Arizona lawmakers looking to permanently extend Proposition 301

Mar 21, 2018, 6:54 PM | Updated: 8:28 pm

Republican Arizona state Sen. Steve Yarbrough explains his opposition to a children's health insura...

Republican Arizona state Sen. Steve Yarbrough explains his opposition to a children's health insurance bill that was headed to approval on Friday, May 6, 2016, at the Capitol in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)

(AP Photo/Bob Christie)

LISTEN: Steve Yarbrough, President of the Arizona Senate

PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers are looking to fast-track a bill that would permanently extend a voter-approved measure that added a sales tax in an effort to boost education funding.

Proposition 301 was initially passed in 2000.

It increased sales tax in the state by six-tenths of a cent — from 5 percent to 5.6 percent — to fund education for the next 20 years. It generates about $600 million each year.

The sales tax was set to expire in 2021, but Arizona Senate President Steve Yarbrough told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac and Gaydos that lawmakers will push a bill through the Legislature on Thursday to permanently extend the measure.

“Our top priority has been K-12 funding and increasing teacher pay,” Yarbrough said.

The announcement came on the same day that nine schools in a Glendale school district were closed after all or most of its teachers called in sick to participate at a protest at the Arizona Capitol.

Yarbrough said the bill would not raise the amount of the sales tax, a point of contention for educators and supporters.

Noah Karvelis, an organizer with Arizona Educators United, an advocacy group that pushes for teacher pay raises, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac and Gaydos that he believes the proposition is “absolutely necessary” but said without an increase in the sales tax, it would not be enough to keep teachers in the state.

“That doesn’t fix the issue at all,” he said.

Karvelis said he believes lawmakers are making this push in reaction to Wednesday’s so-called “sick-out.”

“They’re realizing its a real movement, people are mobilizing and showing up,” he said. “It has to be in the forefront of their minds.”

Karvelis was not the only person looking to raise the sales tax: Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes on Tuesday that she would support an extension of Proposition 301, but would like to raise it to a full penny.

“We have two huge issues in this state: school safety and teacher salaries,” she said.

But Yarbrough pushed back, arguing that the money brought in from the sales tax could go entirely to teacher pay, but said it would be up to the school boards.

“School boards set teacher pay, but we want to move more money in that pot to hopefully raise teacher pay,” he said.

Yarbrough said he has not talked to Gov. Doug Ducey, but expected him to sign the bill once it passed through multiple committees and caucus.

“We want to do better for teachers and we’re doing everything in our power to make that happen.”

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Arizona lawmakers looking to permanently extend Proposition 301