Arizona Legislature casts first vote to extend $643M education sales tax

Arizona Legislature casts first vote to extend $643M education sales tax

Alexis Egeland and Alia Beard Rau, The Republic | azcentral.com

The Arizona House Education Committee voted Monday to approve legislation that would continue for another eight years the education sales tax that brings in about $643 million a year to Arizona schools.

The tax, which voters passed in 2000 as Proposition 301, is set to expire in mid-2021.

State Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, has said his House Bill 2158 would essentially "get rid of the cliff" surrounding Prop. 301.

Schools are "starting to have anxiety about the $643 million and the possibility it could go away," he said.

Coleman said he understands there may be some changes needed to how the money is allocated, but said this bill starts that conversation. 

Lawmakers want to see continued conversations

Prop. 301 is a 0.6 cent-per-dollar education-funding sales tax. It's future has been a point of contention and concern among education and business advocates and state leaders.

The money funds teacher salaries, classroom expenses, dropout prevention, building maintenance, universities and community colleges.  

During Monday's hearing, Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, supported the bill, but said he would like to see the money directed more toward teacher pay. 

"I am hopeful that there will be continued conversations," he said. 

Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said with the sales tax, teachers currently see a benefit of about $5,300 each a year. Without the tax, he said, their salaries would fall 11.5 percent. 

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, said he also looks forward to having a conversation about making sure teachers are adequately funded. He said he would also like to look at reallocation of the formula. 

"I wasn't part of that original conversation. I was 10 years old," he said. "But I'm here now and I want to be part of that conversation." 

The bill passed the committee. It still needs a vote of the full House before moving to the Senate for consideration. 

Brophy McGee: The bill is a start

Democratic lawmakers last year introduced legislation to extend and expand Prop. 301, but Republican leadership never granted it the required public hearing or votes. Monday was the first time a Prop. 301 proposal was heard in committee.

There has been wide support among education and business advocates for extending and even increasing the sales tax under Prop. 301 — viewed by many as a crucial step toward restoring hundreds of millions of dollars of education-funding cuts following the recession.

During Monday's hearing, Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, called the bill the start of a bipartisan conversation. 

"I'm advocating for ending the cliff and giving districts some stability," she said. "We also need to educate the public about this program, what it did and what it is we want it to do."

She introduced an identical bill extending the education sales tax in the Senate.

Senate Bill 1390 has 56 other lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — signed on in support.

Senate Republican leadership has not granted that bill a public hearing. 

Gov. Doug Ducey has in the past said he supports extending the tax, although he has said it may need to be modernized.

He's been mum on whether he'd support expanding the sales tax. 

This story was originally published on azcentral.com.

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