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Republican lawmakers insist on bigger, more immediate pay hike for teachers

Five current and former teachers of the year delivered a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey on April 10 detailing their disappointment with his signing of a voucher expansion law. From left to right: Beth Maloney, John-David Bowman, Nancie Lindblom, Christine Marsh and Michelle Doherty.

Five current and former teachers of the year delivered a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey on April 10 detailing their disappointment with his signing of a voucher expansion law. From left to right: Beth Maloney, John-David Bowman, Nancie Lindblom, Christine Marsh and Michelle Doherty.

Republican lawmakers are working to line up the votes for a budget deal that would give teachers more than the 0.4 percent raise offered in January by Gov. Doug Ducey.

The package would provide an across-the-board raise of one percent this coming year, with another one percent over the next two years. That gets to the same two percent raise the governor had offered, but which Ducey wants to phase in over five years.

Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Yee said Ducey’s proposal, sketched out in his State of the State speech, is not going over well among members of the GOP caucus.

“We want a round number,” she told Capitol Media Services.

That 0.4 percent hike on the average $45,477 salary reported by the National Education Association (and which is near the bottom of the nation) translates out to $181 a year for the average teacher, or about a dollar a day for the typical school year. And that’s before taxes.

By contrast, a 1 percent increase is $455 a year, with the promise of an additional amount phased in over the following year or two.

But to fund the full penny this year would add another approximately $20 million on top of what Ducey budgeted for his 0.4 percent raise, and another penny on top of that would cost another $35 million. And that expense likely would have to be covered by lawmakers opting not to fund some of the governor’s other education priorities.

Among the possible losers are Ducey’s plan to put $10 million into restoring state-funded full-day kindergarten for schools in the poorest neighborhoods, and a $1,000 bonus for teachers who agree to work at schools in which 60 percent of youngsters come from families eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches.

The bigger battle over the nearly $9.8 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year could come over Ducey’s proposal to allow the universities to keep $30 million a year they would otherwise pay in state sales taxes.

Ducey wants that set aside as payments in a $1 billion borrowing plan for new construction. While there is some sentiment for additional university dollars, many lawmakers are balking at the funding scheme, which would remove their ability to control the dollars.

The governor also asked lawmakers to let universities keep another $6 million they would otherwise pay in local sales taxes. That, however, has proven to be a non-starter amid opposition from cities.

Also still up for debate is Ducey’s proposal to take more than $90 million collected in vehicle license fees and gasoline taxes to help fund the Highway Patrol.

The problem is those dollars would otherwise go to road construction and repairs. Rural lawmakers contend their areas have been shorted for years and want those dollars restored.

There are alternative sources of revenue. One would be to ask voters to raise the 18-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax, a levy which has not been adjusted since 1991. The governor, however, said he is opposed to that, even if voters were to get the last word.

A separate plan to fund Highway Patrol with a surcharge on automobile insurance rather than road funds has also failed to advance.

Even if a deal were to be reached in the next few days, the chances of a vote this week are virtually nil.

The Republicans hold a 35-25 edge in the House.

But one of those seats is vacant following the resignation last week of Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria. And the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has through the end of the week to choose his replacement from three people nominated by party workers.

That 35th vote could be crucial as several GOP lawmakers may balk at the failure to put even more dollars into K-12 education, especially with Ducey having just signed legislation that will greatly expand the ability of parents to use tax dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools. The Republican majority cannot count on support from Democrats, who have their own priorities.

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