Arizona Teacher: I’ll Believe It When I See It

I’ve heard these stories before, bro…

The following is is the view of a teacher in Arizona with 15+ years of experience, one who has worked in multiple capacities in the Cave Creek Unified School District. The following are his words regarding the recent proposal from Governor Ducey in the face of the #RedForEd movement for more realistic salaries in Arizona school districts (nearly the lowest in the United States).

Okay Education supporters, get ready for the real fight. You’ve kicked in the door. You haven’t crossed any threshold yet. As a former budget analyst to two AZ Governors, here is some food for thought:

1. From what I’ve read, the current proposal from Ducey gives you 1% last year, 9% starting July 1, 2018, 5% starting July 1, 2019, and 5% starting July 1, 2020. By law, the Governor and Legislature cannot obligate future Legislatures to future expenditures. Guess what happens in November 2018? Elections. That means we have a new Legislature in 2019. Anything not added to this year’s budget is simply wishful thinking. Multi-year, increasing expenditure commitments are illegal. So you will likely get your 9% this year, with no way to guarantee the rest will follow.

2. On Taxes: In AZ, it takes a simple majority at the Legislature to decrease taxes. It takes a 2/3’s majority to raise them. That means the Governor and his friends can lower taxes with relative ease, but it is impossible to reverse those taxes. They can refer a tax increase to the voters with a simple majority, like we did under Governor Brewer, but I haven’t heard that proposed yet.

3. On other sources of funding: I think I heard Ducey claim declining Medicaid enrollment could suddenly pay for this. Doubtful. AZ’s population is growing faster than anywhere else in the country. Medicaid enrollment has traditionally followed the same growth curve as the general population. So why would enrollment be declining if the general population is increasing? Perhaps they plan to implement more restrictions on AHCCCS (Medicaid) clients to artificially drive them off the program and generate savings. The feds will have to approve such a plan, and the current Administration is likely to do so. What this will do is pit advocates for the at-risk populations against the advocates for teachers. If the two sides can’t compromise, the Legislature would love nothing more than to sit back and do nothing while they fight each other.

3a. Another potential favorite trick the Legislature loves to employ is to raid County General Funds to pay for State obligations. Then County Boards of Supervisors have to raise property taxes to fill the hole. The Legislature and Governor can then blame someone else for raising taxes. The State still hasn’t stopped annual raids on County funds that began in 2009, causing County tax rates to be higher than they would otherwise be. Why not just ramp it up? So instead of a sales tax increase, which you can somewhat mitigate with your spending habits, you get a property tax increase, which you have no control over. That will eat into your hard-fought raises.

4. Budgeting is imprecise by its very nature. You are projecting a year into the future. Your estimates will be wrong. But they can be wrong by taking a good guess after evaluating all the data, or they can be willfully wrong to serve your narrative. In all likelihood, Ducey’s found money is nothing more than asking his budget staff to increase their revenue projections on paper (without the economic justification to back it up). Napolitano did it. Brewer did it. It is a favorite trick during negotiations to close that gap and get a deal done. Then, next year, when these unreasonable projections don’t materialize, he’ll have a built-in excuse for reneging on the subsequent parts of this deal.

5. Don’t forget your ASRS contribution goes up by 1% this year, starting July 1. So even with a 9% pay increase on July 1, your take home pay will only go up 8%.

6. Budgets are made behind closed doors over long weekends. My guess is that they cobble one together, gather the necessary votes, and release it to the public just a few hours before they vote on it. It will be nearly impossible to identify the components of the shell game necessary to make the pay raise work in that time.

7. This is all about Ducey and Republicans noticing a very angry voting block with an impending election. By taking the steam out of the cause now, and perhaps turning some critics into supporters, he can cakewalk through re-election and then do whatever the hell he wants in his second term. The news media is not helpful, telling teachers “they got what they wanted” and to “stop being greedy”, for example. They haven’t received anything yet and they should continue to apply the pressure until they are satisfied with the details.

Basically, even if the Governor is 100% committed to seeing this deal through, he has absolutely zero mechanism to assure it happens. Furthermore, I know for a fact he won’t have legislative Republican support. Right now they are playing ball because they want to go home and campaign. See what promises vanish next year, and I guarantee if you remember this post, their reasons will sound very familiar.