Arizona could afford sizable increases in education funding without raising taxes and without dipping deeper into its land trust fund, Treasurer Jeff DeWit said Thursday.
Arizona has taken in $400 million more in cash than it has ever had before, offering an alternative to settling the school-funding lawsuit that doesn't risk the land trust fund, Treasurer Jeff DeWit said Thursday.
DeWit and other opponents of Proposition 123 outlined a competing vision for boosting education with existing resources and promised legal action on two fronts related to the measure that goes to voters next month.
"We have the money to solve the lawsuit without raiding the trust fund," DeWit said, pointing to charts showing future surpluses currently expected to top $1 billion by fiscal 2019. He said he plans to ask the judge overseeing the case against the state to adopt his plan after the May 17 vote.
Another Prop. 123 opponent, attorney Tom Ryan, said he plans to ask Attorney General Mark Brnovich to examine whether events at businesses in support of Prop. 123 run afoul of the state's rules against offering inducements to voters.
It was the most public pushback against Prop. 123 to date. The measure has garnered support from lawmakers as a legal settlement and with educators and business leaders, who say it provides public schools more money without raising taxes.
The key for DeWit is a sudden influx of cash to the state's coffers, partly reflecting an improving economy.
“We knew it was going to be big, and as it kept coming and kept coming, it was a record haul,” DeWit said. “It is the highest in the history of Arizona. I don’t know how in good conscience we can let the voters vote on a measure that assumes the state is broke without telling them that we have more money than we’ve ever had.”
Christin Palmer, a spokesman for the Let's Vote Yes for Arizona Schools campaign that supports Prop. 123, dismissed speculation over future surpluses.
“If the past years have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t count on this funding stream always being there,” he said of the surplus. "We just learned our lesson not only about spending the state’s rainy day fund but also projecting outcomes we weren’t guaranteed to materialize.”
Lorenzo Romero, Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget director, said DeWit’s proposal is unrealistic.
To make sure you secure the level of funding needed to resolve the lawsuit, he said, the state would have to find enough ongoing cash. Based on Ducey’s budget projections for fiscal year 2016, the state would have $484 million in cash at the end of FY 2016, and about $460 million in the rainy day fund.
“Let’s just say you spent all that cash to meet that obligation, at that point you’re out of cash," Lorenzo said.
Supporters of Prop. 123 cast it as a $3.5 billion cash injection into the state’s schools over 10 years without raising taxes.
The plan relies largely on increasing withdrawals from the state’s land trust fund from 2.5 percent annually to 6.9 percent for a decade. DeWit favors leaving the trust fund distributions at 2.5 percent and using the surplus to provide the same amounts promised to schools under Prop. 123. More at Source