Those for and against extending a 1 percent sales tax increase originally approved in 2010 debated and answered questions on the ASU Tempe campus Monday night.
Ann-Eve Peterson, chairwoman of the Quality Jobs and Education Committee and president of the Arizona Education Network, argued in support of Proposition 204, while Arizona Treasurer Doug Ducey, leader of the campaign “Vote No on Prop. 204,” represented the opposition.
If passed in November, Proposition 204 is expected to generate $971 million in the first year.
About 80 percent of the revenue would go to education, and the other 20 percent would fund transportation infrastructure and human services programs.
The tax would provide $150 million for a state-based financial aid system for Arizona’s three public universities and additional funds for NAU, UA and ASU based on standards set by the Arizona Board of Regents.
Only 13 people attended the event at the Memorial Union, so moderator Leezie Kim decided to have a more informal discussion and opened the debate to questions from audience members after both speakers gave opening statements.
Peterson said Proposition 204 should be passed because the state Legislature has repeatedly failed to prioritize funding education.
“Their track record is just abysmal,” Peterson said.
Proposition 204 creates a dedicated funding source for education that cannot be influenced by the Legislature, she said.
“We cannot leave this in the hands of the politicians,” Peterson said.
Ducey said the proposition would make Arizona’s sales tax the second highest in the nation while not providing any actual reforms to the education system.
“(The proposition) will not improve outcomes in the classroom,” he said.
The bill uses the same formula as prior education bills that have not succeeded in creating any change or improvement, Ducey said.
As the discussion progressed, the speakers focused on two main arguments.
Ducey said there is enough money in the Arizona budget to fund education, so the system needs reform instead of additional funding.
Instead of imposing another tax to fund education, the Legislature should work to implement reforms, he added.
The state’s operating account has $1.2 billion and $450 million in reserves, Ducey said. If education needs more funding, it should be taken out of these accounts, he said.
Peterson said there are already many educational reform programs in place, but they have not received adequate funding from the Legislature.
“We are very disappointed by the Legislature,” she said.
Even though there is a state surplus, the Arizona Legislature refused over the summer to allocate enough money for textbooks in K-12 classrooms, Peterson added.
“We do not have the money for our classrooms because the legislature has removed it,” Peterson said.
Ducey posed the argument that the high sales tax will create an unfriendly business environment and stifle economic growth.
“We will not be the land of opportunity,” Ducey said.
The sales tax burdens students and the middle class, he said.
Peterson said the poor quality of Arizona’s education harms the state’s economy.
Google planned to start a branch in Arizona, but pulled out when it could not find enough qualified employees living in or willing to move to the state, she said.
“Clearly, the 1 cent (sales tax) is not what’s devastating our economy,” Peterson said.
Electrical engineering sophomore Patrick Morales, attended the debate because he works with the Arizona Students’ Association, which supports the initiative.
“It will help low-income students at the university level,” he said.
This debate is the first in a series ASU is hosting about the propositions that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Another debate on Proposition 204 will be held Wednesday on the Polytechnic campus, and a debate on open-primary initiative Proposition 121 will be held at the Memorial Union Thursday night.
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