- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s Democratic opponent in the 2014 governor’s race joined with him Wednesday to support a voter referendum that will boost school funding.

Fred DuVal is appearing with Ducey in a television ad backing Proposition 123. The proposal up for a vote in a May 17 special election will tap the state land trust and general fund to pump $3.5 billion in new funding into the state’s K-12 schools over the next decade.

DuVal said that after his defeat he agreed to back the governor on issues of major statewide importance, and this is the first time an issue needed him to speak up. While he may not have come up with Proposition 123 if he had been elected, he said, it is the only current way to get badly needed new funding to schools immediately.

“It is the only plan on the table and it is a very solid first step,” DuVal said in an interview in Ducey’s Capitol office. “This is what is possible as a first step, from which there will be a multi-year discussion of what we do next.”

Ducey plans to campaign hard for the proposal, which came out of a special legislative session last October. The proposal was designed to settle a five-year-old school funding lawsuit. A voter-approved referendum requires lawmakers to provide annual inflation-based increases to K-12 education, but the state Legislature quit making the payments when the recession hit.

Schools say they are satisfied with the agreement in which they receive about 70 percent of the cash they would have gotten if they had ultimately prevailed in the state Supreme Court. The settlement cash comes from about $1.3 billion in general fund money and $2.2 billion from a state land trust.

There are critics, including state treasurer Jeff DeWit, who says the plan raids the $5 billion state land trust by taking out more money than it can support. The trust comes from land Arizona was granted at statehood, primarily to help fund schools.

Ducey is pushing back hard against “naysayers,” as he calls them.

“That’s absolutely false, that’s absolutely false,” Ducey said during the interview. “The trust fund exists to benefit K-12 education. It’s already being used for K-12 education. This is just a way for us to use it more effectively for the needs our kids and teachers have today.”

DuVal said he’d tell members of his own party considering voting against the plan to consider the alternative. What might the Legislature do if Proposition 123 fails, he said. And what about teachers who haven’t had raises in years who stand to gain from its passage?

“We can speculate on those narratives, but you can’t pay teachers from the bank of wishful thinking,” DuVal said.

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