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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

Political Notebook: Majority opinion on funding education snubbed at Legislature

Majority opinion among Arizona’s voters is pretty clear. They want a significant boost in ongoing funding for the state’s public schools.

Majority opinion among Arizona’s voters is pretty clear.

So is majority opinion among Arizona legislators.

They want a significant boost in ongoing funding for the state’s public schools, probably in the range of $500 million to $1 billion per year. Now we even have the money to do so without raising taxes.

Yet it is doubtful that majority opinion will hold sway as the Legislature grinds slowly toward a state budget. That’s because this majority opinion in the Legislature is held by all the Democrats and a few Republicans in each chamber.

Since Republicans are the majority party in both houses, even though it’s a slim one-person margin, they have control. So they’re trying to find a budget that most Republicans will support, not one that necessarily reflects majority opinion in the bodies as a whole.

“There’s this rule that the majority goes off of,” said Rep. Morgan Abraham, a Tucson Democrat. “It’s the ‘majority of the majority.’ You have to have the majority of the majority caucus in order for something to move forward.”

“I know for a fact that there is a majority of members in the House who would sign on to a massive investment in K-12 beyond what Prop. 208 would have done,” he said.

But it might not win the support of the majority of Republicans, so the idea is languishing.

Prop. 208 is the 2020 ballot initiative that would have imposed a surcharge on incomes above $250,000 for single people or above $500,000 for married people. Legislative staff projected it would have raised about $800 million per year for education.

The initiative passed by a 52% to 48% margin, but a Maricopa County Superior Court judge struck down the law this year.

That initiative, of course, included a tax increase — now, due to the state’s strong financial position, about the same amount of money is potentially available without raising taxes.

In an April survey of likely Arizona voters conducted by the Center for the Future of Arizona, 82% supported increasing funding for schools, and 65% of the total supported the idea strongly. It’s a majority view among all political affiliations.

In the upper chamber, Republican Sen. Paul Boyer has asked for a “grand bargain” on education funding that replaces the Prop. 208 money with increased state funding. He has said he won’t vote for a budget without it.

But he’s not the only Republican in that chamber who would go for increased spending on that scale. Sen. T.J. Shope, a Republican from Coolidge, said Wednesday, “I think it’s maybe a half dozen” of the Senate’s 31 Republicans who would go for such a proposal.

He said he liked a proposal circulated last week that would have raised spending on education by $250 million to $300 million, but he would happily go higher, too.

“If there’s (budget) capacity on an ongoing basis, we should go ahead and do more,” he said.

Rep. David Cook, a Globe Republican, said he is more interested in paying down money still owed by the state to school districts after the 2008-2009 financial crisis. He’s thinking in the $600 million area, but on a one-time basis.

“Let’s pay off the money we owe them,” he said. “Then we’ll be in a better position next year.”

Rep. Michelle Udall, a Mesa Republican, has said she wants the Legislature to fund “a pretty big chunk” of the $900 million Boyer is proposing.

Instead, though, the latest proposal passed in a House committee is to expand vouchers again and make increased funding contingent on expanding vouchers. The voucher proposal is similar to a 2017 bill that passed the Legislature only to be referred to the ballot and rejected by voters by a 65% to 35% margin in 2018.

So, in order for the majority of state voters to get a part of the funding increase they want, they are being asked to swallow an expansion of vouchers that they have rejected thoroughly before.

Trump endorses in AG race

As former President Donald Trump reels off endorsements in Republican primaries around the country, he reached his decision in the Arizona attorney general’s race this week.

Trump endorsed Abraham Hamadeh, a former Maricopa County prosecutor who has had perhaps the most uninhibited rhetoric claiming that Trump won the 2020 presidential election in Arizona. (He didn’t.)

“Abe Hamadeh knows what happened in the 2020 election and will enforce voting laws so that our elections are free and fair again,” Trump said in his endorsement announcement.

“Being endorsed by President Trump is the honor of a lifetime, and I will not let him down,” Hamadeh said in a statement.

Five other Republicans are running for the party’s nomination to replace current Attorney General Mark Brnovich: Lacy Cooper, Rodney Glassman, Andrew Gould, Dawn Grove and Tiffany Shedd.

Gould said in a subsequent statement: “I am aware of President Trump’s recent endorsement of my opponent. My campaign and I are not going to get side-tracked by this announcement.”

Watkins files complaint on Rogers

The fact that they both occupy the wacky right wing of Arizona politics doesn’t mean they get along.

Ron Watkins, the candidate for Congress implicated in managing the QAnon conspiracy theory, filed an ethics complaint June 10 against state Sen. Wendy Rogers. He asked the ethics committee “to determine whether she is fit for service to the people of Arizona due to a pattern of behavior that is unbecoming a senator.”

He noted a range of incidents but only one involving him: Rogers, who has already faced ethics complaints this session, posted on her online Telegram channel in February, “Dear Groyper army, please hit Ron Watkins. Love, Wendy.”

“Groyper Army” is a name for a loose association of online white supremacists, far-right nationalists and provocateurs whom Rogers has embraced. Watkins and Rogers had been feuding over election issues.

He said in his complaint that the comment amounted to a threat against him. Of course, as the Arizona Mirror noted, Watkins has repeatedly associated with prominent Groypers himself. And Rogers said in response that Watkins had been friendly with her in recent months until she endorsed his rival Eli Crane in the Congressional District 6 race.

Watkins is best known for being deeply involved with, and possibly writing, the posts by “Q,” an apocryphal federal employee who accused Democrats and “globalists” of being part of a Satanist pedophile ring.

Sen. Sine Kerr, the chair of the Senate Ethics Committee, dismissed the complaint Wednesday.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@tucson.com or 520-807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter


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Columnist

Tim Steller is an opinion columnist. A 25-year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his conclusions. Contact him at tsteller@tucson.com or 520-807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

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