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State Chamber To Fight Education Sales Tax


A key element of the business community is gearing up to fight a permanent

extension of the state’s onecent sales tax surcharge.

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry,

said his organization is a big supporter of education and does believe

more resources are needed. He said that is why they supported the

temporary levy in 2010.

That tax, along with the nearly $1 billion a year it raises, self-destructs

at the end of this coming May. But Hamer said it’s one thing to support

a temporary fix for a temporary budget problem, as the alternative

would have been even sharper cuts to education than lawmakers approved to

balance the books. This new measure,he said, is a permanent levy — with dollars

earmarked to specific programs — one that could be altered only by sending

the issue back to voters.

“To us, it feels like it’s basically ballot-box budgeting,’’ he said. Hamer said he was not disputing a

recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau which shows Arizona near the bottom of all states when it comes to

spending money on public education. That study found per pupil spending in Arizona at $7,848. That compares

with $10,615 nationwide, putting the state ahead of only Idaho and Utah. He said, though, these numbers tell

only part of the story. “The more important metrics to focus on from our view is what are we

getting from these dollars,’’ he said. “Are we getting an improvement in test scores?’’ Hamer said funding is “a

part of that.’’ “But to permanently cut a check of about a billion dollars a year without meaningful accountability

safeguards is not the best way to proceed, in our view,’’ Hamer said. But Ann-Eve Pedersen, who

chairs the initiative effort, said that’s not true. “A piece of it includes performance measures such as

test scores, third-grade reading proficiencies, graduation rates, drop-out rates,’’ Pedersen

said, as well as how Arizona compares with other states on things like the National Assessment

of Educational Progress. “And there’ll also be a piece of that, that gauges student engagement

and parental satisfaction.’’ She acknowledged, though, that the bulk of the funds are

distributed regardless of performance. Hamer said the chamber supported the efforts by Gov.

Jan Brewer to put more money into education for the current budget. He specifically mentioned

the $40 million the governor sought to fund a new requirement for students to be

able to read at the third-grade level before being promoted to the fourth grade.

While lawmakers funded that, they balked at Brewer’s request for $200 million for

“soft capital,’’ which includes books, computers and supplies. Instead, the Legislature provided

just $15 million in general capital funds to be divided among all the school districts

in the state. “Yes, we would have liked to have seen more funding in the

budget when it came to education,’’Hamer said. “But we also understand that the state’s been in a difficult

budget situation for a number of years,’’ he continued. “The Legislature at least made an important down payment on

one important aspect.’’ Hamer said his board of directors was turned off by the fact that the initiative is about

more than just education. He pointed out that, if approved, there also would be funds for everything from health care

to new road construction projects. “It reads more like a federal omnibus earmarks appropriations bill,’’ he said.

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