A November ballot measure may make Arizona’s sales tax the second highest in the country by extending a 1-cent increase passed by voters in 2010 to fund state education deficits.
Proposition 204 would provide funds to create a state-based financial aid system for Arizona’s three public universities and provide some funding to ASU, NAU and UA based on Arizona Board of Regents standards.
The Arizona Education Association, the Arizona Students’ Association and others are pushing for renewing the 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax to help bridge funding deficits as a result of steep cuts to Arizona’s education system. The state has decreased per pupil spending by about 20 percent and ended a program that provided pre-kindergarten to residents, among other cuts.
Gov. Jan Brewer and other supporters of Proposition 100, passed in a 2010 special election by 64 percent, are not in favor of extending the tax increase permanently.
The legislature expects the tax to raise about $971 million in the first year. About 80 percent of the money raised by the tax will go toward education programs. The other 20 percent will go toward transportation such as road construction and human services programs such as health care.
Supporters of the proposition said this measure is necessary to create a sustained funding source for Arizona education.
Anthropology graduate student Rhian Stotts, Graduate and Professional Student Association president, said GPSA supports the proposition because it will provide more funding for education and protect the system from more legislative cuts.
The funds raised by Proposition 100 were “not always used in the way voters expected it to be used,” Stotts said.
Unlike Proposition 100, where the revenue of the sales tax was placed into the state’s general fund, Proposition 204 creates a separate fund for the sales tax revenue where it cannot be touched by the Arizona Legislature.
The state-based financial aid system created under the permanent sales tax would fund merit- and need-based scholarships to students at all three public universities.
The state will be able to provide $150 million dollars of financial aid in addition to the money provided by the federal government to students in the form of Pell grants and loans.
“(The GPSA is) excited about the possibility of a state financial aid system,” Stotts said.
Other portions of the funds will go to tuition and facility and services improvements.
Arizona Students’ Association board member Megan Riley, a political science junior, said the ASA supports Proposition 204 because it will provide a steady funding source for higher education.
The proposition also protects higher education from further budget cuts by the Legislature, stipulating that per-year funds not decrease below current levels.
“(The) Legislature cannot cut education beyond a certain threshold,” Riley said.
The education system will start seeing benefits nearly immediately, Riley said.
“Next semester, students won’t see tuition increases,” Riley said.
ASA spokesman Dan Sullivan said the tax will generate up to $300 million for university students.
“If (the proposition) is not renewed, education will continue to be cut,” Sullivan said.
Groups opposing Proposition 204 said it is not the answer to education reform.
Arizona Treasurer Doug Ducey, leader of the opposition campaign “Vote No on Prop 204,” said he does not support the ballot measure because the tax will ruin the state financially.
“Proposition 204 is … a terminal sales tax increase that will devastate the economy of Arizona by making it the second-highest sales tax state in the country,” Ducey said.
Instead, Ducey said the state should use the $9,200 per pupil it already spends to fund teacher evaluations, and reading and curriculum reforms.
He said reforming the education system rather than increasing funding would improve Arizona education.
Political science junior Dylan Langley, vice president of conservative campus group Young Americans for Freedom, said they oppose the proposition because it does not ensure accountability for academic improvement.
“You can throw money all you want … (but) generally it’s not money that is the problem,” said Langley.
He said Chicago pours money into its school systems, yet they are still struggling with academic achievement.
Although Langley agrees that education needs funding, he said the proposition has flaws.
Proposition 204 stops legislators from being able to adjust the tax if circumstances change, and locks the Arizona tax code for 17 years, Langley said.
Instead, the legislators should use the $450 million state surplus for education, he said.
At the university level, Langley said there is no way to know how universities will spend the money.
“No one holds universities accountable for tuition,” Langley said.
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