By Linda Bentley | april 6, 2016

May 17 Special Election approaches to amend AZ Constitution

‘… let’s stop paying lawyers and start paying teachers’

PHOENIX – Early voting begins on April 20 for the May 17 Special Election during which voters will have the opportunity to approve or reject two constitutional amendments via propositions 123 and 124.

Prop 123 proposes amendments to Article X, Section7 and Article XI of the Arizona Constitution by adding Section 11, relating to education finance.

The proposition seeks to increase the distributions from the State Land Permanent Endowment Fund for the next 10 years from 2.5 percent to 6.9 percent of average market values to benefit Arizona K-12 schools, colleges and other beneficiary institutions, including a $259,266,200 distribution in fiscal year 2016.

The ballot measure also includes language with protections for state funds in the event of a severe economic downturn.

Gov. Doug Ducey said the consistent message he received from educators, parents and the business community is that classrooms need additional financial support.

Ducey said, “Proposition 123 is our innovative way of ensuring that our schools get additional sustainable funding now and into the future – without raising taxes. Better utilizing the State Land Trust, whose primary purpose since our state’s founding is to support K-12 education, will help us to inject our schools with $3.5 billion over the next 10 years. This money will go into our classrooms and get teachers additional resources they’ve been asking for, and in a way that gives them the flexibility they need to meet their needs. Proposition 123 not only provides new money to our classrooms but also sets in place economic safeguards to protect our state and settles the education funding lawsuit that has been hanging over our state for too long.”

The ballot measure seems to have bipartisan support as a means of increasing classroom spending without asking citizens for additional taxes.

It also appears to be primarily a means of settling an on-going legal battle, whereas Ducey states in his argument filed in support of Prop 123, “… let’s stop paying lawyers and start paying teachers.”

Numerous arguments have been filed against Prop 123, most of which site the voter-approved Prop 301 passed in 2000 to provide for continuous increases in education spending.

However, as was learned during the economic downturn that began in 2008, the state found those increases to be unsustainable and could not provide education with continued increases at the expense of all other services the state must provide.

Arguments against Prop 123 also claim will not only deplete the state land trust’s earning but its principal as well.

While much language has been added addressing the increase in funding from 2.5 percent to 6.9 percent with some safeguards in the event of an economic downturn, we were unable to find anything included in the bill’s language that designated the additional funds to the classroom.

The amendment simply addresses education finance, not the allocation of that money.

Prop 124 proposes to amend Article XXIX, Section 1 of the Arizona Constitution relating to public retirement systems.

The proposition would permit the state to adjust certain benefits in the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System to alleviate system underfunding, including the replacement of the current permanent benefit increase structure with a cost of living adjustment that is indexed for inflation and capped at 2 percent per year.

The current language in the Constitution states, “Public retirement system benefits shall not be diminished or impaired.”

The proposed amendment adds the clause, “except that certain adjustments to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System may be made as provided in SB 1428 …” which made voluminous changes to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System.