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Guest opinion

Prop.100 choice between education and prisons

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We don't really have much of a choice when it comes to the Proposition 100 vote.

Here's what it really boils down to: Would you rather pay a temporary 1-cent sales tax that constitutionally repeals in three years to educate children and fund public safety or a permanent property tax to pay for more jail cells?

That's the real decision you'll be making on May 18, when you decide whether to vote for Proposition 100 - the temporary, 1-cent sales tax.

If Proposition 100 fails the Department of Corrections will begin transferring inmates to our county jails because the state will cut prison funding. It will cost Pima County $50 million a year to house 1,800 new prisoners. How will the county pay for that? By raising local property taxes, according to Pima County administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

Our county jail, which houses 2,000 prisoners, is already almost at capacity, and the process of building a new jail takes five years, Huckelberry said. So the Sheriff's Department is looking at retrofitting existing buildings, such as closed motels, hotels and schools, to house prisoners.

That's right, schools. Tucson Unified School District will be closing nine neighborhood schools this fall because of the state budget cuts. That will already be devastating to property values those Tucson neighborhoods. Can you imagine what will happen to property values and our city's reputation if schools are turned into jails?

These scenarios may sound dire, but this is Arizona's new reality. To think otherwise is to bury your head in the sand.

Our state has a $3.2 billion structural deficit, which means we are not bringing in enough revenue to fund basic services. Arizona, which has been overly reliant on growth, was hurt especially hard by the housing crisis and subsequent recession.

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In response to the recession, 29 other states have voted to increase taxes and fees in order to save jobs. Unfortunately, Arizona's legislative leadership did not have the courage to tackle this problem themselves, so they punted the decision to voters.

By continuing to defund education and signal to the business world that Arizona is not only ambivalent toward education but downright hostile to it, the legislature is risking our state's economic future. Arizona's dubious distinction of being last in per-child funding nationwide already makes it difficult to recruit and retain employers.

The business community stands solidly behind Proposition 100. Every major business organization, from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce to the Southern Arizona Leadership Council to the Arizona Tax Research Association has endorsed Proposition 100. Why?

They know that if Proposition 100 fails, we will in effect be putting up a "Closed for Business" sign in front of Arizona because no new company is going to relocate to a state that can't provide an educated workforce or quality schools where its employees can send their children.

Our public schools and universities already experienced unprecedented cuts in the past eighteen months. The passage of Proposition 100 will prevent even more devastating cuts that would cause additional loss of university programs, K-12 school closures, super-sized classrooms, shuttered school libraries and the loss of high school sports in some districts.

The business community also knows that thousands more Arizonans will lose their jobs if Proposition 100 fails. A recent study by the University of Arizona's Eller School of Management concluded that if Proposition 100 fails, 20,500 jobs will be lost in both the private and public sectors.

Many local, private businesses rely upon public sector contracts. If Proposition 100 fails, we will remove $1 billion in state dollars and $442 million in federal matching funds from the Arizona economy, which will only prolong the recession.

Southern Arizona's major employers stand to lose if we don't support Proposition 100.

Last year, the DM 50 and Fort Huachuca 50 warned the legislature that Arizona's failure to properly fund education puts Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Fort Huachuca at risk in the next round of base closures.

Another major southern Arizona employer, the University of Arizona, has already lost $100 million and 600 jobs. If Proposition 100 fails, the university will lose another $42 million and 500 jobs. It will have to cut back on financial aid to those who can't afford university tuition, which rose another 10 percent this year because of the state budget cuts.

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The head of Raytheon, which recently announced the loss of 225 jobs, reiterated in a recent interview how important state investment in education is to the company, which relies on UA graduates as its primary source of engineers. "I've argued we need to make sure we as a state invest in and not continue to cut education," said Taylor Lawrence. "We depend on the state to do its job."

Some argue that we should reject Proposition 100 to allow the anti-government extremists running the state to fully execute their plan to cut government services until our state implodes. The problem with this fight-anarchists-with-anarchy tactic is that we actually have to live with the results.

Others say that we should use Proposition 100 as a referendum on the legislature, to tell them we really expect them to solve the budget crisis and not push it back on voters. We already have regular referendums on our legislators - the primary and general elections. All legislators seeking reelection will be on the ballot on August 24 and November 2. That's the time to express your opinion about their leadership or lack thereof.

Until then, responsible adults have to step up and do what an inept legislature failed to do - help bridge the state's burgeoning budget deficit.

So will it be a temporary 1-cent sales tax to keep education, health and human services and public safety from being decimated or a permanent property tax to build more prisons in our backyards?

It's up to us. Vote YES for Proposition 100 on May 18, 2010.

Disclosure: Ann-Eve Pedersen, board president for the Arizona Education Network, also serves on the Board of Directors of Black Mountain Media Inc., which publishes TucsonSentinel.com.


MaryLee Moulton is a vice-president of the Arizona Education Network, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to providing factual information about education issues in Arizona and advocating for Arizona’s one million schoolchildren.  For more information about Proposition 100, go to http://www.arizonaeducationnetwork.com

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Note

Although opponents of Proposition 100 agreed to write Guest Opinions about the issue, none have been submitted to date.

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