Why Ducey’s Promise to Lower Taxes is a Lie

During Governor Ducey’s inaugural address in 2015, he indicated that he would not support higher taxes with: “prosperity moves, and as taxes go up, it moves away. Gone as well are jobs, people and companies that found a better welcome someplace else.” Likewise, during his 2016 State of the State address, he bragged about lowering taxes and assured Arizonans that he will “lower taxes this year. Next year. And the year after.” Yes, he has been consistent about his promise to lower taxes and even to do away with the state income tax. He obviously subscribes to the GOP mantra of supply-side (some call it trickle-down) economics.

The basic theory of supply side economics is that marginal tax rates and less government regulation will help business expand and create more jobs. The Laffer Curve, named after Arthur Laffer, is a central theory of this philosophy and posits that lowering tax rates generates more economic activity eventually leading to more tax revenue. Proponents of this philosophy include the Koch-brothers-financed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board. They claim that the nine states without personal income taxes are outperforming the rest of the states and that their success can be easily replicated in those states that abandon their income tax.   The non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) however, says that Laffer focused on “blunt aggregate measure of economic growth” to support his contention. The truth says ITEP, is that states with personal income tax, even those with the highest rates, are experiencing as good, or better, economic conditions than those without. Still, there are plenty of examples of governors who insist on leading their states down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Take Governor Sam Brownback for example. When he took the reins in Kansas, he dropped the top income-tax rate by 25%, lowered sales taxes and created a huge exemption for business owners filing taxes as individuals. Now, five years after doubling down, his state lags in job creation, tax revenue is far short of expectations and bond and credit ratings have been downgraded.

In Oklahoma, Governor Mary Fallin and the GOP-led Legislature enacted a quarter-point reduction in the top income tax rate two years ago and corporate tax breaks when oil crude prices were riding high. Oklahoma’s Republican Treasurer Ken Miller, who advocates for revenue-neutral tax cuts, blamed his GOP colleagues for the now “self-inflicted” crisis. Miller said: “Common sense dictates that until the state proves it can live within its means, it really should stop reducing them, yet some ‘thinkers’ continue to advocate eliminating the state income tax – even arguing that the state’s largest funding source and be vanished without a replacement and still fund needed teacher pay raises.” To Arizonans I ask: “sound familiar?”

In Wisconsin, Governor Walker enacted several permanent tax cuts just as the national recession ended and state revenues began to climb. His speech this year to ALEC was all about how his “big, bold reforms took the power out of the hands of big government special interests.” What he didn’t say is that his reforms produced only about half of the jobs he promised and resulted in delayed debt payments and deep cuts to education to balance the budget.

In North Carolina, with all three branches of government now securely under GOP control, money saved from cutting safety net programs wasn’t reinvested into education, job training or infrastructure, but given to the wealthy and corporations in the form of tax breaks. In September, the NC legislature signed a budget into law that provides $400 million in income tax cuts to be offset by taxes on repair, installation and maintenance services.  Alexandra Sirota, who studies tax policy for the NC Justice Center said the affect of the lower taxes “is a huge revenue loser” and that “the revenue losses aren’t fully accounted for in the next few years.”

At the root of it all are ALEC’s questionable economic and fiscal assumptions and faulty analysis. Specifically, these policies include deep cuts in income taxes, particularly for affluent households and corporations; a repeal of state income and estate taxes; and a shift in state revenues from graduated-rate income taxes to sales taxes that are much higher than what exist today. They also include the end of various state-based tax credits for low-income working families; a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) that would impose rigid constitutional limits on state revenues and spending; requirements that state legislatures garner two-thirds or other “super-majority” votes to raise any taxes or fees; and other mechanisms to reduce the funds available to finance public services. ALEC also pushes the repeal of state personal and corporate income taxes, which typically provide one-third to one-half of a state’s funding for schools, health care and other services. Finally, ALEC and its supporters fail to acknowledge that public services such as education or infrastructure are important to a state’s long-term prosperity.

Mainstream economic research though, shows that state taxes average less than one percent of a business’ total costs. Extensive economic research indicates that tax-funded public services like education, health, transportation, and public safety are more important for attracting businesses and jobs.  In fact, Paul O’Neill, former CEO of Alcoa and President George W. Bush’s first Secretary of Treasury said: “[As a businessman] I never made an investment decision based on the Tax Code…[I]f you are giving money away I will take it. If you want to give me inducements for something I am going to do anyway, I will take it. But good business people do not do things because of inducements, they do it because they can see that they are going to be able to earn the cost of capital out of their own intelligence and organization of resources.” Robert Ady, of Ady International has assisted in countless business site locations. He says that “subsidies cannot make a bad place good.” Good places are competitive because their long-term business basics (labor, materials, marketing, overhead, and transportation) are solid. As Greg LeRoy, founder and director of Good Jobs First, said in his book The Great American Jobs Scam, “any subsidies are icing on the cake, but the cake is already baked.”

Yet, Governor Ducey insists on following the ALEC playbook with his plan to eliminate state income tax. During his gubernatorial campaign, he promised not to postpone a $225 million corporate tax cut to be phased in over three years. To the Arizona Tax Research Association, Ducey bragged about signing legislation to index the state’s income tax brackets ensuring salary increases that don’t outpace inflation don’t bump earners into higher tax brackets. Ducey claimed it was “an important first step in our mission to reduce income taxes in the State of Arizona every year.”

Stay tuned for the second half of this post in which I’ll explain why I claim Governor Ducey’s promise to lower taxes is a lie. Small spoiler alert…he may be committed to reducing income taxes, but there is WAY more to this story.

Stuck on Stupid

I continue to marvel at narratives that sell despite countering common sense. Take for example, supply-side (some call it trickle-down) economics. The basic theory is that marginal tax rates and less government regulation will help business expand and create more jobs. The Laffer Curve, named after Arthur Laffer, is a central theory of this philosophy and posits that lowering tax rates generates more economic activity eventually leading to more tax revenue. Proponents of this philosophy include the Koch-brothers-financed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board. They claim that the nine states without personal income taxes are outperforming the rest of the states and that their success can be easily replicated in those states that abandon their income tax.   The non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) however, says that Laffer focused on “blunt aggregate measure of economic growth” to support his contention. The truth says ITEP, is that states with personal income tax, even those with the highest rates, are experiencing as good, or better, economic conditions than those without. Still, there are plenty of examples of governors who insist on leading their states down the proverbial rabbit hole.

When Governor Sam Brownback took the reins in Kansas, he dropped the top income-tax rate by 25%, lowered sales taxes and created a huge exemption for business owners filing taxes as individuals. Brownback claimed the tax plan was a “real live experiment” in supply-side economics, one that would spur investment, create jobs and bolster the state’s coffers through faster growth. He followed this course despite warnings from Traditional Republicans for Common Sense, a group of 55 former Kansas GOP legislators who opposed the tax cuts, saying they would “create a $2.7 billion deficit within five years.” Now, five years after doubling down, his state lags in job creation, tax revenue is far short of expectations and bond and credit ratings have been downgraded. Rating agencies claimed the tax breaks were unsustainable and that the promised economic growth would be elusive.

In Oklahoma, Governor Mary Fallin and the GOP-led Legislature enacted a quarter-point reduction in the top income tax rate two years ago and corporate tax breaks when oil crude prices were riding high. Now they are in a slump and it is driving up unemployment and forcing major layoffs.   Representative Scott Inman, (D) said: “We didn’t create the proper tax structure to protect us from this type of boom-and-bust cycle.” Likewise, Oklahoma’s Republican Treasurer Ken Miller, who advocates for revenue-neutral tax cuts, blamed his GOP colleagues for the “self-inflicted” crisis. Miller said: “Common sense dictates that until the state proves it can live within its means, it really should stop reducing them, yet some ‘thinkers’ continue to advocate eliminating the state income tax – even arguing that the state’s largest funding source and be vanished without a replacement and still fund needed teacher pay raises.”

In Wisconsin, Governor Walker enacted several permanent tax cuts just as the national recession ended and state revenues began to climb. His speech this year to ALEC was all about how his “big, bold reforms took the power out of the hands of big government special interests.” What he didn’t say is that his reforms produced only about half of the jobs he promised and resulted in delayed debt payments and deep cuts to education to balance the budget. Despite his real track record, Walker continues to promote the Laffer Curve economics, renaming it “Kohl’s Curve” to sell the idea of deep discounts (tax cuts) and the volume (business expansion and jobs) it drives. In contrast, Minnesota’s Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, who took office at the same time, raised taxes on upper income earners, closed corporate tax loopholes and invested in education and infrastructure. Now, according to U.S. News and World Report, Minnesota has outperformed Wisconsin on job creation, has lower unemployment and is a higher ranked place to live.

In North Carolina, with all three branches of government now securely under GOP control, money saved from cutting safety net programs wasn’t reinvested into education, job training or infrastructure, but given to the wealthy and corporations in the form of tax breaks. In September, the NC legislature signed a budget into law that provides $400 million in income tax cuts to be offset by taxes on repair, installation and maintenance services.   Alexandra Sirota, who studies tax policy for the NC Justice Center said the affect of the lower taxes “is a huge revenue loser” and that “the revenue losses aren’t fully accounted for in the next few years.” The NC Policy Watch has identified five reasons why NC’s tax cut plan is bad for the state and they all boil down to the fact that it will lose revenue, support corporations over citizens, and won’t improve the state’s economy.

Arizona’s Governor Ducey is following North Carolina’s lead in following the ALEC playbook with his plan to eliminate state income tax despite schools struggling to recover hundreds of millions in state aid they lost during the recession. During his gubernatorial campaign, he promised not to postpone a $225 million corporate tax cut to be phased in over three years. To the Arizona Tax Research Association, Ducey bragged about signing legislation to index the state’s income tax brackets ensuring salary increases that don’t outpace inflation don’t bump earners into higher tax brackets. Ducey claimed it was “an important first step in our mission to reduce income taxes in the State of Arizona every year.”

Most of these states are awash in red ink, and they aren’t the only ones. GOP governors of at least a dozen states are facing deficits of hundreds of millions or even billions which, despite campaigning on fiscal responsibility, is forcing them to slash spending, increase financial burdens on the poor and get creative in spinning their state’s status. At the root of it all are ALEC’s questionable economic and fiscal assumptions and faulty analysis. Specifically, these policies include deep cuts in income taxes, particularly for affluent households and corporations; a repeal of state income and estate taxes; and a shift in state revenues from graduated-rate income taxes to sales taxes that are much higher than what exist today. They also include the end of various state-based tax credits for low-income working families; a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) that would impose rigid constitutional limits on state revenues and spending; requirements that state legislatures garner two-thirds or other “super-majority” votes to raise any taxes or fees; and other mechanisms to reduce the funds available to finance public services. ALEC also pushes the repeal of state personal and corporate income taxes, which typically provide one-third to one-half of a state’s funding for schools, health care and other services. Oil-rich Alaska is the only state to repeal its income tax thus far, but in 2012, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri saw major efforts to do so, and Louisiana, Nebraska, North Carolina and South Carolina are looking at doing the same. Finally, ALEC and its supporters fail to acknowledge that public services such as education or infrastructure are important to a state’s long-term prosperity. Rather, they, like conservative Heritage Foundation chief economist Stephen Moore, give credit to the Laffer Curve strategy for the strong, long period of prosperity achieved by GOP hero Ronald Reagan. Economist Paul Krugman though, says the rapid growth during the Reagan years was driven more by conventional Keynesian deficit spending than by tax rate reductions.

The truth might be somewhere in between, but it cannot be argued that the middle class has been squeezed in the process. Since Reagan took office in 1981, the lower class has increased by three percent, the middle has shrunk by 9% and the upper class has grown by four percent. In that 70% of the U.S. economy comes from personal consumption, more wealth in fewer hands at the top keeps growth weak.

That’s one reason why Thomas Piketty in his 2014 best-selling tome “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, advocates a return to the good old days of 70 percent tax rates on the rich. Likewise, a paper by MIT Professor Emeritus of Economics Peter Diamond and Professor of Economics at UC Berkley Professor Emmanuel Saez concluded the revenue maximizing federal income tax rate for top earners is 76%. Even Pope Francis joined the fray by writing that supply-side theories are unconfirmed by facts and rely on “a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the socialized workings of the prevailing economic system.” One might even be prompted to ask if congressional majority Republicans were “spin doctoring” when they fired Former Congressional Budget Office chief Douglas Elmendorf, last for scoring federal spending cuts as negatively affecting future budgets versus as stimulating the economy. They evidently wanted someone who would better implement “dynamic scoring”, a tool that would produce a more favorable analysis of their tax reform legislation.

GOP refusal to keep an “honest broker” as the head of the CBO is telling, as is the fact that although ALEC touts that state corporate tax cuts are critical to encouraging business and boosting the economy, mainstream economic research shows that state taxes average less than one percent of a business’ total costs. Extensive economic research indicates that tax-funded public services like education, health, transportation, and public safety are more important for attracting businesses and jobs.  In fact, Paul O’Neill, former CEO of Alcoa and President George W. Bush’s first Secretary of Treasury said: “[As a businessman] I never made an investment decision based on the Tax Code…[I]f you are giving money away I will take it. If you want to give me inducements for something I am going to do anyway, I will take it. But good business people do not do things because of inducements, they do it because they can see that they are going to be able to earn the cost of capital out of their own intelligence and organization of resources.” Robert Ady, of Ady International has assisted in countless business site locations. He says that “subsidies cannot make a bad place good.” Good places are competitive because their long-term business basics (labor, materials, marketing, overhead, and transportation) are solid. As Greg LeRoy, founder and director of Good Jobs First, said in his book The Great American Jobs Scam, “any subsidies are icing on the cake, but the cake is already baked.”

In this, as with any debate, it is possible to find a source to support any point of view. For me it is really this simple…does it make sense that you would tax the poor more to provide tax relief for the rich? Does it make sense that corporations are lured to locate in a state so they can pay even less than the under one percent they generally pay in corporate taxes? Or, does it make more sense that corporations are savvy and look at a variety of indicators to determine where to locate such as the quality of local schools, availability of a quality workforce, or a solid infrastructure? One doesn’t need to be a genius to understand basic economic concepts, all it really takes is a little common sense. A strong middle class is the best path to prosperity for our communities and our nation and economic policies that support its growth are the solution. Our tax policies should incentivize the behavior we need for the health of our communities, states and nation, not for the enrichment of a few. Finally, business definitely has a critical role to play, but so does government. It should ensure we are provided the basic essentials of safety, security, infrastructure and education and our tax policies should ensure sufficient revenue to do that properly.

No one party has the right answer here and there is no one right solution. It takes a smart application of available tools, wise employment of lessons learned and yes, a whole lot of common sense. Alas, as Voltaire is credited with saying in the early 1700’s: “Common sense is not so common.”

AZ Public Education Funding is Far From Fixed!

Unless you’ve had your head under a rock, you’ve probably heard the Prop. 301 Inflation Funding lawsuit has been settled.  As with any compromise, no one got everything they wanted and there is still plenty of concern about various parts of the agreement. One of the more contentious is the Governor’s plan to increase the withdrawal percentage on the State Trust Lands Fund. AZ’s state treasurer, Jeff DeWitt, does not concur with any plan to pull more than 3.75 percent out per year, the Governor’s plan calls for 6.9 and will, says DeWitt, significantly reduce the amount of money available for public education down the road.

Public education supporters would certainly have liked to receive all districts were legally due. But, I’m guessing they just wanted to get what they could and move on. The harm though is that this agreement has proven to the AZ Legislature they can defy the people’s mandate and court orders with little impunity. I am guessing they will feel emboldened by the compromise reached, which because of all the loopholes they’ve put into place doesn’t really cost them anything in terms of doing whatever they want in the long run.

Secondly, I fear the settlement of the inflation lawsuit will convey to the public that public education funding has been fixed in Arizona. This is far from the truth, but with 45 districts’ bonds or override requests on the ballot this November, anything that drives doubt in the mind of the voters about the need could be very damaging.[i] Never mind the fact that it was the AZ Legislature that caused the necessity for local funding in the first place. After all, the Legislature made Arizona first in the nation in public education funding cuts since 2008 and these cuts just shifted the tax burden the local level in the form of bonds and overrides.   Unfortunately, this type of funding provides very little stability due to voter whim and is not the solution. An example is the Oracle School District override continuation that failed in 2013 by only 62 votes, costing the District $140,000 in funding the next year. Fortunately, the continuation passed in 2014, but numerous have had multiple years of failed override initiatives.

A big part of the problem is political. The Republican Party of Maricopa County recently announced their opposition to all 28 ballot initiatives in the Phoenix Valley, claiming that districts haven’t been fiscally responsible.[ii]  This allegation just isn’t true, as annual Auditor General Audits prove. Our public districts have also worked very hard to become more efficient and according to the AZ Office of the Auditor General 2014 report, administrative costs continue to decline. Yes, costs for plant operations, food service and transportation increased slightly,[iii] but with only two percent of the funding requirement provided for facility renovations and repairs between 2008 and 2012, increased expenses can be no surprise.

Of course, this is about much more than just our public schools. It is about an assault on our communities, our way of life and our very democracy. As Garrison Keillor said: “When you wage war on the public schools, you’re attacking the mortar that holds the community together. You’re not a Conservative, you’re a vandal.” No offense meant to our GOP brethren who support public education.

Arizona’s school children need your support on November 3rd. Six straight years of state cuts to education combined without success in seeking locally approved funding have led four school funding referendums on the ballot in Pinal County this year. Apache Junction is seeking an M&O Override for 15 percent, J.O. Combs Unified is pursuing a bond measure for $40 million, and Florence Unified and Coolidge Unified are seeking a consolidation/boundary change. Each one of these measures is critical to providing their students the opportunities they deserve. Each of these is in fact, critical to moving our communities, our county and our state forward.

Apache Junction has been forced to operate without override funds since 2010 and J.O. Combs has been unable to pass an override continuation for three years resulting in a loss of $2 million. The Florence and Coolidge Unified consolidation/boundary change will decrease the tax rate for CUSD, provide necessary classroom space for FUSD, provide more efficient use of taxpayer monies. Tax payer monies will be saved because FUSD will accept $16 million in CUSD debt bringing three schools and 40 percent of San Tan Valley area, vs. laying out $60 million for a new high school. These ballot measures make sense, are about our children, and make long-term best interest for the voter.

Now it is up to you. Ensure you are registered to vote, get informed and then actually vote. If not for Arizona’s children, then for yourself. Arizona can’t compete if our students can’t compete. Our students can’t compete if their teachers are underpaid, their schools are poorly maintained and their technology is yesterday’s. Today’s students, are tomorrow’s leaders, whether they are ready or not.   Let’s ensure they are ready!

[i] http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/education/2015/10/28/many-arizona-school-bond-override-races-face-polarized-voters/74416714/

[ii] http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/education/2015/10/28/many-arizona-school-bond-override-races-face-polarized-voters/74416714/

[iii] http://www.azauditor.gov/sites/default/files/AZ_School_District_Spending_FY2014_State_Pages.pdf

Ed Feulner and your Heritage Foundation, me thinks thou protesteth too much…

Nothing like some conservative propaganda first thing in the morning to get a liberal’s blood flowing. Yesterday morning, my Google alert on Arizona public education sent me a commentary from “The Daily Signal” which is the multimedia news organization of The Heritage Foundation. I try to be well read, especially on matters of public education, but I also know the source is important. So, I noted this commentary was 1) written by Ed Feulner who for 36 years, served as president of The Heritage Foundation and “transformed the think tank from a small policy shop into America’s powerhouse of conservative ideas”; 2) was originally published in the Washington Times; and 3) The Heritage Foundation (a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, touts itself as “the trusted conservative leader” and probably more telling, has endorsements by Senator Ted Cruz, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on its website home page.

Okay, so this is a commentary from a hard-core conservative. That got me thinking about what being a conservative really means. Wikipedia says conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes retaining traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. It also says that there is no single set of policies that are universally regarded as conservative, because the meaning of converts depends on what is considered traditional in a given place and time. According to Merriam-Webster.com, conservative describes someone who: believes in the value of established and traditional practices in polities and society and is not liking or accepting of changes or new ideas.

It seems to me, somewhere along the line what it means to be a conservative became perverted. Conservatives today seem to be about exploring new ways to do things (when it provides profit), keeping government small and out of business (unless it is the private business of same-sex couples or a woman’s medical choices), and tearing down traditional social institutions (such as public education.)

Mr. Feulner’s commentary makes the point that children deserve more options than just public schools. What our children (all of America’s children) DESERVE, is well-funded, high quality public schools. Thomas Jefferson said, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” Public schools have always been what best served to “educate and inform the whole mass of the people” and even today, in a state that leads the nation in the number of charter schools, a full 83 percent of Arizona’s students attend community public schools. Among the reasons for this is that no matter how much school choice is expanded, choice doesn’t guarantee opportunity or availability and, it is hard for the kids to be the priority when profit is the motive.

I’m on the governing board of a small rural district. Of the 410 students in my district, about 150 students living in our District have opted to exercise their school choice options. The other 410 students that attend our District are either happy with their community school, or they can’t take advantage of the opportunity. It is ironic that those who can’t take advantage of the opportunity are often the same disadvantage students those promoting school choice claim they want to “help.”

Mr. Feulner says that Education Savings Accounts (vouchers) enable families to deposit their children’s state per-pupil” funding in an account that can be used for a variety of education options. Since when did the state per-pupil funding belong to each child? I thought it belonged to all Arizonans collectively. In 2014, the average state and local taxes paid were $5,138. The primary funding source for K-12 education in Arizona is property tax, both at the primary and secondary (where approved) rates. The rest of it comes from the state general fund in the way of equalization funding, where required. The average property tax collection per capita in Arizona was $1,052. The amount deposited in ESA accounts is much more however, than parents pay in “school tax.” The range of funding for ESAs is from $2,000 to $5,500 for non-disabled students, and $2,000 to $30,000 for disabled students. The average ESA funding in 2014-15 was $5,300 per student without special needs and $14,000 when special needs students were factored in. As you can see, it isn’t only the parent’s taxes that provide for the per-pupil funding, the rest of us contributed as well. That’s why I don’t buy the assertion that the funding should follow the child, as if it belongs to them. It doesn’t belong to them or their parents, it belongs to all of us and we deserve transparency and accountability for how it is spent.

In addition to questions as to how my tax dollars are spent, I question the education being offered these students. Yes, unlike when you take your child and educate them with your money (not public tax dollars), I believe I have a legitimate say in what children are taught, when my tax dollars are used to teach them. In community public schools, locally elected school boards provide oversight of District operations and parents and community members are welcome and encouraged to stay tuned into what is taught, how it is taught, and who is teaching it. Locally elected school boards even approve textbooks. This process is not always perfect (such as with the Gilbert School Board recently voting to put abstinence-only avocation stickers in their science textbooks), but at least it is done in the light of day and can be addressed by those in disagreement.

Feulner is incensed that the ALCU is suing Nevada to keep its Education Savings Account law from taking affect. The ALCU says the ESA program “violates the Nevada Constitution’s prohibition against the use of public money for sectarian (religious) purposes.” He makes the point that the ESA funds go from the state to parents, not from the state to religious schools as if this makes all the difference. This is the same logic the Arizona Supreme Court used in legalizing Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (vouchers) in Arizona. Sounds like hair splitting to me.

Then, Feulner cites the example of a legally blind student and his parents used his ESA to provide him a great alternate education and save money for his college as well. Sure there are going to be many examples of how ESA’s serve children, especially those with special needs. I’m not against all use of ESAs, just as I’m not against all charter schools. There are special needs and circumstances these alternatives provide well. But, I don’t buy that ESAs are the best way to educate the majority of our children. I also don’t buy the pretense that this is all about parental choice, saving taxpayer dollars, or improving education. I believe this is about 1) making the education of your child YOUR problem thereby relieving legislators of the responsibility, 2) providing more profit opportunities for private business, 3) hiding conservative education agendas, 4) giving taxpayers less say over how their tax dollars are spent and ultimately, and 5) weakening our democracy.

You might think that tying ESAs to the weakening of our democracy is a bit much. Well, as those who desire to, take advantage of vouchers, they reduce the funding available to our community district schools. As the funding is reduced, more parents will be dissatisfied with the quality of educational opportunity in their public schools and more will leave. Those eventually left in our public schools will be those with no alternative and most likely those of color whom, for the most part, live at the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Our public schools are already experiencing the worst segregation seen since the 1960; it will only get worse.

In addition to the downward spiral of funding school choice forces upon community public schools, those who leave these schools also take with them their parent’s support and involvement. These parents are those who have typically worked for improvement in their community public schools and they are missed when they leave. Local governance (as does our entire democratic process) counts on informed and involved community members. Make no mistake. The war currently being waged on public education is a war on our democracy. As for those who would point out our nation is a republic, not a democracy, I say “get over yourself.” In the United States, we each have a voice and a vote. Assaults on those most precious rights are decidedly “un-American” and “un-patriotic”, and must be met head on.  Oh by the way, did I mention that ESAs (whether they are Education Savings Accounts or Empowerment Scholarship Accounts or vouchers) are one of the primary weapons of the American Legislative Council (ALEC) in their war on public education?  Don’t know what ALEC is?  You should.

We need leaders, not politicians

AZ Senate President Andy Biggs claims more funding doesn’t produce better educational outcomes and points to Washington D.C. as proof. Wow, way to deflect Andy. The truth is, places with high poverty, crime and unemployment often require high per pupil funding to try to deal with these various intersecting complications. We have those places in Arizona too. But, I’m not sure how a subpar return on investment in D.C. education excuses Arizona’s ranking for the lowest per pupil funding in the nation. I also don’t buy that more funding doesn’t make a difference.

Bruce D. Baker, a professor in the Department of Educational Theory, Policy, and Administration in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, says we know the strategies that help close achievement gaps: lower class sizes, a broad curriculum, and the attraction and retention of highly qualified teachers. But, he says, “we can’t get there without stable, adequate, and equitable funding” and claims that approach to closing achievement gaps is “one we’ve never really tried.”[i] Too often, he says, promising efforts are abandoned after the next election cycle. Great sounding campaign promises after all, are much easier to make than real results are to deliver.

Governor Ducey and other Arizona GOP leadership claim they have solutions to provide additional education funding. But, tax increases are definitely not among them. Governor Ducey wants to take money from the sell of state trust lands to generate about $300 more per child. His plan, if approved by voters in 2016, would begin to help in 2017, but only for ten years and some fear it will draw down the trust land monies available for future use. Biggs and House Speaker David Gowan propose asking voters to shift funds from early childhood education programs to K-12 education. They claim that could generate an additional $500 per student on top of the $4,300 the state now provides.[ii]

I am open to learning more about Governor Ducey’s idea, but on the surface it seems like a quick fix that we’ll have to pay for over the long term. Tucson education blogger David Safier points out that Ducey’s roadmap for additional education funding has numerous winding roads with plenty of roadblocks built in.[iii] Let’s just say I don’t plan to hold my breath waiting for this idea to come to fruition. But, you have to admit; it does kind of make the Governor look like he really cares about helping Arizona’s K-12 school children.

As for shifting money from early childhood education programs to K-12, that is a dead on arrival idea for me. Arizona has already cut kindergarten funding in half requiring school districts to fund the other half “out of hide” if they want to provide full-day programs. The state provides zero funding for preschool, despite all the evident that shows it is absolutely critical to improving educational outcomes and success in life. Preschool has been shown results in adults with better jobs, less drug abuse and fewer arrests.[iv] In fact, children who attend preschool, are almost 50 percent less likely to end up in jail or prison by age 40. One researcher at the University of Minnesota said the average cost per child for 18 months of preschool in 2011 was $9,000, but his cost-benefit analysis suggested that led to at least $90,000 in benefits per child in terms of increased earnings, tax revenue, less criminal behavior, reduced mental health costs and other measures.[v] Or, put another way, when it comes to funding preschool, you can pay me now, or pay me later. And believe me, the interest is pretty steep.

As for the idea of going back to the voters to approve either of these plans, let’s just review recent history. The Arizona Legislature referred Proposition to the voters in 2001. The voters approved the proposition and the inflation funding that went with it. The Legislature indicated they understood the voter mandate when they initially appropriated the required funding, but when the recession hit in 2008, they decided to opt out of that pesky little part of the law. Now, the courts have told the Legislature that may not opt out and yet…wait for it….the Legislature still refuses to comply. This, despite a voter mandate, despite court orders, and despite surplus revenue.

Mr. Biggs claims that increased funding is not the answer, and asks “how much is enough?” To answer his question, I say I’m not sure, “but I’ll know it when I see it.” Well, I don’t see it in a per pupil funding of $7,208 (from all sources) against a national average of $10,700. I don’t see it in our having made the highest cuts to per pupil funding since 2008. I don’t see it in our critical teacher shortage, and I don’t see it in facility maintenance and renewal fund that provided school districts only two percent of what were due from 2008 to 2013.[vi]

Finally, to Bigg’s claim that “some schools are excelling, doing an incredibly great job, even with current funding”, yes, our dedicated administrators and educators are doing all they can to do more with less. The situation reminds me of our military troops who would do whatever it took, with whatever they had, to accomplish the mission. Make no mistake, there is eventually a price to be paid. Just like a car can run for a long time without an oil change, problems will develop over time and eventually, the engine will seize up. In our Arizona public school districts, that price is now presenting itself in the form of a critical teacher shortage. With a counselor to student ratio of four times that recommended, it could also come in the form of more serious student behavioral incidents. These are just two examples, there are many more.

Governor Ducey and his GOP led Legislature continue to kick the can down the road while Arizona’s students (through the 6th grade) have never been in a fully funded classroom. Every year the funding is denied is one more year our students are not fully equipped to succeed. And if they aren’t fully equipped to succeed, neither is our state. Whether today’s K-12 students are ready or not, they will be leading tomorrow’s Arizona. Well, unless they had to move out of state to get a decent job because quality companies were too smart to relocate to a state that prioritizes private prisons over preschool. None of this is rocket science, we know what to do. The question is, do our elected leaders have the will to do the right thing and will we hold them to it? Maybe we should all remember this quote by James Freeman Clarke: “A politician thinks of the next election; a leader, the next generation.”

[i] http://educationvotes.nea.org/2015/08/25/5-unavoidable-truths-about-school-funding/?utm_source=EdVotes&utm_medium=email&utm_content=SchoolFunding&utm_campaign=082915EdVotesEmail

[ii] http://tucson.com/news/local/education/coalition-urges-arizona-to-use-budget-surplus-for-education/article_07e0b3d2-98b9-53b3-8221-99f9434c66c9.html

[iii] http://www.tucsonweekly.com/TheRange/archives/2015/09/03/ducey-i-choose-the-school-funding-plan-behind-door-number-two

[iv] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/10/preschool-better-jobs-arrests_n_875036.html

[v] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/10/preschool-better-jobs-arrests_n_875036.html

[vi] http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/arizona-schools-funding-debated.html

Socially Liberal, but Fiscally Conservative

I live in a largely conservative active-adult community where the average age is this side of 65 (I do my part to keep the average on this side.) The other day, for probably the 100th time, someone said to me: “I am socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.”   I’m guessing what she meant was that she supports the idea of “live and let live”, but believes that we (mostly the larger “we”), should live within our means.

What I heard is that she is a nice person, but unlike “real” liberals, she doesn’t believe in giving away the farm. And that, quite frankly, pisses me off. My wife and I are pretty dang liberal, but guess what? We are also retired Air Force Colonels who pay our mortgage, our HOA fees, and our taxes. We, unlike GOP Presidential hopeful Scott Walker, pay our credit card bills off each month because we believe in living within our means.

In other words, we are fiscally responsible. That means we believe in staying out of debt, we believe in saving, and we believe in individual responsibility. At the same time, we are social liberals who believe that some people are born with more advantage than others and that a civil society concerns itself with the common good. Where “fiscal conservatism” is synonymous with classical (or neo-classical) liberalism and advocates small government to allow the exercise of individual freedom, I believe fiscal responsibility doesn’t advocate for smaller government, but an efficient and effective one. Government has an important place in ensuring the common good and it is incumbent upon each of us to ensure it provides what we need at a price we can afford. Isn’t that how we try to manage our personal budgets? We try to get the most “bang for buck” on those things we most need and want.

Many conservatives seem to believe government is evil. The truth is, neither government nor business is inherently good or evil. They each have a role to play in ensuring our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But, motive does matter. Business is in the business of making a profit and that must drive their strategy if they are to survive and prosper. Government is in the “business” of providing for the common good.   Its charge in that regard is to do what is right for the common good without total regard for the “bottom line.”

Social liberals endorse a market economy and the expansion of civil and political rights and liberties. The difference between them and classical liberals is that they believe government has a legitimate role in addressing economic and social issues such as poverty, health care, and education. Under social liberalism, the good of the community is viewed as harmonious with the freedom of the individual.

Unfortunately, for those of you who say you are “fiscal conservatives” but also “socially liberal”, I say get real. You can’t legitimately claim you are in support of those in our society who are disadvantaged in some way and yet be unwilling to do what it takes to help them be equal. It is disingenuous and dishonest. I know the people I’m really trying to reach with this post probably won’t like my using Ellen DeGeneres to support my position, but I believe she said it well. She said: “here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values.”    According to the Dalai Lama, all major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that love, compassion and forgiveness are the important thing and should be part of our daily lives.  Being compassionate is not  a sign of weakness, irresponsible, or unAmerican.  It is the better side of humanity and essential to our harmonious existence and long-term survival.

No New Taxes? Think Again

Governor Ducey continues to stick to his no new taxes mantra but he and his ilk are being disingenuous. While touting lower taxes as the solution to attract business and jobs, he has continued to push costs down to the local levels so corporate tax breaks can continue to be handed out like candy.

One example of this is how the Legislature shifted $47 million of state budget costs to the counties. Pima County was stuck with $23.3 million (49%) of the cost, even though it only has 17% of the state’s population.[i] This is of course, is nothing new, but the scope of shift has been growing.

You may have heard that the legislature has, for some time now, been diverting Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) monies to other purposes while our roads fall into further disrepair. Collected by the state via taxes on motor fuels, and fees and charges relating to the registration and operation of motor vehicles, these revenues are deposited intended for use by the state for highway construction, improvements and other related expenses.[ii] When it is diverted however, taxpayers end up paying the original tax intended to maintain our roads, then are hit again when the money is diverted, leaving them with bad roads which damage their cars and require them to pay for repairs. A double tax anyway you look at it.

The $99 million in cuts to Arizona’s three universities are another example of the Governor’s cost shifts. On top of yearly reductions in state funding, these cuts add to the already 48.3 percent cuts to state spending per higher education students (highest in the Nation) from 2008 to 2014.[iii]  Make no mistake, these students and those of their parents have not decreased, but now, they are also now forced to pay more again for their tuition.

The assault hasn’t only been visited upon higher education, but on K-12 education as well.   The governor and our legislators have cut funding for public education, forcing school districts to make choices that have negative impacts on our children and our future. Budget cuts have caused forty-three Arizona school districts to move from the traditional five-day school week to a four-day week in an effort to cut costs as state support for public education has decreased in the past several years. Today, Arizona districts make up one-third of all the four-day week districts in the nation.[iv] Whatever advantages a four-day school week may offer districts and their employees, it must be recognized that when children are not in school one day per week, their working parents must arrange for child care; another tax of sorts.

The no new taxes pledge sells well; it has popular appeal. It isn’t however, reality and the public needs to wake up and smell the garbage. The slight of hand trick has been working – how much longer it works is up to us.

[i] http://tucson.com/news/opinion/column/guest/state-forced-county-to-raise-your-taxes/article_0e28a776-d1a4-5e2f-b81e-8e08b27f6430.html

[ii] http://azdot.gov/about/FinancialManagementServices/transportation-funding/highway-user-revenue-fund

[iii] http://www.cbpp.org/research/states-are-still-funding-higher-education-below-pre-recession-levels

[iv] http://azednews.com/2015/05/21/four-day-school-weeks-who-uses-them-and-why/

RE: Dem’s criticism of AZ schools called harmful

Wow! Is AZ Senate President Andy Biggs for real? He says the state is now spending more on education than it ever has, but fails to mention that 3 percent increase amounts to 13 percent less because of inflation. He claims AZ provides “a good education,” even though we are ranked 46th in the nation.

He does acknowledge that education “is the first and most legitimate function of government”, but then says the Legislature has lived up to the extent possible given the recession and drop in state revenue.”

Sorry, but you don’t get to have it both ways Andy! Your words make education a “must fund” expense. If education is the first and most legitimate, then it should be fully funded first before other priorities. If there is insufficient revenue to ensure that is possible, then revenue must be raised via any/all means available.

Of course you have not only vowed to not raise taxes, but you and your buddies have repeatedly lowered corporate taxes, many of which haven’t even kicked in yet.

Angry About the Apathy

Ever since election day, I’ve been very frustrated about the low voter turnout. After working very hard on two state legislative campaigns for the better part of a year, it is very disheartening to see how few people really care.  This is somewhat understandable when times are good. But how can the average Arizonan be happy with our current state of affairs?

I have to believe people voted or not based on their perceptions of who can deliver a better result.  “Perceptions” is the key word here.  I just have to say that the Regressives may have their own opinions, but they don’t get to have their own facts. Let’s just take a look at a few the myths they work hard to make us believe:

1. Trickle down hasn’t worked and doesn’t work.  The stats are clear, we have the biggest divide between the rich and poor we’ve ever seen.

2. Today’s wealthiest aren’t by and large job creators.   Hedge fund managers don’t contribute to our country’s economic well-being the way Henry Ford did.

3.  Charter schools and private school vouchers aren’t for the disadvantage children.  The vast majority of them won’t be able to go to them.

4.  Tax cutting our way to success just won’t work. Kansas anyone?

5.  The economy is recovering, but not for the average American and not at the pace it should.  With the wealthiest 40 Americans having more wealth than the bottom half of our population, the few richest just can’t buy enough houses, cars and appliances to move our economic engine forward.

We’ve all heard the saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  Sounds like the AZ legislature in recent years.

But, I place the real blame for our current state of affairs on all those people who didn’t vote.  Many of these same people have the most reason to vote because they are most adversely affected by the trickle down philosophy the Regressives continue to push.  How anyone can believe voting can’t make a difference is beyond me.  Just think if Ron Barber had been successful in convincing only 167 more Democrats in two counties to get up off their butts and vote for him.

Yes, money in politics has always been an issue and now is a very mega major player in our electoral system.  At the end of the day though, each voter owns their own vote to use how they see fit.  If the rich and powerful exert undue influence on any of us, it is our own fault.