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Arizona Republican lawmaker wants education sales tax extended

(Flickr/US Department of Education)

PHOENIX — A Republican state lawmaker on Wednesday introduced legislation that would permanently extend a sales tax that currently provides about $550 million a year for K-12 education in Arizona.

Rep. Doug Coleman of Apache Junction said making the six-tenths of one cent sales tax permanent would provide more budget certainty to the state’s public schools. The tax approved by voters as Proposition 301 in 2000 brings in than 10 percent of total state school funding and expires after 2020.

“I wanted to wait and see what all was included in the governor’s state of the state and see if there was any discussion about Prop 301,” Coleman said. “And seeing and hearing none, I thought this might be a good first step — getting rid of that cliff.”

Gov. Doug Ducey has supported extending and “modernizing” the tax but has made no move to put it on the ballot. His spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, declined to say Wednesday if he would back Coleman’s proposal and referred to Ducey’s previous statements.

Republican lawmakers are hesitant to raise taxes and Coleman acknowledges getting the required two-thirds vote is in doubt.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas called last year for the tax to be extended and increased to a full penny to provide an additional $400 million a year for schools.

Most of that money would fund an immediate 11 percent increase in teacher salaries, nearly $5,000 per year for an average teacher earning just over $45,0 a year.

Arizona has among the lowest teacher pay in the nation and schools are finding it difficult to recruit and retain teachers.

Coleman’s proposal comes a day after Ducey proposed to spend $100 million this year to begin restoring some school capital funding that was cut following the Great Recession. The Republican governor said his plan would add more cash over the next five years until it hits $371 million a year, nearly what has been cut from capital budgets.

The governor said that should help settle a lawsuit filed by a group of schools, education groups and citizens for cuts that forced schools to use operations cash for capital costs like computer software, textbooks and other so-called “soft capital” needs. The suit, filed in April, alleges the state illegally cut capital funding and could owe as much as $2 billion.

On Wednesday, one of the plaintiffs pulled out of the lawsuit. The Arizona Association of School Business Officials said in a statement that “the Governor’s proposal has merit and provides the kind of support that brings immediate relief to our school districts versus waiting for the outcome of the lawsuit.”

Education supporters have called for all $1.1 billion in yearly funding that has yet to be restored from recession-era cuts to be restores and say the governor’s proposal is a fraction of what is needed.

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