructure.

Republicans propose $800 million in cuts to education, including more than $600 million in cuts to the public K-12 school system and at least $50 million in cuts to the University of Arizona.

In their plan, the Republicans allude to using federal stimulus funding, and I would hope some of that funding would support education. But Republicans have kept details secret about how much federal funding they would use – if any – to alleviate the education budget cuts.

Republican lawmakers supporting this proposal are also covertly raising property taxes by eliminating homeowners’ rebates for property taxpayers in school districts such as the Tucson Unified School District whose tax rates are affected by federal desegregation orders.

This will significantly affect Tucson property taxpayers.

Further, property taxes could be increased by the Republican proposal to raid ending year balances in school district accounts.

In most cases, these year-end balance funds are obligated or kept on hand to address emergency expenses. School districts that have managed their funds and been able to keep a little in savings would now be punished for fiscal responsibility.

To add insult to injury, the Republican budget also proposes to steal more than $200 million from cities and towns.

These funds, generated by impact fees, are intended to pay for community infrastructure needs such as streetlights, roads and sewers. Now cities could be forced to fill this budget hole by increasing local taxes or through cuts in city-funded services.

Deep cuts to school and university funding is the absolute opposite of what the state should be doing during an economic downturn.

The only way Arizona will climb out of our financial slump is to build the education system and work force required to grow and attract the investment needed to stabilize our economy.

Forcing layoffs of thousands of people in the public and private sector (many private entities contract with state agencies) make our economic situation worse. The fewer people employed, the less income and sales tax is paid, and the more state health and social service safety-net services are utilized.

I am not opposed to reasonable tax increases to ensure that our state has the funding needed to maintain a good public education system. (I prefer increases in income tax rather than sales tax because the former is less regressive.)

If we want to debate the merits of a property tax increase as part of that solution, so be it.

But many Republicans have been quoted in the news saying their new budget plan does not raise taxes, and that is, simply, untrue.

It is deceitful and insulting to the public to hide tax increases or indirectly raise the public’s taxes through burden shifts to school districts and cities.

Lawmakers should be accountable for their policy decisions and votes. If we need to raise taxes, be forthright about that policy change. Political mendacity is unacceptable.

In poll after poll (the most recent was April 28 from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University), citizens have clearly told the Legislature that they want a comprehensive, responsible budget plan.

They do not support education cuts, and they do support modest tax reforms to bring Arizona’s budget into balance. The only people out of step with the public’s mood are the Republican leadership at the Arizona Legislature.

Phil Lopes is the state representative for District 27 in Tucson.

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