Journalists’ Roundtable: Teacher protests, Prop 123, Clean Elections Commission

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In another edition of the Journalists’ Roundtable, guests discuss the possibility of a teachers’ strike, a judge’s view of Prop 123, the Clean Elections Commission and another harassment investigation taking place at the capitol.

Teachers Demand Pay Increase

Thousands of teachers clad in red came out to the capitol once the school day was at an end to demand a 20 percent pay raise. Their message to the legislature: No more tax cuts until teacher wages are fixed.

“That’s a big price tag,” Bob Christie of the Associated Press says. “It would cost $680 million to give all the teachers a 20 percent pay raise. They’re giving them a 15 or 18 percent raise in Oklahoma. West Virginia only got five. They promised them more next year. What we got from the governor yesterday after the rally was ‘I trust teachers, I love teachers, but we’re sticking with our budget which is one percent.'”

There’s the argument that the state just doesn’t have the money to support that kind of demand. On the other hand, there’s the possibility of increasing the sales tax within Prop 301. That sales tax was recently renewed, but only to keep things where they are.

“Two weeks ago I probably would’ve said [a teacher strike] is not likely, but things are changing a lot here,” Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times says. “Oklahoma is passing a tax hike to pay for these teachers’ raises after the strike. This isn’t a blue state. They’re probably as conservative of a state as Arizona, if not more so. There’s now more national attention on Arizona and these teachers here.”

Mary Jo Pitzel of the Arizona Republic predicts lawmakers won’t see to their demands. She says they’re going to push for the idea of waiting for the economy to grow before they put more money into education. However, those funds are already meant to be paid back into the education system, not necessarily into teacher salaries.

Judge: Prop 123 Violates Federal Law

Passed in 2016, Prop 123 increased the total state land trust distribution from 2.5 percent to 6.9 percent. In order to settle a five-year lawsuit, it was designed to infuse an estimated $3.5 billion into the public education system over the course of ten years.

Treasurer Jeff DeWit, a federal judge and other critics of the proposition argue that it violates federal law. The judge’s decision raises the question of whether the state will have to repay $344 million or more taken from the state land trust to fund education.

“The judge can’t order an immediate repayment, what he can order is you have to subtract that from your ongoing payments regardless,” Christie says. “It would cut the revenue stream.”

Clean Elections Commission Targeted

Voters will have to make a decision on whether or not to change the Clean Election rules. The vote will contain three changes. One will bar any payments from candidates to the political parties. A second would allow the governor’s regulatory review counsel to review new regulations. The third would change the payment structure and how much can be given to candidates.

The second part stirs more than a little bit of controversy. The Clean Elections Commission has always been an independent entity. If approved, this decision would move the control of Clean Elections from the commission to the governor.

Duda says the vote simply comes down to Clean Elections and enforcement authority.

Another Harassment Investigation at the Capitol

The year has already seen the expulsion of Don Shooter following sexual harassment allegations. The House is in the process of creating a code of conduct that will explain what is and isn’t tolerated as a representative. Shooter’s investigation ended with claims that a lobbyist, Brian Townsend, may have broken the law by sending inappropriate messages.

It’s been reported that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is going forth with an investigation dealing with the House’s sexual-harassment probe.

“It’s like high school,” Christie says. “There’s a lot that happens behind the scenes. There are a lot of whispers, but you have no confirmation so the rumors don’t stop spreading.”

Mary Jo Pitzl: Arizona Republic
Bob Christie: Associated Press
Jeremy Duda: Arizona Capitol Times

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