AZ Proposition 208 education tax officially dead; focus moves to cap

The judge overseeing the long-running battle over a voter-approved tax increase for education officially buried it this week, setting the stage for possible action on raising the spending limit for public schools.

However, there is little appetite among lawmakers to come back to the Capitol to tackle the spending cap. Unless they do, schools can’t spend much of the historic increase in K-12 funding that lawmakers approved just one month ago.

If that disinterest holds, Arizona’s district schools could face deep cuts early next spring to ensure their collective spending is beneath a constitutional spending cap. It would repeat the cliffhanger that happened early this year, as lawmakers waited until days before a March 1 deadline to waive what is known as the “aggregate expenditure limit.”

Chuck Essigs, director of government relations at the Arizona School Boards Association.

Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for the Arizona Association of School Budget Officials, said early projections show the cuts could amount to $1.5 billion, which averages to a $2,000 reduction in spending per pupil.

“It’s worse than this year’s cliffhanger because the amount is bigger,” he said. This year, the estimate was $1.2 billion, or $1,700 per student.

Republican leaders have acknowledged the waiver is needed for schools to take advantage of the $1 billion boost in funding, but said they first wanted ensure Proposition 208 and its increased tax rate for high income earners was dead. Once that happened, according to a “handshake deal” that was pitched in the final days of the legislative session, lawmakers could return in a special session to raise the cap.