Report from the Capitol: 22 March 2018

Report from the Capitol: 22 March 2018

HB2158: I’ve received a number of emails and calls about the SB1390/HB2158 package to extend the Prop 301 Sales Tax for Education. I share the concern about education funding and the teacher shortage. I am inclined to support the proposed SB1390/HB2158 additional rate package. I have also done a good bit of research on the matter of unfilled teacher job opportunities. What I have found is something that most people in the educator ranks are not talking about. The Arizona Tax Research Association (ATRA, 2018) reports, the package, “would legislatively extend the 0.6% transaction privilege tax (TPT) for education as originally approved by the voters in 2000 and implemented in June 2001. Through a distribution formula, the tax provided $667.4 million to education in FY2017, divided between K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities.”

In Joe Heim’s 2016 Washington Post article on the national teacher shortage, he points out that Arizona is not the only state facing such a shortage, “Although nearly every state has reported teacher shortages to the U.S. Department of Education, the problem is much more pronounced in some states than others.” Pay is not the only consideration but is certainly one input. I was surprised to learn that Lehman Academy of Excellence, a private charter -in Oro Valley on La Canada north of Tangerine- while paying less than the Amphitheater Public School District, has a waiting list for teachers to join the school. As I talk to the teachers who work at Lehman a picture emerges that it is not all about pay. Several of the teachers, who tell me they have been teachers in the classroom for 20+ years, tell me it is as much about the work environment and expectations. There is a lot more to the story, but these ladies, clearly dedicated to their profession, told me they do what they do for the satisfaction of knowing they made a difference in the lives of children, as much as they do it for the income.

Many teachers have told me that they are tired of the non-teaching activities that they are required to engage in for the sake of regulatory compliance. They are frustrated that the non-value add activities rob them from time to teach. They are disrespected by students and parents, and openly challenged when they are teaching tough lessons, and they are forced to move kids on who are not ready so the statistics look good. I am excited to see that Arizona has led the nation for 4th and 8th grade NAPE (national norm-referenced assessment) improvements for the last seven years, and that we are predicted to lead again this year.

From a public policy perspective, the Legislature and local school districts will always be limited by the level of resources (taxes) that taxpayers will permit the government to collect for the priority of K-12 education. There are only two ways to grow tax revenue, one is vertically (tax rate), and the other is horizontally (tax base). You may not know this but Arizona has only 12% of its land available for property tax. The rest is controlled by federal and county government. Congress designed a system called PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) that pay a mear fraction of what is necessary to support the services that other states in the east enjoy. For a more permanent, and resilient support regimen for everything from education to public safety, we must grow our tax base, and only Congress can help us with that.

I cannot help but wonder what the expectations are, of high school graduates beginning their college days. Some may think they want to be teachers, those with a heart for service will no doubt succeed. Few will see teaching as a pathway to get rich, so I am left to wonder, how we promote the personal commitment to service in a world that seems to be so focused on everything but serving one another. I admire teachers for their willingness to work for low pay, in an environment that most parents would not tolerate. Thank you again for writing, and allowing me to take up your time with my thoughts on how we increase teacher pay and improve the environment we ask them to work in.

HB2003: TPT on coal repeal passes through the Senate Finance Committee. The repeal of this unjust tax removes cost from the generation of baseload electricity. The Navajo Generating Station (NGS) while all the way up in Page Arizona, supplies electricity vital for the movement of water through the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal system. Pima and Pinal Counties are the direct beneficiaries of this life-sustaining supply. Both agricultural and urban users receive water through the system. This is no a tax credit, as some would claim, but a tax elimination. The state does not collect a Transaction Privilege Tax (PTP) on the wind, the sun or the water, nor does it collect the tax on natural gas and nuclear fuels. This bill also makes moot the legal case that the Hopi Tribe had threatened to bring against the State for collecting a tax that never should have been laid.

More to come…

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