PHOENIX - A special election in 2010 showed that Arizonans are willing to hike their taxes if they believe it's for a good cause and for a limited amount of time.
The vote on Proposition 204 will determine if many of those same voters are willing to continue paying that higher levy forever is devoted to spending primarily on education and roads.
Many of the individuals and groups that supported the temporary 1-cent hike in 2010, like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, have lined up against the extension and favor letting it expire on May 31, as voters were promised.
For Ann-Eve Pedersen, the question comes down to whether Arizonans are willing to put more money into education.
The initiative would forever earmark the lion's share of a permanent 1-cent surcharge on the state sales tax for public schools, putting the new revenues off limits to lawmakers, who may want to shift some of the about $1 billion a year from the tax to other uses. It also forbids lawmakers from taking any money away from what they already are providing, no matter what the state's future revenue picture.
"Education isn't going away, kids aren't going to go away," Pedersen said.
"We are always going to need to educate our kids," she continued. "And we're always going to need to make sure that we have an educated workforce so we can attract good employers and keep employers in Arizona."
State Treasurer Doug Ducey is not disputing the constitutional mandate for state-funded public education, though he disagrees more money is needed. He also is arguing there is no guarantee the cash will make it into the classroom rather than be absorbed in administrative costs.
But Ducey is mainly using how a small percentage of the proceeds will be spent as his best argument to kill the whole measure.
Proposition 204 earmarks 10 percent of the money for transportation - roads, bridges and mass transit projects.
Those projects mean more state-fueled contracts, which Ducey said is little more than a payback to We Build Arizona, a consortium of construction organizations, which has contributed $357,000 to the pro-Proposition 204 campaign.
He called the initiative "full of pork" for special interests.
Pedersen said the funding guarantee is justified.
"If you talk to economists, there are a few things you need to invest in if you want to improve the state's overall economic climate," she said. And that list, Pedersen says, includes roads and public transit projects.
The initiative also has other set-asides beyond K-12 education.
It includes 10 percent of the first $1 billion for a "family stability and self-sufficiency fund." Its goals include preventing hunger, homelessness, domestic violence and for providing child care and other services to families below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, about $38,000 a year for a family of three.
Universities also would get some of the funds for scholarships, operations and construction. And there's money to supplement existing state funds to provide health care to the children of the working poor.
"Children are not a special interest group," Pedersen responded.
Beyond how the money is being divided up is the debate over whether the cash really is needed.
Ducey said total funding from all sources in 2011, state, federal and local, amounted to $9,200 per student in 2011. That compares with nearly $7,100 in 2001, close to a 30 percent increase in a decade.
"We need to spend those dollars more effectively," he said. "We don't need to raise taxes on hard-working citizens."
Pedersen prefers to look at a different timeframe - and a different set of numbers.
In 2008, all funding sources amount to $9,540 per student. For the current year, that slipped in actual dollars to $8,784, an 8 percent drop even without accounting for inflation.
And she prefers looking at the state contribution to that total, which went from $4,901 in 2008 to $3,887, a slightly more than 20 percent drop.
Ducey said the source of the funds should not matter: Money is money.
Pedersen countered some of the federal cash is for things like free- and reduced-price lunch programs don't relate directly to education, and she said the fact local taxpayers have been forced to approve overrides to make up for the lack of state funds is no excuse.
Whatever the figures, Ducey said it is wrong to focus on dollars, saying there is a need to "reset the discussion."
"No other enterprise in the world measures success by how much money it spends," he said. Ducey said if dollars equal success, then the best schools in the country would be in Detroit, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Pedersen said Proposition 204 does account for performance, with $100 million in aid tied to evaluations of school performance in everything from how well students advance to parental satisfaction, making it the first link between performance and money ever.
And she said money does matter.
"Divesting in education as we have done is not a recipe for improving performance," Pedersen said. "If schools don't have basics like textbooks, if they don't have pens, paper, pencils, if they have supersize classrooms, how are our kids expected to learn?"
The other main argument against the measure is that it is a new tax.
Technically, that's true: The temporary 1-cent levy voters approved in 2010 expires on May 31, unless Proposition 204 passes.
But Pedersen has preferred to point out that approval of the initiative will mean no change in the current 6.6 percent tax rate, as the new 1-cent surcharge would kick in the day after the 2010 measure self-destructs.
Ducey may have a different viewpoint about funding for public education than Pedersen and other supporters.
Pedersen has an 11-year-old attending a public middle school; Ducey's three children, age 9, 13 and 15 are currently all in Catholic school.
Proposition series ends today
Last in a series explaining the nine state and one city propositions appearing on this year's general election ballot.
Today: Proposition 204 and Proposition 409.