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Chamber late on spending report in challenge to education tax

A business group waited until three days before the election to file a report disclosing it’s dumping more than $8.6 million into a last-ditch effort to defeat Proposition 208.

And the disclosure, filed electronically on Saturday by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is at least four days after the deadline. Plus it was not made until a complaint was filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

The report becomes evidence of a third separate pot of money designed to convince voters not to hike taxes on the state’s most wealthy to help fund K-12 education. It’s also the largest since source of cash.

Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy has listed $3.7 million in expenses in its last report which was filed on time. That includes $350,000 directly from the Arizona Chamber.

And a separate No on 208 committee, financed by different business interests, posted a report detailing $1.8 million in spending.

But even with the new infusion of dollars directly by the Chamber — far more than the $350,000 it listed as directly contributed to the Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy — the opposition is still being outspent by proponents.

The most recent reports of the Invest in Ed committee show $21.6 million in contributions, fueled largely by $7.75 million from the National Education Association and $5.1 million from Stand for Children.

That latter group does not, in turn, disclose its donors in its state campaign finance reports. And Rebecca Gau, executive director of the Arizona chapter, said she does not know as the dollars come through the national organization.

But the most recent financial report of Stand for Children Inc. list the major donors as The Michael R. Bloomberg Revocable Trust, The Ballmer Philanthropy Group and Stacy Schusterman, the last being a U.S. businesswoman, heiress and philanthropost.

The $16.9 million listed as spending by proponents, however, is not just on advertising and promotion.

It also includes what initiative organizer David Lujan said is about $4 million to hire paid circulators.

On top of that, he said, are the fees for attorneys — he had no figures — for the legal fight all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court to keep the measure on the ballot in the face of a challenge by the Arizona Chamber.

The Saturday disclosure by the Arizona Chamber actually is more than four days late.

It says that the money it has spent dates back as far as Sept. 15. And any expenditures through the end of September should have been disclosed in a report due on Oct. 15, a report the organization never filed at all.

The Oct. 26 deadline was supposed to cover all the other expenses between the beginning of Oct. and the 17th of the month, the period leading up to the general election, including funding already obligated for yet-to-run last-minute commercials.

Chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor told Capitol Media Services that waiting until Saturday before disclosing any of his organization’s spending was not a purposeful attempt to avoid public scrutiny.

“We inadvertently did not file on time, and once the issue was resolved, the Chamber took immediate action last week to resolve the filing,” he said. And Taylor said the organizations name was listed on advertising.

But Saturday’s filing did not come until a day after Lujan filed a complaint with state Elections Director Bo Dul, pointing out that the Arizona Chamber apparently was spending money and had yet to file any sort of campaign finance disclosure report.

The expenditures come as the most recent poll on Proposition 208, done by Monmouth University in New Jersey, show 60 percent of Arizonans questioned favor the measure that would impose a 3.5% surcharge on income above $250,000 a year for individuals and $500,000 for couples filing separately.

But there also are indications that backing for the proposal may be softening.

An identical survey of registered voters done by Monmouth found 66% support in September. And opposition has grown from 25% in September to 34% last month.

And the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, which opposes the measure, said early last month that its own survey found just 47% in support.

Supporters say the levy, which would affect only about 4% of filers, would generate about $940 million a year.

As described by backers, half of that would be for schools to hire teachers and classroom support personnel, a category that also includes librarians, nurses, counselors and coaches. Those dollars also could be used for raises.

Another quarter would be for support services personnel. That category covers classroom aides, security personnel, food service and transportation.

There’s 12% for grants for career and technical education program.

Another 10% is for mentoring and retaining new teachers in the classroom.

And the last 3% goes to the Arizona Teachers Academy to provide tuition grants for those who go into education.

Opponents contend that the money could end up in what they say are already bloated administrative expenses, citing a report by the state auditor general that just 55 cents of every dollar now raised goes to the classroom, and that the rest goes to administration and overhead.

But that auditor general’s report also says that Arizona schools, on average, spend less on administrative expenses than the rest of the country, an average of $903 per student here versus the most recent national average of $1,383. That accounts for 10 cents of every dollar.

And that 55-cent figure does not include other necessary instructional support like librarians and teacher training, nor guidance counselors, nurses, speech pathologists and social workers.

What’s left is everything from transportation costs to school maintenance.

 

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