Editorial: One for all and all for ... oh, never mind

As they said during the beginning of what some now call the Great Recession, "We're all in this together - except for the public schools."

Let me explain. Way back in 2000, a voter-approved law raised the state sales tax by 0.6 percent and required the money be spent on annual inflation increases for schools. (Trust me on that, since I'm copying straight from an AP story that appeared in Friday's Miner).

In keeping with the "we're all in this together" thinking that prevailed when the Legislature met in 2009 (that flushing noise you hear in the background is the economy), our lawmakers started glomming onto any cash they could while slashing and hacking at anything that stood still, all in order to balance the books. As a reference point, that's when you first started hearing local elected officials grump about Highway User Revenue Fund cuts.

I'll concede, five-plus years later, that it was pretty stupid of the Legislature to grab money that was promised to public schools by a vote of the people. Common sense tells you that. But at the time - you do remember how dark those days were, don't you? - it proved to be irresistible. If I was a legislator, I probably would have thought the school districts would understand and go along.

Fat chance of that happening, eh?

It's five years later and most of us have survived. The legal action filed to punish the legislators of '09 for their action continues, however, and a judge has ordered an immediate payment of $317 million to schools.

To prove he has a sense of humor (and, perhaps, a cut of that $317,000,000 coming his way), attorney Don Peters said allowing the state to delay the payment would cause "irreparable damage."

Right. It's Fat City now compared to early '09, but if the schools don't get a third-of-a-billion pronto, they're toast.

"We think the judgment is correct, and if it's correct then the Legislature should be complying right now, because schools and students are being deprived of the funding that the voters said they should have," Peters said after being contacted in the showroom of a Scottsdale Mercedes-Benz dealership.

(Just kidding about the Mercedes-Benz part. The rest was straight out of Friday's Miner.)

Anyway, the $317M is just part of the story on the funding, which was restored by the Legislature in 2013. The total back payment could total $1.3 billion - or lots more, if the charter schools also get involved.

In other words, this lawsuit could end up making the next session of the Legislature about a third as bad as it was in 2009.

We were all in it together in 2009. It just turns out the public schools didn't like the company they were keeping.

•••

Now we hear 169 state government employees received raises without the approval of the Department of Administration. (That's news from the Dec. 9 edition of the Miner.) I'm all for following the rules on raises, especially for salaries paid with tax dollars, but what really caught my eye was not that employees got raises, but that some of the raises were for more than 20 percent.

If you're keeping track at home, let's say a state employee is making $1,253 a week. A 20 percent raise would be ... hmmm, no, that's not right ... well, it would be for a lot more than $1,254 a week.

What I'm really saying is that if the state can afford a 20 percent raise for any employee, it's tough for me to believe any taxes need to be increased.