On May 17, voters will determine the fate of Proposition 123, a measure that would amend the Arizona Constitution to allow the sale of state land, and use the proceeds to fund K-12 education. In a state where education funding is desperately needed, where students have grown accustomed to underfunded public schools, it is tempting to support this silver bullet. Resist that temptation. Prop. 123 offers an illusory win-win, a mirage that quickly disappears under any kind of scrutiny.
Next August, thousands of kindergartners in Arizona will begin their educational careers. Around the same time, the proceeds of state land sales will also begin entering school budgets. Our five- and six-year-olds will read glossy new books. Their teachers will smile and greet them with enthusiasm, themselves the recipients of much-needed raises. Their classrooms will shine with fresh coats of paint. We will watch all of this with self-congratulatory satisfaction: Finally, we’re funding our schools the way we should have all along.
In 10 years, our budding learners will be starting high school. For their entire academic lives, they’ve enjoyed the spoils of state land revenues. Sure, their schools haven’t always been perfect, and they could always do with more money, but all things considered, our children have benefited from a better school system than would have been possible without Prop. 123. Entering their freshman year, though, our children are in for an unexpected jolt. In the 2025-2026 school year, Prop. 123 expires. No more state land sales. No more extra revenue for schools. No more new books, teacher raises, fresh paint.
When you sell your car, you get a fistful of cash. But you know what? You also don’t have a car anymore. If you use that cash to buy a new car, great. You can still go to work. You can still drive your kids to piano lessons. If you use that cash to build a pool, not so great. You can afford the construction costs, but what about the filters and chemicals that keep the water safe for your kids? Over time, the infusion of cash you got from selling your car dwindles. Eventually, it disappears entirely.
The governor and other Prop. 123 supporters want to sell public land. With the cash, they want to raise salaries, buy books, paint classrooms. What they don’t want to do is think about how they will keep paying teachers once the profits from the land sales have dried up. This constitutional amendment offers a temporary fix for a deeply entrenched failure of public policy. Our students deserve better.
Prop. 123 represents a key piece of Governor Ducey’s strategy to bolster his reputation as a fiscal conservative. His political narrative simultaneously embraces tax cuts and spending increases. Of course, he’s literally selling the land from under our feet, but he hopes we won’t notice.
To complete the deception, Governor Ducey offers the golden calf of fiscal conservatism: the elimination of the income tax. “Go forth, incrementally richer taxpayer,” he whispers in our ears, “Spend to your heart’s content! (Or, rather, up to $545, the amount the average Arizona taxpayer will save if the income tax is eliminated). Go ahead, buy a set of used golf clubs from a second-hand store in the sketchy part of town. You deserve it!”
Christopher Saunders is a resident of Tucson.