The farce continues. It took an Arizona Supreme Court Justice about 20 minutes to throw out Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett’s ridiculous attempt to prevent voters from deciding whether to extend a recently imposed one-cent sales tax hike earmarked for schools and highways.
The Legislature reluctantly put the one-cent sales tax hike on the ballot two years ago, promising voters it would use the money to protect public schools from looming budget cuts.
Unfortunately, the Legislature largely ignored its promise and imposed deep cuts on school budgets. Come this year, lawmakers used about half of the billion dollars the tax generates to set up a Rainy Day fund, partly because the sales tax levee expires next year.
So advocates for education went out and got 290,000 signatures for a ballot initiative that will extend the one-cent sales tax increase — and require the Legislature to spend the money on public schools and public highways.
Bennett startled everyone by throwing out the petitions, citing an inconsequential difference in the wording on the petitions between the actual documents people signed and the electronic copy initially provided to the Secretary of State’s Office. The judge rightly ruled that the difference in wording was inconsequential, since the 290,000 voters who signed the petitions knew exactly what they were doing.
That should have settled the issue. But Bennett is appealing the judge’s ruling and legislative leaders have filed briefs supporting his position.
Mind you, Bennett also made Arizona look foolish earlier this year when he suggested he might not put President Barack Obama’s name on the Arizona ballot, unless the state of Hawaii provided him with a birth certificate he believed.
Now, we’re not saying we’re sure how to vote on Proposition 204. We certainly like the idea of protecting school funding, with Arizona ranked 48th nationally in per-student spending. But we’re leery of over-reliance on the volatile sales tax and dictating state spending through initiatives.
But set that aside.
The voters should decide the issue. For the Legislature and the Secretary of State to engage in shabby manipulations to thwart the voters shows their deep contempt for the people they’re supposed to represent.
Opponents of the tax extension should make their case and trust the voters. Instead, they’ve staged this maddening farce foisted on the voters by a claptrap of clowns.
The Gila Community College Board has made huge strides in the past six months when it comes to creatively exploring the pressing problems facing the district — despite the distracting snapping of the alligators of circumstance. Once beset by dysfunctional divisions between north and south, the board members have transformed their relationships thanks to compromise and restraint on all sides.
Still, we hope the board will now accelerate movement toward both independence and the partnerships Rim Country so sorely needs.
Unfortunately, the grinning alligators keep intruding.
For instance, enrollment dropped sharply this year, which will put a strain on the already hard-pressed budget. Denied the state support all the other college districts receive and which voters in this county deserve, GCC must rely mostly on tuition and property taxes. With the property tax rate pushed up to the statutory maximum, that leaves tuition. So the board is considering an increase in tuition, although it already suffers one of the highest per-unit rates in the state.
Make no mistake, the abandonment of community colleges by the state and federal governments represents a tragic mistake. The community college remains a door left ajar to the American Dream. It ought to offer nearly free college and vocational education, so people can rise through hard work and vision without relying on trust funds and family connections.
But the rapid increase in community college tuition threatens to drown that promise, like an alligator at the watering hole.
GCC’s only escape from this crippling cycle of cuts lies in gaining independence, so it can claim fair treatment and control of its own destiny. Beyond that necessary change, GCC must deepen its relationship with Payson High School to help bright students earn college credits.
Finally, GCC must become an essential part of any plan for a university campus here in Payson.
The board would do well to remember the adage: When beset by alligators, sometimes it’s best to drain the swamp.