Hull's sales tax plan passes Senate, killed in House
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Groscost's alternative, lack of House support could hinder
The Arizona Senate last night passed Gov. Jane Hull's Arizona 2000 education plan, a .06 percent sales tax increase to give additional funding to the state's educational system.
Even with a victory in the Senate, the plan will face heavy opposition in the Arizona House of Representatives, where the appropriations committee has already killed the bill.
The Speaker of the House, Jeff Groscost, R-Mesa, has constructed an alternate bill that does not require a tax increase and excludes giving additional funding to the universities.
Arizona's educational system remains at the bottom of national rankings and state lawmakers are struggling to decide between the two plans that both offer promises of improving it.
Hull's plan, if approved by the House, will be placed on the November ballot.
"Given the seriousness of the problem, a dedicated funding source is necessary" said Regent Jack Jewitt.
By garnering funds through a sales tax a sustained investment can be made, Jewitt said.
The Republican governor's bill would raise an estimated $450 million annually for K-12, community college and university education.
Those who oppose the governor's bill are concerned with the increased tax rate imposed upon Arizona residents who already experience one of the highest sales tax rates in the country.
Groscost's bill would only provide funding for K-12 with money received primarily from the state's $3.1 billion tobacco settlement.
"I do not agree with practically anything in his bill," said Rep. Kathleen Dunbar R-Tucson, who supports a stable source of funding for post-secondary education.
Regent Judy Gignac agreed.
"Not only does it not include us (the universities)," she said. "It cuts our budgets."
Groscost's plan frustrates many university leaders who support the funding offered by Hull's plan.
"People are saying we need to have a dedicated funding source for faculty salaries and technology to bring Arizona to the table with the rest of the states," Gignac said. "The speaker's plan does the opposite."
Many supporters of the Arizona 2000 plan are looking at the situation one step at a time.
"Our focus is getting the governor's bill past the Senate. It is a matter of convincing the legislature that this is the right thing to do," said Patricia Likens, spokeswoman for Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan.
Now that the bill has cleared the Senate, Keegan's office is concentrating on the House.
"The stumbling block is in the leadership, Speaker Groscost has made it clear that he will not entertain the bill, but we will also have the members to sit down with and have a discussion," Likens said.
With the supporters of both bills debating revisions and amendments, it is unclear whether the voters will have a chance to decide in November.
"If the Legislature continues on the road they are on we will end up with higher education in the mediocrity range." Gignac said. "I have always believed that Arizona residents deserve better than to be at the bottom of every list."