Cuts to education anticipated despite Prop 100 passage

Despite the passage of a special election ballot measure meant to aid the state’s education system, large budget cuts appear to still be on the table.

In May, voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 100, a measure that increased the state’s sales tax by 1 cent for the next three years. The tax, which passed with 64 percent of the vote, took effect June 1.

The measure stated that two-thirds of the revenue would go directly to the state’s education system.

State Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, said further cuts to education are inevitable. Verschoor is the chairman for Ax the Tax Arizona, a committee that opposed Prop 100.

“Just because this proposition was passed doesn’t mean there won’t be more budget cuts to education,” he said.

Verschoor said the tax has brought in less revenue than many expected since people stopped spending as much when the tax increased.

Preliminary estimates for first quarter sales tax revenue are $44 million below predictions, according to a report released Wednesday by the state’s finance advisory committee.  Fiscal year 2011 began July 1, one month following the implementation of the 1-cent tax.  First quarter predictions are based on finalized numbers for July and August and preliminary projections for September.

Several advocates for the proposition gave the false impression that the law would prevent any further cuts to education, but this was not accurate, Verschoor said.

Elma Delic, board chair of the Arizona Students’ Association, a group that supported the tax increase, said the organization was aware that more cuts to education were possible even with the proposition’s passage.

ASU President Michael Crow said in a meeting with The State Press editorial board that the Legislature has been hinting that cuts are on the way.

“They’ve been sending certain signals to us, asking us to get ready to prepare for additional cuts,” he said.

Additional cuts to the education budget will bring forth further predicaments to ASU, Crow said.

“We have a mega-problem,” he said. “We have $50 million of stimulus funding from the federal government propping the University’s budget up that goes away at the end of this academic year.”

Further cuts, accompanied by the absence of the stimulus money, may cause tuition to increase more than originally expected, Crow said.

“We have to replace [the stimulus funds] with tuition,” Crow said. “That’s all the tuition we wanted to ask for. We just wanted to ask just for the replacement of the stimulus funding. Nothing else. But if we have the stimulus funding that has to be replaced and there’s another budget reduction, now you got big problems.”

Freshman tuition increased by nearly 20 percent this year, and by about 13 percent for continuing in-state students.

Crow said tuition at ASU will still remain below the national average, even if it is increased due to the cuts.

Prop 100 was not the absolute cure for the state’s budget crisis. However, it did provide some help, said Elma Delic, board chair of the Arizona Students’ Association.

“There will still be some pretty detrimental cuts,” Delic said.

The cuts to education would be much worse if Proposition 100 was not passed, she said.

ASA is an organization that lobbies on behalf of ASU, UA and NAU students. The organization will continue to fight for more affordable education, despite the budget cuts and potential tuition increase, she said.

ASA will be campaigning heavily for students to elect officials in November who truly care about education, Delic said.

“If we elect people who value education, then these severe cuts won’t happen,” she said.

Crow said he will also be pushing to keep the cuts as minimal as possible.

“We think it’s a very, very strategically poor decision to cut education funding at the moment that education is most important for our economic recovery,” Crow said.

“I want to make sure [the Legislature] live[s] up to the commitment of what Prop 100 was originally for,” he said. “Prop100 said no more additional cuts to education. In my view, the people have spoken. They don’t want education cut.”

Reach the reporter at cottens@asu.edu