Down Another Black Hole (Tax and Budget)

Posted on May 15, 2002 | Type: In the News
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More Taxes for Facilities Board are no Answer to Budget Crisis

Special interests and 100-degree temperatures are taking their toll on our state legislators, who are showing even more pronounced signs of dementia than usual.

We even have some normally principled "Read my Lips!" Republicans talking about raising taxes, for crying out loud. And where would they pump the hundreds of millions of dollars from their "temporary" statewide property tax? Why into that fiscal black hole known as the state School Facilities Board, of course.

This is the same board that awarded a $100 million contract to Qwest Communications to wire all the state's schools to the Internet--yet will probably have to throw in another $57 million to get the job done. And that's just one ragged loose end of the board's multimillion-dollar mismanagement of school construction and repair projects uncovered by Tribune investigative reporters Mark Flatten and Jennifer Ryan.

Senate President Randall Gnant, R-Scottsdale, regurgitated the "T" word on Monday as legislators scratched their heads over a $240 million shortfall in the facilities board's wish list that a state judge demands be met. Due to the state revenue shortfall and concerns about the board's operations, lawmakers had sensibly wanted to slow the money flow. That's still a good plan, and they should appeal the judge's spurious ruling.

Meanwhile, the normally lucid Sen. David Petersen, R-Mesa, has fallen in with school-choice foes who want to water down or kill Arizona's scholarship-fund tax credit. The scholarships already help 19,000 children attend private and parochial schools, saving the state $2 in public-school expenditures for every $1 that doesn't enter the state's coffers due to the credit.

A Goldwater Institute study projects savings to Arizona taxpayers of more than $53 million a year by 2005 if the tax credit is expanded to businesses from individuals and married couples. That's because private schools' per-pupil costs are significantly lower than public schools' and the parents of scholarship recipients often share tuition costs.

We know why the public-school establishment has fought this tax credit so hard. But Petersen and other legislative Republicans who profess support for school choice and fiscal responsibility should know better--and stand firm against cutting the credit.

To balance the budget, lawmakers should take a harder look at all state agencies, boards and commissions for budgetary fat. Arizona government has dozens of boards of dubious value that deplete scarce tax dollars.

Stephen Slivinski, director of tax and budget studies at the Goldwater Institute, provided a list of prospective cuts on these pages earlier this month. He said the state's fiscal garden needs weeding, not mere trimming.

That's excellent advice, and legislative leaders should act on it instead of talking tax hikes.

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