Legislature (literally) wrestling with students' futures
When the Arizona Board of Regents last Friday wisely postponed their vote on a tuition hike until later this month, they were following a board policy requiring the regents to wait until the Legislature has passed the state budget.
The board's policy is meant to keep the regents from jumping the gun on tuition until they know exactly how much money Arizona plans to spend on its three universities.
Who knows if the regents will ever get that figure.
Work at the Legislature has all but stopped as the state's representatives and senators struggle to come up with a constitutional school construction finance plan. The Legislature has now been in special session on the matter for 28 days and there is no end in sight.
The House of Representatives is hung up trying to find the votes to pass a Republican plan that would all but eliminate local funding of school construction in favor of nearly $400 million in state funding. The state Supreme Court has ruled the current system's reliance on local property taxes to build schools violates the Arizona constitution. The Legislature has tried to fix the problem for three years. If a constitutional plan is not in place by June 30, all of Arizona's public schools would be ordered closed.
Tempers are so short and votes so precious that a House of Representatives Republican aide has accused Rep. Art Hamilton, D- Phoenix, of shoving him. According to reports yesterday, an ethics investigation is likely.
At the same time, a Joint Legislative Budget Committee report issued yesterday indicates that the finance plan could put the state $500 million in the red in two years.
The Legislature needs to act on the school construction finance problem before it can deal with the overall state budget. That debate, in itself, will take time. Each day of figurative and literal wrestling pushes budget resolution, and therefore tuition setting, back.
One way or another the state needs to resolve its mess before somebody gets hurt. The Legislature and Gov. Jane Hull need to find a plan that treats students equally and doesn't threaten the fiscal future of Arizona. Students in kindergarten through 12th grade deserve schools that aren't caving in around them. At the same time, university students around the state need to know as soon as possible how much they will have to cough up for tuition next year. Arizona college students need to know whether they can afford to return, while the state's K-12 students need adequate facilities to prepare them for higher education. With so many students' futures on the line, the Legislature needs to quit fooling around.