PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday blamed “the media” for spreading what he says is false information about funding for education.
Mr. Ducey, speaking to a group of business leaders, said the push for higher taxes for K-12 education is getting traction because the public is not getting a true picture of how much state aid has increased since he became governor.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation because the ground has been softened for so long by many people in the media that there is not enough funding in education,” he told members of Valley Partnership, an organization composed largely of developers and others in the real estate industry. And Mr. Ducey complained that the Invest in Education initiative actually was launched hours before he gave his State of the State address earlier this month — and before the details of his education funding plan were announced.
“They were for a tax increase no matter what the budget said,” he said.
After the event, Mr. Ducey defended his education financing proposals. More to the point, he denied that, even if his proposal for the coming year’s budget gets adopted that K-12 funding will not be back to pre-recession levels after inflation is taken into account.
“I would check your facts on that,” he said.
But the analysis that state aid remains below pre-recession levels actually comes from an analysis prepared by the governor’s own budget office.
It shows that actual per-student state aid in Mr. Ducey’s budget would be $6,156 for the coming school year. That compares with $4,996 in the 2007-2008 school year.
But when inflation is added in, even the governor’s analysis puts per-student state aid at about $70 less than the pre-recession peak.
Gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak later conceded that is the case.
But he said that his boss is sketching out his funding plans for the next three budget years. And it would be the year after next — the 2021-2022 school year — when student funding finally gets back to where it was before the recession.
Mr. Ducey’s long-range budget, however, does not go out to 2025 when the additional dollars voters agreed in 2016 at Mr. Ducey’s request to take from the state land trust fund stop flowing. Absent further action, the loss of those dollars would reduce state funding that year and beyond by about $340 per child.
By contrast, the Invest in Ed program to increase taxes on the most wealthy Arizonans, would generate about $725 per student.
Backers need 237,654 valid signatures on petitions by July 2 to put the issue on the November ballot. It would raise about $940 million a year with a 3.5 percent surcharge on existing state income taxes on individuals making more than $250,000 a year; for couples filing jointly the levy would kick in at $500,000.
Mr. Ducey, in speaking to the business group, made it clear that he will do whatever is necessary to keep voters from approving the measure.
“The last thing we should be doing is raising taxes in this state and taking a page out of California’s formula of how to push your producers out of state,” the governor said. “It’s a bad idea and I’ll be working very hard against it.”
In speaking to the group, the governor said there are other sources of funds out there, including the education trust account which comes from revenues Arizona gets from the sale and lease of state land. He said there is $6.2 billion in that account.
But Mr. Ducey also said there’s another way to generate cash.
“If you took the state land that’s available, it’s — I’ll be conservative — it’s $80 billion in value, not really doing much for anyone or anybody,” he said.
“So I think we’ve got a great asset there,” Mr. Ducey continued. “This is another reason that I’m so opposed to a tax increase. We’ve have funds available.”
And then the governor said he was counting “on organizations like this to take positions and be outspoken on what is the policy.”
But even if the state somehow sold off the entire $80 billion in holdings, that would not produce direct cash for schools. Instead the proceeds would go into the trust account, which schools entitled to the interest on earnings.