Journalists’ Roundtable: Teacher walkout ends, education budget, income tax initiative

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In this installment of Journalists’ Roundtable, local reporters discuss the ending of the teacher walkout, the sustainability of the budget, the possible political fallout from the walkout and the income tax initiative.

Teacher walkout ends

Not many people expected Arizona teachers to follow West Virginia and Oklahoma and really walk out of their classrooms. Dianna Nañez from The Arizona Republic says the only people who probably did see the potential for a walkout were the teachers themselves.

The last teacher strike in Arizona was in Sierra Vista in 1980. The teachers went out, the board ignored them and they went back to class. A teacher walkout, especially one that lasted a week, wasn’t predicted by anyone.

Governor Doug Ducey originally proposed a one percent increase in teacher pay before the walkout. He publicly called the walkout “political theater” and was firm on not raising it above the one percent. Then he received economic news that allowed him to propose a higher increase with the revenue generated by a successful economy. A budget passed on Thursday that plans for a 20 percent teacher salary increase in the next three years using funds from the economy and a new vehicle registration fee. However, teachers feel it isn’t enough.

“Teachers are pretty adamant about the fact that they didn’t get what they wanted,” Nañez says. “As a matter of fact, one of the things that they really tried to push out there in this past week was, how many times do I have to tell you it’s not just about raises.”

Teachers also called for no more new tax cuts until the spending per pupil reached the national average. They also wanted more education funding for their support staff, curriculum, technology and infrastructure. However, they are getting much more than they were initially told, so they are still considering that as a win.

The budget package was mainly passed by Republicans with only four votes from Democrats in the Senate. Richard Ruelas from The Arizona Republic explains that teachers were applauding Democrats who voted against the pay raises in hopes of a revised budget that will address their other wants.

Is the education budget sustainable?

Many people don’t see the budget as sustainable, as the teachers’ raise is based only on hopes of a good economy and a vehicle registration fee. However, as Howard Fischer from Capitol Media Services says, if you ask three different economists whether the budget is sustainable, you’ll get three different answers.

“Basically they’ve done sweeps, borrowing and looking under the couch to pay for the first year,” Fischer says. “You really need a dedicated revenue source for this. To bring us back up to where we were in 2008 with inflation is about $1.1 billion, which is just about the amount a penny tax raises.”

Ruelas explains that the original plan from Ducey was using revenue from economic activity and spending less on health care. He says Republicans didn’t buy that so they added a new vehicle registration fee. Ducey proposed a vehicle registration fee during his first year to put money toward the highways.

“Ducey said every teacher in the state would get a 20 percent raise,” Ruelas says. “As the formula comes out, it is mathematically impossible for that to happen. The districts will get a lot of money, but it won’t be enough to give every teacher a 20 percent raise. Also, there’s nothing in the plan that requires districts to spend this on teachers.”

There are some districts who have already given their teachers raises in the past. Since the budget doesn’t require where the money goes, districts can put the extra funds elsewhere.

Political fallout of teacher walkout

Nañez says teachers found more than just a political voice. They found people to support their political voice, then they extended that voice to parents and grandparents.

The “education governor” helped hold his spot in office with the proposal, Fischer says. His Democratic opponents have talked a lot about a dedicated revenue source, but because he was able to get something passed, that will be a point in his favor.

Education initiative

Some people have suggested an income tax as a new source of revenue for education. The income tax initiative calls for a nearly three percent tax raise for individuals who make more than $250,000 or households that make more than $500,000.

“You have a lot of people at that one percent saying they’re okay with it when they know their money is going into funding the schools,” Nañez says.

Up until now the push has been for a sales tax. Now Democrats are saying a sales tax would be regressive because people making $30,000 will have a higher percentage of their income spent on sales tax than people who make more money.

Dianna Nañez: The Arizona Republic
Howard Fischer: Capitol Media Services
Richard Ruelas: The Arizona Republic

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