Prop 204 would make tax hike eternal

80 percent of funds from levy to be set aside for education

One of the most controversial propositions voters will see on November's ballot would make the temporary one-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2010 permanent.

The tax went into effect June 1, 2010. It increased the state sales tax rate to 6.6 cents and raised more than $1 billion. It is supposed to end May 31, 2013.

Proposition 204, the Quality Education and Jobs Act, would not only make the tax permanent but if approved, it would prohibit the Legislature from cutting funding to education below a certain level and prevent the Legislature from diverting money from the Highway User Revenue Fund. The HURF fund is used to collect money to repair roadways across the state.

According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, if approved, the propositions could take $971 million from taxpayers its first year.

One of the most controversial propositions voters will see on November's ballot would make the temporary one-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2010 permanent.

The tax went into effect June 1, 2010. It increased the state sales tax rate to 6.6 cents and raised more than $1 billion. It is supposed to end May 31, 2013.

Proposition 204, the Quality Education and Jobs Act, would not only make the tax permanent but if approved, it would prohibit the Legislature from cutting funding to education below a certain level and prevent the Legislature from diverting money from the Highway User Revenue Fund. The HURF fund is used to collect money to repair roadways across the state.

According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, if approved, the propositions could take $971 million from taxpayers its first year.

The proposition would designate 80 percent of the first billion dollars collected for education. The remaining 20 percent would go to fixing roads, supporting public safety, and health care for children without health insurance.

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank that opposes the proposition, claims that proposition is essentially a blank check written to school districts. There are no requirements that the money be spent on hiring teachers, increasing teacher pay or money to classrooms and there is no way to determine if the money is being spent wisely.

The institute also claims that the 20 percent designated for roads, public safety and children's health care is designed to pay off special interest groups that supported the proposition.

The Quality Education and Jobs Committee, which proposed the proposition, disagrees.

On its website, it points to language in the proposition that details exactly how the money collected by the tax would be divided up.

According to the ballot language, $500 million is set aside for a "quality education and performance fund." Some of that money will go to make sure that schools meet the new "Common Core" standards that are taking the place of the Arizona Instrument for Measuring Standards tests.

The proposition also requires students to be reading proficiently by third grade or be held back a year. It also creates a system to test and award high school students who show a readiness for college with diplomas from Grand Canyon University.

Another $10 million is slated for the Arizona Department of Education to install a system that tracks student achievement and school district financial data. According to Quality Education and Jobs, 12 percent of the funding will be tied to graduation rates, drop-out rates and SAT/ACT scores.

The proposition also designates $90 million for teacher training and technology. The funds would be doled out based on the performance record of schools. Teachers and principals will have one-third to one-half of their evaluations linked to student achievement. The Department of Education will be responsible for coming up with a system to judge a school's performance.

$100 million will be put into a state infrastructure fund for road and infrastructure improvements by the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Another $25 million is designated for Kids Care, the state's child health insurance system for families with children under the age of 19 and who have an income of 200 percent below the federal poverty level.

Another $100 million is slated for the governor's office to use to match federal funds for programs that help provide for children and families that have income below the poverty level.

Fifty million dollars is designated for universities and colleges to use for scholarships and infrastructure expenses. According to the ballot language, at least half of this money has to be used for financial need or academic achievement scholarships.

The last $125 million of the first $1 billion collected will go to the state general fund to help offset the cost of inflation in the K-12 school system.

If more than a billion dollars is collected, the additional funds will be split in the following way:

• Thirty-three percent to schools to help children in the free lunch program succeed in school and for voluntary preschool programs.

• Twenty-two and one-half percent to community colleges for scholarships, career training and technical training programs.

• Nine percent to joint technical education districts.

• Two percent to the Department of Education for adult education programs.

• Twenty-two and one-half percent to universities for scholarships.

• Eleven percent for state infrastructure improvements.

The Quality Education and Jobs Committee also points out that the proposition requires an independent third-party audit every five years for all of the funds designated for education purposes.

State legislators and Gov. Jan Brewer also claim the proposition prevents the Legislature from budgeting funding as needed for state services by prohibiting state education funding from dropping below 2012 levels and prohibiting the state from diverting HURF funds to other needs.

It also prevents the Legislature from changing the tax base in such a way as to reduce funding to the programs created by the proposition.

The Quality Education and Jobs website points out that Arizona has led the nation in cuts to education funding since 2008. This proposition would provide the schools with a guaranteed level of funding.

Opponents also point out that making the tax permanent would give Arizona one of the highest sales taxes in the nation.

The Quality Education and Jobs website states that the proposition only protects the one-cent sales tax. The state can adjust the remaining 5.6 percent of the sales tax in any direction it wishes.