Star Opinion: Arizona budget targets Tucson Unified
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Star Opinion: Arizona budget targets Tucson Unified

Republicans in the Arizona Legislature continue to target Tucson — and homeowners in the Tucson Unified School District, specifically — in the state budget now under discussion.

An accounting change in how desegregation efforts, which are required by an ongoing federal court order, are funded in TUSD would tax district homeowners an additional $16.7 million. In 1980 voters approved a state constitutional amendment that means primary property taxes — which essentially go into the state’s general bank account, so to speak — can be no higher than $10 for every $100 of a property’s assessed valuation (the formula used to calculate how much a property is worth, for tax purposes).

So in TUSD, any funding needed for desegregation programs would be taken from the state, because property taxes were capped. The change under consideration now would shift desegregation costs to the secondary property tax bill, which is how we pay for voter-approved measures, like school bonds. And the secondary tax bill has no cap, so TUSD property owners would have to pick up the entire tab for all entire desegregation costs.

As a political play, putting the screws to taxpayers in TUSD, while exempting other school districts in similar circumstances, sends a message loud and clear: We see what you’re doing, and we don’t like it. The Tucson Education Association has been an advocate for higher education spending and teacher pay, and TUSD educators and board members have been vocal and active in the ongoing teacher strike.

The Legislature has a history of interfering with TUSD. For example, they passed the so-called ethnic studies law aimed at the district’s Mexican American Studies program. Lawmakers are still talking about that, even after the courts found the law was formed and enforced “with racial animus” and threw it out.

For years Republicans in state government have held TUSD out as a scapegoat. The Legislature has also interfered with how the city of Tucson elects council members, and exerted control over how Tucson handles guns seized by or turned into the police for disposal.

Why do we think this is political payback? The other district affected by this desegregation funding change, Maricopa Unified, usually receives $602,000 from the state. The bill would require TUSD taxpayers to pay $16.7 million — while at the same time appropriating $602,000 to Maricopa Unified.

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