By Nancy Smith
Education funding should be resolved at the state level. It is the state’s responsibility to fund Arizona’s education needs and provide superb education that allows us to compete at the same level in our nation and globally. Pressure should be placed appropriately, at the state level to solve this problem.
There are two methods that would resolve funding education in Arizona without raising property taxes.
1. Transfer federal owned land to Arizona:
In 1914 states were promised that federally owned land would be transferred to the states in which they exist (including surface rights, water, timber and mineral rights). This transfer has not happened in the West states the same as it has in the East states. As an example, in New York 97 percent of lands are under private ownership and generating property tax, and only 17 percent of Arizona lands are in private hands. With this record, is there any doubt as to why Arizona struggles with having the funds for education?
In 2015, some members of the Arizona Legislature met to request the transfer of federal lands to the State of Arizona for long term education funding. If this were to happen, as promised, it would create a larger state land trust and better fund education. Nearly half of the land in Arizona is owned by the federal government and results in a loss of $2 billion per year to taxpayers. If controlled by the state, Arizona would have choices in how to maximize the land to increase funding for education.
2. Arizona State Land Trust:
As we have learned over the past year with Prop 123, Arizona has a State Land Trust where the investments proceeds are used to fund education. What was not mentioned very much during this discussion was Arizona’s own ‘dragging their feet’ to sell land in this trust to put more land into private ownership. Selling land within the state trust would be helpful in two ways; 1) Proceeds of the land sale would increase the value of the State Land Trust allowing for an increase of funding to education. 2) Private ownership increases property tax which could be available for funding education.
These two movements would make a significant change to education in Arizona, far more than an override, without raising property taxes.
I would like to see our school boards, teacher unions and Override committee members participating in the American Lands Council to make these two transfer types happen and putting heavy pressure on our state and federal legislators to make this happen soon. This would be a permanent solution and not one where the public is continually asked to increase their property tax to fund what the state should be already be funding.
I believe our Maricopa City Council should have a liaison participating in the American Lands Council as well. If re-elected, I will volunteer my time to participate in this council and fight for the transfer of federal land in Arizona to the state.
Lastly, when asked whether I support the current MUSD Override at the city council debate, I sincerely answered, informing the public that I have been in discussions with the override chairman regarding some concerns that I and members of the public, who have shared their concerns with me, still have. Answering the current question, “Do you support the Maricopa Unified School District override?” in one word: Undecided.
Nancy Smith is a member of the Maricopa City Council.