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Updated Jun 10, 2013 - 5:41 pm

Arizona House passes school bonds bill

PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers have slashed $1 billion from public education
dollars in recent years and gone to court to avoid mandatory increases in school
funding. Now they want taxpayers to directly cover the costs of new
construction, repairs, equipment and school buses.

The Arizona House of Representatives passed legislation Monday that would allow
school boards to increase local property taxes to pay for bonds to cover
long-term capital costs. The 31-26 vote on Monday illustrated a division among
lawmakers on both sides of the aisle over how to fund Arizona schools hit hard
by the recession.

Supporters described the measure as a temporary salve until the state comes up
with a permanent plan to restore school funding, while conservative Republicans
said it would wound homeowners still recovering from the economic downturn.

“Many families are hurting. This bill says let them eat cake,” Republican
Rep. John Allen of Scottsdale said.

House Bill 2399 would allow school districts to set bond limits of up to 20
percent of its tax base, up from the current limit of up to 10 percent. The bill
was revived recently after months of inaction and came to the floor late Monday
with little notice.

Jeremy Calles, chief financial officer of the Kyrene School District in
Phoenix, said educators need more money to cover basic repairs, including leaky
roofs and broken pipes that emit sewer fumes and distract students.

The bill faces a difficult road to passage because it still needs to move out
of the Senate, but lawmakers appear eager to end the legislative session soon.
It’s also unclear if Republican leaders will support a measure that could
potentially increase property taxes by up to $400 million statewide, according
to state estimates.

Some GOP lawmakers said the measure would contribute to inequitable education
funding because property wealth can vary wildly between each school district.

“This is a bad bill,” Republican Rep. Justin Olson of Mesa said.

More than 100 school districts had outstanding bonds totaling $3.9 billion in
2012. Roughly a third of the districts cannot raise more money because they have
reached the bond limit established under state law. Meanwhile, declining
property values in recent years also limited how much schools could collect from

With the economy sinking, state lawmakers passed a $123 million cut to
education funding in 2009. A year later, they cut $144 million. In 2011, it was
$288 million. The next year, it was a whopping $328 million. In 2013, the
Legislature reduced education funding by roughly $280 million.

State education leaders have endorsed the proposed bond limit increase, while
business and anti-tax groups oppose it. Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona
Tax Research Association, said the bill would trigger legal challenges if it is
signed into law.


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