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What the Devil won't tell you

Brnovich goes full class-warrior crazy on tuition

AG explains why he's suing over university hikes and it's not pretty

The serfs need to learn their place.

That's the message Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sent this week, attempting to explain why he's suing the Arizona Board of Regents over tuition — and announcing that his new enemy is means-tested financial aid. It's unfair, see, for the wealthy kids because all lives matter so financial aid for strapped families just coddles the losers.

Brnovich went full-on Sarah Palin-level crazy in an Arizona Republic op ed and revealed himself to be the worst kind of class warrior. The regents may have, in fact, set tuition at a price that violates Arizona's Constitution, which requires a public education be furnished “as nearly free as possible.” The courts will decide that if a 370 percent increase during the past 15 years fits the constitutional requirement.

I'm here to talk about why Brnovich launched the suit, according to his own words. He would be better off letting people misquote him.

Last week, I had a good long conversation with his spokesman, Ryan Anderson, who explained the rationale behind the suit in sober terms of accountability, judicial precedent and starting a dialogue. I went into detail about why tuition has increased. I am in a position to do that because I covered higher education at the Tucson Citizen when the increases started and covered the Legislature in the years since.

I'm not going to rehash all the background but focus instead on why Brnovich pissed me off, and should stir the ire of all Arizonans, with his poisonous rhetoric pitting the middle class against the poor.

Soy un perdedor

Brnovich follows the tired conservative trope that helping the poor is bad for society but employs another empty right-wing talking point in a way I've never seen it used. Tuition assistance, he says, is “picking winners and losers.”

The phrase “picking winners and losers” is typically reserved for the Right's discussions of, say, why solar subsidies are a bad idea. They artificially distort the free market, which prefers fossil fuels, they say. Frackers won. Solar lost. Government has no business stepping in and upending the winners glory by propping up the sad losers with public investment.

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Brnovich turns the same logic loose on tuition but with a far, far nastier result – and one that underscores why tuition increases aren't the regents' fault.

"In the words of one of the university presidents, the leadership discarded the “low tuition, low-financial-aid model” in favor of a “moderate tuition, high-financial-aid model.”

This sounds a little suspicious on its face, but the leadership has been quick to point out that the “average” tuition actually paid at the universities is much lower than the sticker price. It can be quite confusing.

Oh, c'mon. How did you get through law school if that confuses you? It's not complicated at all. It's quite simple. When wealthier students pay more, some of that money is set aside so those without means pay less. How the hell are you confused by that?

Brnovich doesn't even dispute the universities are using higher tuition costs for financial aid. Instead, he takes aim at the whole financial aid model.

The real bottom line to this “new direction,” though, is that these same leaders have taken it upon themselves to pick the educational winners and losers. They choose to whom the “high financial aid” goes, and who gets nothing.

Understand what he's saying. He's now using the anti-solar subsidy argument against providing aid to students based on financial need. Just as solar power needs to face the loser's fate as determined by the market, so too do the poor.

The market has spoken and Trey Trips Loungeabout is a winner. The market picked him when his daddy got into med school. The janitor's kid is the loser. The market decided when it set the price for swabbing floors at just over minimum wage. How dare the university presidents try to re-order the will of the invisible hand and socially engineer a peasant into college?

Unless the janitor's kid learns life ain't fair, it will never be fair to Trey. Trey is the winning class. The janitor's kid is the losing class and he and his family and all the rest of them should just quit squirming.

The way things oughta be

Give Brnovich credit for the size of his balls to suggest the “nearly free as possible” provision was, in fact, included in the Constitution to establish a ruling class of high-born masters over the troglodytes.

Does Brnovich think he's the Arizona attorney general or the palace counsel at Versailles? Let them eat DeVry!

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See, if the market were truly picking generational winners and losers it would be a meritocracy because it would be choosing the quality of the mind and the work ethic of each individual as a “winner.” The market wouldn't be forced to choose from winners in a game of “who's your daddy?”

For a truly free market of labor to function, a college education would be a public good for all to access and not an inter-generational entitlement conferring status and connections. This is the model America used to turn the children of immigrant floor swabbers into the professionals who put a man on the moon, split the atom and built an economic success story like no other.

Bitsy Cotillion Styleicon can drive the Porsche that her daddy bought her but still must compete against the best and the brightest of the servant class in a true free market.

Boy, the Way Glenn Miller played

College, Brnovich points out with longing prose, used to be nearly free for everyone. Then something changed and tuition prices took off like juiced cyclist in the Tour de France.

Brnovich would have you believe that it's the regents' inability to prioritize, which is like discussing the Titanic without mentioning the iceberg.

No, Brnovich got a cheap college education in the 1980s because state leaders made affordable tuition a priority by asking everyone to chip in. Simply put: lawmakers and governors ignored then arguments the argument that Brnovich makes now.

State policy in the Jan Brewer- Doug Ducey age has veered away from affordable tuition to "every family for themselves." Its not fair, see, to ask a retiree or a car dealer or a lawyer or a legislator to pay to make college affordable to everyone. Kids are the parents' responsibility and no one else's. That's fair. To those who struggle? Life isn't fair.

The general fund subsidy to the state's three universities has fallen from $367 million in 2008 to $198 million this year — less than it was in 1994. The state's universities were charging less than the national average in the halcyon days but have since seen the biggest cut in public investment of any state system of higher education in America.

In 2015, Ducey told ABOR that the lower subsidy model isn't some temporary anomaly of the Great Recession but the new normal forever and ever. So, Ducey explained, the universities must run more like a business.

So riddle me this, governor? How do you run a business and charge less than the market rate, when the rest of the market is subsidized more? Arizona doesn't set the national market price for labor, materials, commodities or even interest. There's no "We Believe in Freedom" discount.

Gee, our old LaSalle ran great

Perhaps the universities' big mistake is trying to stay competitive with other public universities, whose state governments invest in them more. Maybe state policy requires our universities throw in the towel and become trade schools, where students are only taught the skills tailored for the jobs of today. It's not like changes in the economy are accelerating and students will need to learn to think on their feet. That's tomorrow's problem.

Arizona families pay more for college education because the Republican governor and the Republican Legislature want it like that. But they want something else, too and Brnovich is making it plain.

They want middle class families angry at the poor. They're to blame for the new normal and not the policy change that created it. The poor are, as ever, the shiny distraction the powerful use to distract the many from the actions of the few who write the checks and carry the guns.

To make life better for a few, the few have slashed pensions, stiff-armed pay raises, jacked up health care costs and made college far less affordable. Then they point to the janitor's child and say "that kid is took all your money, Jack."

That is class warfare. That is the tuition struggle. It is not me pointing it out.

Do we get nice things in Arizona, like a quality college education for all students? Or are they just for Trey and Bitsy?

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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