A veteran legislator seeking to represent Rim Country in the state senate journeyed to Payson last week to unveil a bold plan to increase school funding, decrease college tuition and still reduce tax rates —mostly by closing loopholes in the existing tax code.
Flagstaff State House Rep. Tom Chabin has locked up the Democratic nomination and will face current House Rep. Chester Crandell in November. The Heber-based Crandell currently represents Rim Country in Legislative District 4, but new district lines will move both Rim Country and Heber into District 6, along with Flagstaff, Sedona, Camp Verde, and a portion of Fountain Hills.
Chabin told the Payson Democratic Women’s Club last week that Arizona will never recover economically if the Legislature doesn’t act to protect the school system and make college affordable for the state’s students.
“We have to create a system where it’s not so hard for our kids to get a degree,” said the former Coconino County Supervisor and Tuba City School Board member. “We’re not doing this for them — we’re doing this for us,” he said, noting that young people support Social Security and Medicare and determine the strength of the economy.
Chabin said independent studies have shown that the state’s total tax collections currently total about $8.6 billion — down from more than $11 billion three years ago. However, repealing exemptions to the sales tax, like food and services, could generate $10 billion in additional revenue. Eliminating loopholes in all taxes could generate a total of $20 billion.
Chabin wants to phase out or “sunset” most exemptions to the sales tax and income taxes over a period of seven years and use the extra money to lower income and sales tax rates across the board while still increasing spending, mostly on education.
He said Arizona should move from 48th in per-student spending for K-12 school to about 24th nationally, which would cost between $2.5 billion and $3 billion.
The U.S. Census Bureau puts per-student spending at $8,882, when all local, state and federal sources are combined. The 24th-ranked state, Kansas, spends $11,939 per student.
The national average stands at $12,250, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Next, Chabin wants to cap university tuition tuition at $1,500 per semester, compared to nearly $5,000 per semester at present.
Finally, he wants to cap community college tuition at $500 annually, less than half of the current tuition levels at most colleges.
Closing income tax and sales tax revenue loopholes would contribute only about one-third of the savings.
Another third of the money from the loophole closing could restore program cuts made in the past three years. The final third could be used to lower sales and income tax rates overall, he said.
He said voters must elect lawmakers willing to solve problems and seek solutions, rather than lawmakers trapped by ideology and a pledge to never raise taxes in any form.
“Republicans are good and decent people,” said the longtime Democrat. “They’re not crazy. But they’re trapped in ideology. Their ideology is that if you cut taxes, you’re gonna generate more taxes. Ask students whose tuition has doubled if that theory works. Ask teachers who have so many kids in their classroom they can’t teach if that theory works. Ask the Town of Payson that has lost a million dollars in state-shared revenue if that system works. Ask your school board that had to close a school and increase class sizes if that system works.
“The Legislature has acted deliberately to undermine schools, but they’re so driven by ideology that they don’t even know it.”
Chabin said the state must protect children — by providing access to a high quality education and preventing abuse. He noted that the Legislature has cut deeply into the ranks of Child Protective Services investigators and caseworkers and cut off medical coverage for children in low-income families.
Chabin then turned to Gila County Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill sitting in the audience.
“I have asked CPS caseworkers how often drugs and alcohol are involved in the cases they investigate — and they say 100 percent. Ask any cop that makes an arrest whether drugs, alcohol or mental illness was involved and they’ll say almost every one. What do you find in your cases here in Gila County,” Chabin asked the judge.
“It’s high. Very high,” said Cahill. “In the family court cases, it’s probably 100 percent. In criminal cases, its 60, 70, 80 percent.”
“And how often do you find that the drugs and alcohol masks an underlying mental illness?” asked Chabin.
“Often. Often,” said Cahill.”
“Couldn’t we go on and on?” Chabin asked his audience, drawing cries of assent.
He said he hopes to appeal to moderate Republicans tired of the ideological extremes of many current office holders, including Crandell who Chabin criticized for supporting a bill that would allow students and staff to carry guns on school campuses and bills that seek to take over control of federal land in the state.
“People are tired of the partisan bickering,” said Chabin. “I’m tired of it and I live with it.”