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Posted Oct 24, 2012, 4:57 pm
They say men are from Mars.
That also might be true for policy analysts – especially when trying to discuss intelligently the vagaries of Proposition 204.
In a discussion about the potential consequences should the initiative fail, an off-the-cuff comment quickly turned into a potential public-policy blooper. But on the other hand it also underscored the fact that, as many news columnists, editorials and pundits have pointed out, Prop. 204 is unclear and difficult to grasp.
In what was intended as an off-the-record remark with a reporter, I was asked if I thought advocates were overstating the potential negative consequences for school districts should Prop. 204 fail. I expressed my personal prediction, with this policy analyst unintentionally entering the debate fray:
“While that’s certainly a possibility, so are Martians landing tomorrow. If this thing fails … I don’t see any dramatic actions in that event.”
That remark, which wound up in print, may have been, in the words of a current candidate, “inelegantly stated.” But it underscores the fact that Prop. 204, as Arizona Republic columnist Bob Robb said, is so complicated that the debate is “taking place primarily at the high-policy level. It’s difficult to get voters to peer into the weeds on these complicated ballot propositions. But with Prop. 204, it’s important that they at least take a peek. That’s because, technically, Prop. 204 is a wreck.”
Here's what we do know:
The controversial initiative would make permanent a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase. About 80 percent of the revenues raised – at least $1 billion annually – would be earmarked for education. However, some advocates say failure to pass Prop. 204 at the ballot box in November could force teacher layoffs, overcrowded classrooms and possibly school closures.
Michael Hughes, president of the Arizona School Board Association, told the Arizona Capitol Times that moving ahead without the initiative’s funding could potentially be “devastating to our entire school system.” Others, including school board members who might be sympathetic to Prop. 204's goals, beg to differ – and vigorously so - on this point.
For the record, here’s this policy analyst’s true assessment of the issue:
Advocates who fear the worst-case scenario may have a legitimate point: School districts grappling with budget deficits could, in fact, find themselves in a quandary if Prop. 204 fails to pass and no other legislative action at the state or local level is taken to help resolve it.
That prospect is as real as the “and” is important.
Indeed, if voters say no to the ballot measure, Arizona would essentially be back to Square One both in terms of education funding and finding sustainable solutions to the long-term problem. But again, I don’t think anybody is in favor of allowing mass closure of schools.
Morrison Institute for Public Policy doesn't have a dog in this fight. But a ham-handed comment illustrates why it’s important not to evaluate Prop. 204 or any other ballot measure simply based on news media sound bites, whatever the source.
That’s also why the Morrison Institute has published a lauded series of comprehensive, balanced, nonpartisan briefs on each proposition, including Prop. 204, to offer facts along with possible pros and cons – but without the political noise from the contending interest groups.
Take a look at our Understanding Arizona's Propositions series, you'll see that our sole intention is to disseminate information. And you can quote me on that.
Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.