- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - A measure that would boost education funding by tapping Arizon’s land trust surged closer to a victory with new vote tallies Thursday, and the votes were enough for Gov. Doug Ducey to declare that Proposition 123 had been approved.

Despite outstanding ballots remaining to be counted, the Republican governor said “the result is clear” and called the results a huge victory for public education in Arizona.

“Thanks to the voters, schools will soon see a cash infusion, with billions of new dollars flowing in the years ahead,” Ducey said in a statement. “This will make the difference in the lives of kids and teachers all across this state, and that can’t be understated. These are the resources educators have been telling us they need, and by coming together and working together, we were able to make it happen.

The addition of more than 92,000 votes Thursday brought the lead from about 7,600 votes on Wednesday to more than 16,700 out of more than 1 million counted. Several counties still have ballots to count, but the chances of a major turnaround appear highly unlikely.

Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, had only about 17,000 early and provisional ballots left to count on Friday. Statewide late Thursday, the measure had 50.8 percent of the vote, up from 50.4 the day before.

The measure taps the state land trust to fund more than half of $3.5 billion in new school spending over 10 years. It amends the state Constitution to increase the amount distributed from the $5 billion permanent land trust, which is already mainly earmarked for schools.

It is designed to settle a long-running lawsuit over school funding. Schools sued over the Legislature’s failure to follow a voter-approved law and increase school funding each year to adjust for inflation. The measure provides about 70 percent of what schools said they were owed and stops a court fight that has already dragged out for more than five years.

The “yes” campaign spent nearly $5 million to sway voters, much of it on television ads that blanketed the airwaves in the weeks leading up to the election. Ducey acknowledged Thursday morning that the political environment was a challenge for a voter referral boosting spending.

“This is a tough political environment. I’ve been saying from the beginning … that this was going to be a tough election,’” he said. “A lot of people rolled their eyes at that. I have been in these rooms. I think it is just a tough, oftentimes toxic political environment. But this is something that we think it important, and we’re hopeful for a positive outcome.”

The underfunded opposition to the measure was spearheaded by state Treasurer Jeff DeWit, who said it would tap into principal in the trust that is designed to last forever. He also said it might violate federal law that gave the state land to fund schools.

A lawsuit filed by a Phoenix man in federal court Wednesday makes just that allegation. Michael Pierce said Proposition 123 violates the 1910 Enabling Act that paved the way for statehood and set aside 9.2 million acres in trust.

“I, like a lot of American citizens, are fed up with the shenanigans of politics. It is the wrong way to do it,” Pierce said. “If Arizonans are serious about education they better be prepared to do what it takes to do it right.”

Dewit has also considered a lawsuit.

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