Not Fake News, Just Propaganda

Yesterday, a friend emailed me a copy of a Goldwater document that had been placed in all the “mail” boxes at his “Life Plan Community” (retirement/assisted living). The document was titled, “The Truth about Teacher Pay”, and dated April 12, 2018.

Even without the Goldwater logo at the top, I could have easily identified it as a right-wing propaganda piece. In it, the Goldwater Institute Director of Education Policy, Matthew Simon, began by making the point that “though fingers are pointed at state legislatures with calls for higher teacher salaries, the reality is that in many cases, locally elected school district governing boards are responsible for the size of paychecks.” He went on to write that, “independently elected governing boards wield considerable power in their positions by creating policies, crafting school district budgets and setting teacher pay.”

Simon provides a couple of examples of the significant difference in pay between various school districts to make his point. He then writes that, “teachers in Arizona have launched their demands at legislators in a well-coordinated campaign.” Of course, this “well-coordinated campaign”, is just a dog-whistle to infer the big bad “union” is driving the train. Truth is, the #RedForEd effort comes from a grassroots movement. There is no statewide collective bargaining unit in Arizona, because our state is a “Right to Work” state. Which means, employees really have no rights at work.

“If Arizona teachers and the public have a gripe with elected officials”, Simon continued, “the elected officials they should be targeting with this anger need to be their locally elected school district governing boards. When a school district governing board prioritizes teacher pay, teacher pay is higher.”

The problem with Simon’s piece isn’t that it isn’t factual, but rather, that he propagandizes the facts. As defined by Merriam-Webster, is “ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause.” I believe, the “particular political cause” in this case, is to try to take the pressure off the state legislature for their failure to adequately fund public education, and instead, put it on the backs of governing board members. If I wanted to be really cynical, I could say it is just another attempt by the Goldwater Institute and monied out-of-state interests, to force the privatization of our public schools down Arizonans’ collective throats. You know, discredit governing board members and local control and tout that the only way to fix the resulting dysfunction is to turn our kids over to the profiteers.

Yes, it is true that the Arizona Constitution gives school board members the authority to set salaries for their district’s teachers. Arizona Revised Statute 15–341.A.17 states, “The governing board shall: Use school monies received from the state and county school apportionment exclusively for payment of salaries of teachers and other employees and contingent expenses of the district.” The phrase “contingent expenses of the district” however covers a wide range of other costs governing board members must ensure are not only budgeted for and appropriately allocated.

Therein, they say, lies the rub. You see, governing board members can only allocate that which the state Legislature, (which oh by the way, has responsiblity for the “establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system”), provides. In fact, education, along with public safety, roads and infrastructure, is one of the three constitutionally-mandated functions the Legislature is responsible for. Thing is, over the past decade, that has been woefully inadequate. You’ve probably already heard that Arizona had the highest cuts per pupil in the nation, 2008 to 2014, that the average salary of our elementary teachers is 50th in the nation and high school teachers is 49th, and that our capital funding, (for facility maintenance and repair and other big-ticket items like buses), was cut 85% in the last decade. You’ve also probably heard that the Legislature continues to funnel public tax dollars to private and religious schools with almost zero accountability and transparency; passing the full expansion of vouchers for all school children last year.

You may not have heard, that in the past couple of years, two non-partisan, serious studies of education funding determined that there can be no meaningful fix to the way Arizona’s education funding is allocated, until additional funding is resourced. In 2016, the Governor Ducey appointed chair of the Governor’s Classrooms First Council said, “that, ”the schools aren’t going to significantly improve unless they get more money.“ In a previous post, I wrote about the statewide, non-partisan 2017 AZ Town Hall on PreK–12 Education Funding, which determined that the problem is not so much the percentage of the state budget allocated to our districts, but the size of the overall state budget ”pie”.

And yet, Arizona governing board members continue to lead to deliver with the resources they are provided. After Proposition 123 was passed, they ensured 90% of the additional funding was allocated to teachers. Between FY 2015 and FY 2018, they enabled their districts to hire almost 1,800 more full-time equivalent teachers, and raised teacher salaries across the state by an average of $2,044.

Governing board members know that the number one in-school factor for determining student success is a high-quality teacher and with our ongoing critical shortage of teachers, they are eager to incentivize good teachers to stay in their classrooms. But, teachers aren’t the only critical need. After all, when 30% of Arizona buses fail safety inspections, schools are closed for emergency repairs to fix unsafe facility conditions, and some classrooms are forced to use 12-year old computers, governing board members must make tough decisions about resource allocation.

Matthew Simon did not write his piece to inform, but rather, to deflect blame for the funding crisis we find ourselves in. A funding crisis which is largely self-manufactured. Yes, our Legislature also had to make tough calls during the recession in 2008, but “economists say the real culprit is the cumulative impact of two decades of Arizona governors and lawmakers chipping away at the bottom line.” In 2016, tax cuts over that period cost the state’s general fund $4 billion in revenue according to an analysis by economists with Arizona State University. These economists also wrote “More than 90% of the decline in revenue resulted from tax reductions.”

According to an AZ Capitol Times article from May 2017, data compiled by the Arizona Department of Revenue showed that more than 50% of all state taxes hadn’t been collected for at least the past ten years. ‘Called “tax expenditures,” they amount to $136.5 billion since fiscal year 2007, roughly equivalent to the sum of the state budgets spanning the past 15 years.’ In FY 2016 alone, over $12 billion was excluded from sales tax collection. Governor Ducey has continued the trend, vowing (and thus far keeping that promise) to cut taxes every year he is in office.

Governing board members share no more, and no less blame for this situation than does the average voter. After all, they are also voters and the reason our lawmakers have gotten away with pursuing the repeatedly failed “trickle-down” (Kansas anyone?) philosophy is that Arizona voters continue voting the same lawmakers into office. The bottom line is that until voters truly draw the nexus between the results they want and the candidates they elect, we can’t expect any different or better.

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.

 

 

 

 

Definition of Insanity

I recently found myself thinking about the whole idea of “trickle down” economics. Aside from the discussion about whether or not it works, I wondered how the American public ever bought into the idea that we would be satisfied with the crumbs that drop from the table.  Of course, when the term was coined, we were in a time of general economic well-being. In other words, we were all living the good life, so it was easy to convince us the theory worked.

But it doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked in the past and it won’t work in the future. According to Wikipedia, this theory, (also referred to as supply-side economics to make it more palatable to the masses), was referred to in the 1890s by economist John Kenneth Galbraith as the “horse and sparrow” theory. This name came from the idea that “if you fed the horse enough oats, some would pass through to the road for the sparrows.” In other words, forget the crumbs from the table, the masses will only get what’s leftover after processing, and it doesn’t smell good.

Politico Magazine recently published an article by Nick Hanauer called “the Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats. Mr. Hanauer is one of those very wealthy one percenters who calls himself a proud and unapologetic capitalist. He credits much of his success to “a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future.” That intuition served him well when he invested very early on with Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com. The crux of his article is that rich people don’t have any “divine” right to all the spoils and that if they don’t recognize that severe wealth inequity is bad for all, revolution may be inevitable.

Hanauer makes the point that today, the wealthiest are “thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history” and the “divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. Since 1950, CEO-to-worker pay ratio has increased 1,000 percent with CEOs earning 500 times the median wage as opposed to 30 times back then.  Robert Reich’s movie Inequality for All points out that since 1978, 1 percenters’ earnings have gone from eight times that of the average male U.S. Worker to 33 times more. Reich also points out that the “wealthiest 400 people in the country today have more money than the bottom 150 million Americans combined.”

Hanauer goes on to say that “these idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying [his] customer base and that the model for “rich guys” like him should be Henry Ford who figured that if he raised the wages for his employees, they’d be able to afford to buy his Model Ts. Yes, employees are also customers, what a concept! The CEO of COSTCO realizes this and that’s why he pays his employees a living wage as opposed to Wal-Mart who expects the rest of us to pick up the tab for their employees who don’t make enough to live without government assistance. When Hanauer wrote an article called “The Capitalist’s Case for a $15 Minimum Wage in June 2013, Forbes called it a “near insane proposal.” Now though, an analysis at the Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that states that raised their minimum wages are experiencing faster job growth. Business people may “love our customers rich and our employees poor” as Hanauer quips, but a growing economy loves more people with money to spend.

Instead of the failed trickle-down theory, Hanauer advocates “middle-out” economics which refers to the “much more accurate idea of an economy as a complex ecosystem made up of real people who are dependent on one another.” Rich business people aren’t the true job creators he says, but rather, middle-class consumers. Unfortunately, trickle-down economics has shrunk the middle-class so much now that there just isn’t enough purchasing power out there to move our economy forward at a reasonable pace. Rich people just can’t buy enough clothes, cars, houses, etc. to make up for the lack of purchasing power in a robust middle-class.

Honing in on what’s been going on in Arizona over the last several years, it is obvious our political leaders are advocates of trickle-down. The GOP has been in control of the legislature for the past 40 years and their approach has resulted in regressive tax policy or what I’ll refer to as trickle-down budgeting. Yes, instead of the “riches” trickling down to the little people, our legislature has worked hard to ensure the bills do. This is what happens when the state relies heavily on sales tax. This is what happens when the state underfunds public education so that locally controlled funding and contributions must try to make up the difference. This is also what happens when the state sweeps Highway User Revenue funds (HURF) to give corporations tax breaks instead of fixing roads. In the case of bad roads, we pay a double tax. We first pay a tax to maintain the roads and when the money is siphoned-off to be used for other reasons, we pay to get our cars fixed.

AZ Daily Star recently reported that Aruna Murthy, director of economic analysis for the state Department of Administration, called the state’s projected job growth “stagnant, slow, and subpar.” Yet, the 51st Legislature bragged about balancing the budget. Maybe so, but at what cost?  What they really did, was rob Peter to pay Paul, such as when   “they took $53 million from other accounts, like gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees normally earmarked for road construction and maintenance, to help fill the gap. That money will be gone by the end of the coming fiscal year, but the looming budget hole did not stop lawmakers from cutting taxes in the name of economic development.

This, at a time when Arizonans are earning less than they were prior to the recession. Yet, under Governor Brewer, lawmakers voted to cut corporate income tax rates by 30 percent. The full impact of those cuts won’t even hit until 2018, when, according to budget analysts, the net loss to the state will be $270 million a year. Economist Dennis Hoffman, of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said “if tax cuts were the key to prosperity, we would be swimming in a pool of prosperity right now.  We have clearly maximized on the tax-cut train.” Someone please relay that message to the current pool of AZ GOP governor candidates who are vowing to do away with state income tax if elected.

Albert Einstein once said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It is way beyond time for us to demand better than the tired old ideas that don’t work. Two candidates for the Arizona Legislature in LD 11, Jo Holt for the Senate and Holly Lyon for the House, understand we need a new direction. They believe we must begin to invest in Arizona’s long-term health in areas such as public education and infrastructure. These are critical investments that will pay off over the long-term for both Arizona’s citizens as well as quality companies who would consider bringing good paying jobs to our state.

In my experience, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. Arizona simply cannot continue to cut its way to prosperity. In its 2013 Kids Count Databook, the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Arizona 47th in the nation for our children’s welfare which included factors such as economic well-being, education, health and family and community. Not only is it obvious that going down the “trickle-down” rabbit hole is keeping our economy from recovering, but is also ensuring our next generation is handicapped from the get-go.

This November, we’ll get the chance to once again weigh in on what direction Arizona heads. Let’s make informed decisions with the long-term health of our state in mind. You owe it to yourself and to all future generations of Arizonans.