- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona’s top education official on Thursday said she wants voters to extend and increase a sales tax dedicated to K-12 schools to fund big teacher raises and building repair and construction.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas said her proposal increases a current 6/10 of a percent sales tax to a full percent to generate an additional $400 million a year. Most of that money would fund an immediate 11 percent increase in teacher salaries, nearly $5,000 per year for an average teacher earning just over $45,000 a year.

Arizona has among the lowest teacher pay in the nation and schools are finding it difficult to recruit and retain teachers.

The proposal requires voter approval to extend and expand a 2000 voter-approved initiative called Proposition 301 that is set to expire in 2020. It currently provides about $550 million a year to fund public schools, according to the Legislature’s budget analysts.

“And as long as we are dependent on sales tax to support our schools, I don’t want Prop 301 to have an expiration date,” Douglas said in prepared remarks. “That’s why I am calling for this change, if approved by voters, to be made permanent. We don’t need to face any more fiscal cliffs here in Arizona.”

Gov. Doug Ducey also wants Proposition 301 extended but opposes increasing the tax. He hinted to reporters last month that an extension of the sales tax might be included as part of a broader tax overhaul.

“We are not going to raise taxes, we are going to have discussions and there are opportunities around tax reform that could bring more money to K-12 education through a modern Prop. 301,” Ducey said on March 14.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato issued a statement Thursday that reiterated his position on extending Proposition 301.

“But it needs to be done in a way that makes sense, is good public policy, and most importantly, can actually win support from legislators and the voters,” Scarpinato said.

Both Ducey and Douglas are Republicans.

Ducey backed another voter initiative last year that increased withdrawals from the state land trust to pump an additional $3.5 billion into K-12 schools over a decade. Looming in the background is the scheduled expiration of the sales tax, which provides about 10 percent of total K-12 school funding in the state.

Douglas‘ proposal would require either a legislative referral to the ballot or an effort to collect more than 150,000 valid signatures to place it on the ballot. It would ensure teachers get an immediate 11 percent raise that would be permanent.

Ducey’s proposed state budget calls for a 2 percent raise over five years, or about $1,000 when it is fully phased in. Republicans who control the House and Senate are asking for 2 percent over two years.

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