PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey said Friday that he will oppose any effort to hike taxes to boost education funding, even one where voters would make the decision.
“I have said that we are not going to raise taxes,” the governor said. “And I have been consistent.”
His absolute stance comes as some business leaders are exploring whether there need to be more state dollars to improve public education.
Arizona consistently ranks at or near the bottom in per-pupil spending. But it takes a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate — along with a gubernatorial signature — to hike taxes.
That leaves the option of a public vote.
“It is true that Arizona is spending less money today than it has in the past,” said Ron Shoopman, president and chief executive of Southern Arizona Leadership Council.
A report by legislative budget analysts shows total state funding in public schools at $4.54 billion. That equals $4,216 per student; by contrast, the state was spending close to $5,000 per student in 2008.
But even that does not paint a complete picture. The report says that when inflation is taken into account, the state now actually is spending 25 percent less for each student.
“The question one has to ask is, has this reduction in the amount of money we’re collecting in taxes yielded the kind of economic growth we expected it to yield, or will it in the future?” Shoopman said. “And if not, are we actually cutting into the fabric of the state that makes us a more attractive place to attract business?”
While more funding for education could mean higher taxes, Shoopman said, “I believe the voters, as they have done in the past, would consider it. But it depends on what ‘it’ is.”
There is precedent for a ballot measure.
Voters approved hiking sales taxes by six-tenths of a cent in 2000 with a promise that the state would adjust aid to schools each year to match inflation. And in 2010 there was strong support for a temporary 1-cent sales tax, pushed with a promise that it would help protect public education from the state’s budget deficit.
Shoopman’s organization supported both.
Ducey, however, isn’t interested, making it clear in a closed-door meeting earlier this month with business leaders that, if they go ahead, they should presume he will be working to kill their plan, just as he did in 2012. Ducey, the state treasurer at the time, spearheaded opposition to making that temporary tax hike permanent.
The governor said his comments to the business leaders should not be taken as a threat.
“I would love to partner with the business community on good ideas,” Ducey said. “There’s no monopoly on good ideas in the governor’s office.”
But he said he “very well may exercise an option to oppose bad ideas,” which is what he considers raising more money through higher taxes to be.
That opposition could kill any initiative in the cradle.
Dick Foreman, president and chief executive of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition, pointed out the two measures voters approved had something important in common. They had support of Republican governors: Jane Hull in 2000 and Jan Brewer in 2010.
Conversely, Foreman said, a 1990 measure to guarantee K-12 funding was beaten after Republican Fife Symington, running for governor at the time, came out in opposition. And the 2012 measure went down to defeat when Ducey, who was already talking about a gubernatorial run, led the opposition.
Foreman said his organization is interested in looking at funding issues, and would like to see any proposal for higher taxes. But he said that, absent Ducey support, it may make no sense to even try to craft an initiative.
Ducey said there should be more money for education for the 2016-2017 school year, even without any new taxes.
In separate comments Friday to the Arizona Business and Education Coalition, Ducey said the $1 billion deficit meant he could put no more new money into public education than he did for the coming school year.
“My first priority was to balance the state’s budget,” he said.
“We made the tough decisions,” the governor continued. “I realize many of them were unpopular.”
Now, Ducey said, the state is now on “stable financial footing.”
“We must put more resources into this system,” he said.
But the governor said it won’t be done as it is now, where each student in a particular school generates a set amount of state aid. And on Friday he named himself and Jim Swanson, president and chief executive of Kitchell Corp., to co-chair a committee to craft “long-overdue school finance reforms.”
“Working together we will develop a funding formula that recognizes and rewards performance, efficiency and innovation,” Ducey said.