By Hollace Lyon
You’ve probably heard about the recent increase in secondary property tax rates in Maricopa as a result of the Legislature’s change to desegregation-related school funding. There’s been a lot of good talk about the merits of the funding, but I’d like to talk about process and priorities.
I believe real fiscal responsibility means not only protecting taxpayer dollars, but actually providing taxpayers what they are paying for, and that’s been a chronic problem with our Legislature. Yes, we should care whether the deseg dollars are being spent wisely, but we should also care that all students have an opportunity for equity and access. To that end, I’d rather see our Legislature stop encouraging the siphoning away of over $1 billion in vouchers and private school tax credits with no accountability, instead of chasing down $200 million state-wide in desegregation funds. How about taking a serious look at the almost $14 billion in annual tax giveaways increased every year since the 1990s, now nearly 1.5 times the state budget.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe there are legitimate reasons for tax incentives. But those incentives should deliver a return on investment— a principle that should guide our expenditure of all precious taxpayer dollars.
Instead, Senator Steve Smith decries desegregation funds as “unfair to taxpayers.” What is “unfair to taxpayers” is diverting the funding they pay to improve schools and roads, not fixing those schools and roads, and then forcing the counties and cities to raise more taxes to actually get it done. Prop. 301 inflation funding and Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) monies are just two examples. Another is the Legislature’s “funneling of $25 million away from our 911 center fund” and, you guessed it, forcing funding responsibility down to localities. You’re now paying twice for the same service. Maricopa Councilwoman Nancy Smith noted recently, “I have a big concern with the common practice that our legislators have of balancing the budget on the backs of cities and counties,” when she was talking about yet another example.
Rather than looking for more ways to cut funding to our district schools, state lawmakers ought to be finding ways to provide them stable, dedicated funding. After all, one of their primary constitutional responsibilities is to “provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system” across the state. Yes, they must also balance the budget. But they have many tools at their disposal without continually shifting costs down onto the backs of our small businesses and citizens, the ones who ultimately end up paying for it.
Imagine if instead of dictating from on high, our state lawmakers believed in collaborating with schools districts, cities, and counties. Imagine, if they did their jobs without concern for who got the credit. Imagine…then vote with that end in mind. Rewarding their behavior just emboldens it. Send them the signal that it’s time for a new approach.
Hollace Lyon is a Democrat candidate for LD11 House of Representatives.