Democratic Education Funding

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House minority leader Eric Meyer talks about the Democrats’ plan to increase education funding.

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TED SIMONS: We've heard the republican legislative plan for education funding in Arizona. Now we turn to the democrats and their ideas. Joining us now is house minority leader Eric Meyer. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

ERIC MEYER: Great to be here again.

TED SIMONS: Give us an overview of the democrats' idea.

ERIC MEYER: I think everyone is in agreement that we are not funding our schools appropriately. We spent the last couple of weeks developing a plan that would put nearly $4 billion into our schools over the course of the next 10 years. We worked with joint legislative budget committee to develop that plan, and it will settle the inflation funding lawsuit, like the voters have requested. And like the courts have ordered. It will use some ongoing funds that have come into the general fund. Some funds that we appropriated last year and make those permanent. And then it will cap the corporate student tuition organization tax credits to private schools where they are today and not allow that to grow at 20% a year.

TED SIMONS: We are continuing $75 million annually. Adding $278 million from the existing surplus. Adding $250 million on going revenue. Where is that money going to come from?

ERIC MEYER: Those numbers are the numbers that we have got now in our hands and the money is in the bank for this year.

TED SIMONS: For this year.

ERIC MEYER: Correct.

TED SIMONS: In the future, where is money going to come from?

ERIC MEYER: $250 million -- ongoing revenues, be there year after year through 2018. We developed a plan based on that. We saw a revenue stream higher than that come in over $300 million. And we're not touching those funds. Only using the ones that are ongoing.

TED SIMONS: Senate president says that these ideas are based on an unrealistic hope for revenue growth, you say.

ERIC MEYER: Absolutely not. I mean, they're the same guise that he uses to draw up his budget ideas. So, this is money that they're saying is going to be there. And we're not making it up. They did the numbers. And beyond that, we don't touch the rainy day fund. It still leaves $460 million in the rainy day fund in case there is a problem, and by budget year 2018, we're still leaving nearly $200 million of surplus there for universities or for department of child safety.

TED SIMONS: Again, governor's office came out and said basically it is a 10-year plan with no way to pay for it.

ERIC MEYER: Well, we have a way to pay for it. Maybe he didn't look at the spreadsheet that we developed, joint legislative budget committee. Those dollars are there. They are sitting in the bank for this year and they are projected to be there for the next two years at least.

TED SIMONS: But when the governor's office says, your plan creates promises that simply can't be kept especially year seven, eight, nine, and 10, is that a valid argument?

ERIC MEYER: Well, none of us have a crystal ball. We can't tell what is going to happen in seven, eight, nine, ten years from now. What I can tell you is that our schools need to be funded. If we don't take these dollars now, if not now, when? When are we going to invest in our schools? We have a surplus. We can do that. We're committed to funding our schools. I would like to see that commitment from my colleagues. The dollars are there. We can put them into the classroom today.

TED SIMONS: What about the idea of boosting the state land trust fund?

ERIC MEYER: This doesn't take that off of the table. We don't use any of those dollars. We live it untouched --

TED SIMONS: You leave it untouched, but what about boosting it like the governor --

ERIC MEYER: Like the governor would like to. Governor's plan -- it creates a funding cliff at the end of five years. If you were on a school board like I was, at the end of five years, suddenly you either have to fire teachers or you can't spend those resources on anything but one-time costs, fixing buildings, technologies and books. So, there needs to be, again, a long-term plan to fund our schools, and the governor's plan could be part of that. But it can't be everything.

TED SIMONS: If it is part of that, are democratic votes there for that plan?

ERIC MEYER: Well, we are in conversations with the governor's office. It depends what that plan would look like potentially. Absolutely. We're always open to talk. I mean, our caucus is committed to doing the right things for the kids, teachers, and schools in our state so is that we can be competitive economically and our kids can be successful.

TED SIMONS: Is that potentially in big bold letters, inflation adjustment suit is settled?

ERIC MEYER: Well, that would definitely help. That would be --

TED SIMONS: That's what I was trying to get to.

ERIC MEYER: That would be a great first step and that would ensure -- we have cut billions of dollars from education funding over the course of the last eight years. Our schools are struggling out there. You know, we're still 49th in per-pupil funding. We have a terrible teacher shortage, and superintendents across the state are having difficulty hiring teachers. Teacher class sizes have gone up significantly to where teachers are teaching 180 or 200 kids coming through the classroom everyday. We can't be successful as a state if we do not invest in our kids, which ultimately go into our work force to create jobs here in Arizona.

TED SIMONS: I imagine you're not too keen on sweeping funds from first thing first.

ERIC MEYER: We tried that before and as I recall, it didn't go so well.

TED SIMONS: Right.

ERIC MEYER: You know, both of these plans require voter approval. The plan we're proposing doesn't. It actually meets the voters criteria to fund education.

TED SIMONS: And, yet, is your plan politically viable? I mean, it is one thing to draw things out.

ERIC MEYER: It is the question of the day. Everybody asks is it politically viable? If I had been asked could we pass Medicaid expansion here in Arizona prior to it passing, people would have said crazy idea. But it passed with a bipartisan effort and a governor who signed it into law. So, I have hope that we will do the right thing for our state and invest in our kids.

TED SIMONS: Thank you for joining us. Good to have you here.

ERIC MEYER: Great to be here. Thank you.

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