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Prop. 204′s defeat puts education funding on legislators

PHOENIX -- Now that voters rejected Proposition 204, the task of funding education when a temporary sales tax expires in May will remain with the state Legislature.

The measure would have replaced the temporary 1 cent-per-dollar sales tax to fund education with a permanent one estimated to generate $1 billion a year, primarily for education.

While some supporters said the defeat of Proposition 204 will lead to larger class sizes, teacher layoffs and even school closures, the head of the state House Appropriations Committee painted a far different picture Wednesday.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that as the economy recovers, the Legislature will slowly increase education spending as it can.

"There will be no cuts and there will be no dire consequences," Kavanagh said. "That was just campaign scare tactics."

Kavanagh said that the expiration of the temporary tax won't mean more cuts to education.

"The temporary tax was there so revenues could catch up to expenditures and that's what happened," he said.

Matthew Benson, spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, said that Brewer and legislative leaders will meet in January to decide the best way to fund education.

"We have $800 million in surplus, and so we're in a better position to fund priorities than we have been in years," Benson said.

But state Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said the failure of Proposition 204 puts schools in "mortal danger" and should focus lawmakers on finding permanent ways to fund education.

"It means we'd better act quickly this session in the Legislature to keep our kids from falling off a cliff," he said.

Ann-Eve Pedersen, chairwoman of the campaign supporting the proposition, said schools will suffer because lawmakers aren't likely to restore adequate funding for schools.

"Unfortunately, because of this vote there are going to be some very devastating consequences for the kids in our state," Pedersen said.

Timothy Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said that voters have made it clear that Proposition 204 wasn't the solution to funding education.

"What it means more than anything is that the state Legislature is now on the spot and will have a hard time being able to reduce the over $650 million in current budget cuts in schools," Ogle said.

E.J. Perkins, policy analyst with Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said that while significant challenges to funding education remain, all is not lost.

"I think the debate has served to put this at the top of mind for many lawmakers," he said. "And so I think there may be some good solutions that come out of this in the end."

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