Legislators Short Change Gila County

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A curious issue has arisen regarding funding for Gila Community College.

A bill recently passed by the Arizona Legislature blocked funds to provisional community college districts. Since GCC is the only functioning provisional district in the state, that bill had the effect of eliminating about $2 million in state support to our district, while every other county in the state received full funding. What is more curious is that our elected legislators -- Rep. Jake Flake, R-Ariz., Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Ariz. and Sen. Jack Brown, D-Ariz. -- supported that legislation.

Gila County Dist. 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen claims the bill was rushed through the legislature "without much opportunity for anyone to lobby against it." He said the three legislators will work to correct the situation in a special session.

What casts a pall over this explanation is the fact that Eastern Arizona College Executive Vice President Brent McEuen attended a meeting yesterday between the legislators and county officials to discuss the issue. Provisional districts are required to partner with a full-fledged community college district to provide academic programs, and EAC provided that service to GCC for more than 30 years until it was recently dumped in favor of Pima Community College.

The parting was not amicable. Gila County filed a lawsuit to recover millions of dollars it believes EAC misappropriated. EAC did everything it could to make it difficult for GCC to transition to a new provider.

Flake, Brown and Konopnicki have repeatedly stated their preference for EAC over Pima Community College. The suggested rationale for taking this position is that the money appropriated by the state would then stay in their district, which includes Graham Count, where EAC is located.

Giving the three legislators the benefit of the doubt, their support of the bill that denies funding to GCC was at best the result of sloppy work.

If they weren't aware of what the legislation would do to Gila County, they should have been.

If the bill got rammed through without a chance for them to speak out, as Christensen claims, they never should have supported it.

If, on the other hand, the motive behind their vote is to somehow restore EAC as the provider of academic programs to GCC, they need to butt out of the educational process.

The bottom line is that the taxpayers of Gila County pay state taxes like everybody else. We are entitled to our fair share of educational dollars appropriated by the state.

Whatever happened, whatever the motives, it's our money and Flake, Brown and Konopnicki need to get it back for us.

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