Brewer ties school funding to killing tax

Says she'll work for more money, but only if Prop. 204 is defeated
2012-09-22T00:00:00Z 2012-09-24T07:56:39Z Brewer ties school funding to killing taxHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
September 22, 2012 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer said Friday she's willing to work with supporters of Proposition 204 for more money for the classroom, but only after voters kill the initiative.

The governor reiterated her opposition to the ballot measure, which seeks to implement a permanent 1-cent surcharge on the state sales tax, effective the day after the current temporary levy expires. Brewer said she has concerns with the measure, including that it does not guarantee all of the funds for K-12 education will wind up in the classroom.

But the governor acknowledged she believes there needs to be more money for education. And she conceded lawmakers provided only a small fraction of the funds she sought this past session.

So if Proposition 204 were defeated, she would be willing to talk about more funding.

"I will work with everybody," Brewer said. "And I believe that those people that are behind 204, we need to come together, all of us, to come back to the table, sit down and get another proposition or another plan put together that is accountable."

That promise to talk later didn't impress Ann-Eve Pedersen, who is spearheading the initiative.

"The governor had the option to work on putting something else on the ballot," she said.

That alternative would have imposed a 0.8 percent sales-tax surcharge for eight years, the equivalent of about $800 million a year versus the estimated $1 billion Proposition 204 would raise initially.

"She declined," Pedersen said of Brewer's response.

Pedersen said she is unwilling to abandon Prop. 204 now for a vague future commitment.

"We are not going to kick the can down the road without any true assurances that kids are going to be taken care of and the economy's going to be taken care of," she said.

Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson acknowledged his boss is unwilling to even consider any tax proposal, at least not now.

"Governor Brewer doesn't believe it is appropriate to pursue another tax hike when the (temporary 1-cent) tax voters approved in 2010 hasn't even expired," he said. That does not happen until May 31, 2013.

But even then, Benson said, the governor will not commit to discussing future taxes.

"Governor Brewer is focused on making the best possible use of the education dollars we already have at the state's disposal," he said.

When the state faced a $3 billion shortfall, Brewer pushed through a plan to make that up with budget cuts, borrowing and a temporary 1-cent levy.

The result was no funding increase to cover inflation and cuts in state aid.

As the economy improved, Brewer asked for $200 million for books and computers. Lawmakers provided just $15 million for all schools to divide up for all capital expenses.

Her demand for $50 million to fund the new program that requires students to read at a third-grade level before being promoted to fourth grade was shaved by $10 million.

Brewer said Friday that one concern with Proposition 204 is that "it needs to be more clearly defined" where the money will go - guarantees, some of which were included in the alternate plan Brewer rejected.

It spelled out, for example, that money for K-12 education would be earmarked for teacher pay, with some flexibility for better-performing schools to allocate bonuses for teachers whose students show significant academic gains.

Political consultant Charles Coughlin said he worked with Lisa Keegan and Jaime Molera, both former state school superintendents, on behalf of the state Board of Regents to find "a thoughtful education plan that could build on the real reforms that had been passed (in prior years) and place a greater emphasis on performance." The ultimate goal, he said, was to ensure that Arizona public school graduates have the necessary skills to do college-level work.

But he said the measure never got political traction.

Pedersen said her organization never actually got to negotiate about the alternate plan. She also conceded that even if the Legislature had approved it, it might not have derailed the initiative campaign.

One concern, Pedersen said, was whether lawmakers would have the ability to divert existing funding away from schools even as more was being added with the surcharge. And she said her group believes there needs to be a permanent and guaranteed source of money for schools, not subject to annual legislative whims; the proposal would have gone for only eight years.

On StarNet: Read up on the candidates, propositions and issues at azstarnet.com/elections

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