Jackson: Mussi commentary misses the mark on state revenue situation

Response: Why are lawmakers pushing billions in tax hikes despite record state revenue? Despite “record revenue” and tax cuts, education spending sits below pre-recession levels.

Currently, lawmakers are claiming that they’ve succeeded in increasing “per-pupil” funding for students in Arizona. Rep. Anthony Kern (Glendale-R) claimed on Twitter that, in total dollars, “Under Republican leadership, per-pupil funding for AZ schools has increased from $7,119 in 2001 to $10,120 today…” The claim has since been parroted, and Mr. Mussi echoed similar sentiments in his opinion.

Steven Jackson

A more honest discussion would substitute inflation adjusted numbers, which account for the purchasing power of dollars being discussed.

The costs of goods, services, and labor change… for instance, gas cost an average of $1.43 per gallon in 2001 and started in 2018 at $2.49 a gallon.

We had no tablets in classrooms in 2001, no iPhones, and flat screen TVs were a new concept.

No legitimate discussion on revenue and/or education spending should be based on total dollars spent when legislators and the public have inflation adjusted numbers available (see: https://www.azleg.gov/jlbc/allfunding2001.pdf).

In real dollars that take inflation into account, the state by itself spends less than it did, down to $4,560 in 2019 from $5,161 in 2001. If you include state, local and federal spending, you see spending increased from $8,824 to $8,855 in the same time period. Essentially, the state decreased its burden while taking credit for an increase in local and federal dollars.

Since the great recession in 2008, Arizona enacted corporate tax cuts and has cut or let state taxes expire. From 2009 to 2019, the state has only increased per pupil spending (in inflation adjusted dollars) from $4,555 to $4,560, which includes some of the additional dollars Mr. Mussi touts as the largest increase in per pupil funding in history.

In 2008, the state expenditure was $5,229 in inflation adjusted dollars.

The main thrust of Mr. Mussi’s argument is that it is absurd for lawmakers to call for tax increases when we’re spending so much money on education and have record revenue. In reality we’re spending less on education as a state then we did before the recession and the Governor’s proposal hasn’t been fully funded.

Lawmakers are proposing taxes because education isn’t properly funded currently and any increases are not funded moving forward. They simply remember that we’ve seen lawsuits because the state hasn’t been able to meet its constitutional obligation to fund education.

It is irresponsible and does not seem conservative to claim success where there are still clearly many issues to be resolved, a few of which may end up costing the state valuable dollars and time litigating against representatives of the people who teach our children.

Gov. Ducey has rightfully called for funding. Efforts like Mr. Mussi’s to inflate one-time revenue totals and education spending only embolden the same people who fought against any increase last year and tried to pass a paltry 1 percent increase to education funding before protesters made it less politically feasible.

Editor’s note: Mr. Jackson is a Scottsdale resident and founder of the Steven M. Jackson Law Group.

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