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Legislature passes education sales-tax extension

Gov. Ducey says he will sign

Arizona lawmakers voted to extend a sales tax that helps fund public education, ensuring that more than $600 million in state revenues earmarked for schools will continue for another two decades.

The bill to extend Proposition 301 was fast tracked through the Senate and voted out of the House on Thursday afternoon amid mounting pressure from educators who have protested at the Capitol over inadequate funding for public schools.

Revenues from Prop. 301, a six-tenths of a cent sales tax approved by voters in 2000, provide funding for teacher pay and performance-based raises, among other education-related expenses.

If not extended, the sales tax is set to expire in June 2021. As approved by the House and Senate, SB 1390 ensures the tax will continue through June 2041.

Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

A spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey said he would sign the measure.

SB 1390 also moves a larger portion of Prop. 301 dollars into the classroom site fund,  which provides a boost to teacher salaries. By 2021, debt payments being made with Prop. 301 revenues will be settled, and the roughly $64 million annually going towards debt service will instead go towards teacher salaries.

Some Republican lawmakers opposed the measure to extend Prop. 301. The original proposition was approved by voters, and should be extended by voters if they so choose, said Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert)

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert)

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said he simply thinks Prop. 301 is bad policy.

“I don’t know how I can vote for a tax continuation, or a new tax, however you want to characterize it… when I don’t agree with the policy,” Farnsworth said.

As Farnsworth alluded to, Republicans had to weigh whether extending Prop. 301 amounted to a vote for a tax hike. Technically, the vote was for an increase in state revenues, which triggers a provision in Arizona’s Constitution requiring a two-thirds majority to approve bills that “provide a net increase in state revenues.”

Most Republicans in Arizona have vowed to never raise taxes — among them, Ducey.

But a majority of Republican lawmakers joined all Democrats in both chambers to overwhelmingly approve the bill and avoid the risk of teachers losing all those dollars generated by Prop. 301.

The bill passed 26-4 in the Senate and 53-6 in the House.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, called passing SB 1390 “the right thing to do to create some level of certainty with this important source of funding for our schools.”

The sponsor of SB 1390, Phoenix Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, vowed that extending the Prop. 301 sales tax was simply the first step in a broader conversation about the next Prop. 301 — a new infusion of public money for K-12 schools.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

While Democrats warned against future legislators tinkering with the sales tax revenues, something Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, and others have sought to do, Yarbrough said lawmakers should applaud the bipartisan vote.

“Rather than fretting, I would recommend celebrating,” Yarbrough said. “This is a good day for public education in Arizona.”

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