What they’ve done this year should make your head spin, columnist Laurie Roberts says. Wochit
Laurie Roberts: Arizona Rep. Jay Lawrence asked for suggestions on what he should be doing. I’ve got a few.
Recently, one of my representatives in the Arizona Legislature posted a Facebook plea, seeking suggestions for new laws he could propose next year. (Because apparently, we don’t have enough of them already.)
Actually, I appreciate him soliciting ideas, given that his signature bill this year was aimed at allowing city dwellers to take pot shots at snakes and rats running around their yards.
Cue Rep. Jay Lawrence:
“THERE OUGHT TO BE A LAW. Did you ever say that? OK now’s the time to present that law to legislators. You don’t need to write all the legalize, (sic) Just send the idea to me, I’ll send it to “Leg Council”, They’ll do the legalize, (sic) … If you have ever said ‘there ought to be a law’ now is the time. Send your idea to me firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Well, Rep. Lawrence, I have a few ideas that might be as important as your Pest Control by Pot Shot bill.
Idea 1: Voucher accountability
How about requiring actual accountability in the state’s voucher program?
Generally speaking, if you’re going to hand out debit cards loaded with $5,000, $10,000 and even $30,000 in public money, it just seems logical that you would want to ensure the money is spent appropriately.
Our leaders are zealous in their attempts to root out waste and fraud in welfare programs for the poor, and rightfully so.
Yet the state Department of Education is curiously unable to provide a public accounting of how and where Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are being spent. Even if the agency is tracking the money (which seems doubtful), officials who oversee the program aren’t allowed to ask how it’s being spent.
When it comes to private schools, the Legislature and the Department of Education have made it impossible for us to find out how our money is being spent. Doesn’t that seem odd to you, Rep. Lawrence?
Idea 2: Tax help for older Arizonans
How about helping older Arizonans who can no longer afford to pay their property taxes?
The state has an Elderly Assistance Fund, once supplied with money from delinquent tax lien sales. But the Legislature turned off the tap in 2015 and the fund will run dry next year.
Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, this year proposed allowing these homeowners to reclassify their homes to class six properties, cutting their taxable value in half. About 22,800 homes would have been affected, at a cost to the state of $900,000. But Rep. Lawrence, your seatmate, House Ways and Means Chairwoman Michelle Ugenti-Rita, wouldn’t even hear the bill.
In Maricopa County, nearly 14,000 homes qualify for the elderly assistance tax credit. That’s roughly 20,000 citizens who soon will have to make some tough choices: pay taxes or buy food. About 800 of them live in your district, Rep. Lawrence.
Idea 3: Freeze those tax cuts (for schools)
How about pledging not to cut another dime in taxes until you can properly fund public schools?
Or better yet how about rolling back some of the recent corporate tax cuts that are draining the state treasury? Those cuts, approved in 2011, will reduce state revenues by $350 million once they are fully phased in fiscal 2019. (Of that, we’re waving goodbye to $107 million this year.)
Rep. Lawrence, you recently wrote that “No one wants to see teachers receive higher pay (more) than the legislators do. That includes me.”
So why not eliminate corporate tax credits for private-school tuition and put the money toward public education?
We already have vouchers for all, thanks to this year’s Legislature. So why do we need tuition tax credits to further drain the treasury? Every year, the cap on corporate tax credits for private school tuition automatically rises 20 percent.
In 2007, corporate tax credits for private school tuition siphoned $14 million from the state budget, according to the Department of Revenue. By fiscal 2015, it was $48 million. By 2020, that will rise to $107 million and by 2030, to $662.5 million, according to projections from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
If nothing else, at least cut the automatic 20 percent annual increase and put that money toward public schools.
Surely, taking care of the schools that 95 percent of Arizona’s children attend is just as important as taking out the rodents with your Ruger.