Arizona saw democracy in action yesterday afternoon when close to 2,000 citizens showed up at the State Capitol to protest the Governor’s proposed budget. The crowd included ASU students who marched in from their campus, younger children, parents, teachers, union members, and numerous other public education supporters.
A few legislators came out of their offices to listen to the public, but the vast majority of GOP representatives stayed hunkered down inside. In the end, they once again demonstrated they don’t care what the people of Arizona want, as the proposed $9.1 billion spending plan passed the Appropriations Committee five votes to three along party lines, with Republicans in favor. The proposal cuts $98 million from K-12 education, $104 million from the state’s three public universities, and the entire $19 million in state funding that us currently allocated to community colleges.[i]
One GOP Representative blamed the need for the cuts to public education on the voters’ 2012 failure not to extend the temporary one-cent sales tax, which generated about one billion per year in revenue. The House Minority Leader, Eric Meyer, said that’s only half the story since during the time those funds were being collected, the Republican controlled Legislature gave away $538 million in tax cuts.
Unfortunately, Arizona’s Governor and Legislature seem hell bent on taking Arizona down the same road Kansas has gone in recent years. This, despite all the proof that this strategy isn’t working for Kansas and, all the opposition the plan has seen in our own state.
Among the opposition over the last few weeks, were 220 school superintendents who wrote the Legislature that: “The proposed reductions, if enacted, will affect student achievement, student health, and campus security. By any measure, the proposed cuts will have an overall detrimental impact on student success, making the mission of educating Arizona’s youth even more challenging.[ii]
Michael Crow, President of ASU, sent an email to alumni in which he wrote “it is certainly time for the State of Arizona to recognize higher education as a priority investment that should be made in human capital to help Arizona, its economy and its people move forward.”[iii]
Michael Varney, the Tucson Chamber of Commerce President and CEO called the proposed budget “disappointing at best and devastating at worst.” He went on to say, “there is a point beyond which you cannot come back. You can cut to that point but not beyond it or your organization or company will fail.”
One aspect of Ducey’s budget that has many Arizonans very upset is that he seems to value private prisons over public education. TUSD Governing Board Clerk, Kristel Foster said, “I am not ok with having 3,000 more prison beds. I’m not ok as a citizen of Arizona in investing in that and having a goal of keeping our prisons 90 percent occupied and not having a literacy rate of 90 percent in our schools.”[iv] In fact, many of the protestors yesterday had signs referring to the prioritization of prisons over schools such as: “Education, Not Incarceration”, “Schools, Not Jails”, “Fund Schools, Not for Profit #ALEC Prisons.”
Arizonans are angry and they are tired of not being heard by our legislators and Governor. They still owe us $317 million in inflation funding voters mandated and a judge ordered be paid, yet they claim they can’t do it while continuing to give huge corporate tax breaks. One has to wonder where this will end and when we will hit rock bottom. The sad part is there is no doubt our children will pay the highest price.
[iv] Arizona Daily Star, March 6, 2015