by Félix Pérez; image courtesy of Gage Skidmore
The Koch brothers are longtime financial backers of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, and Ducey has expressed his deep admiration for the billionaire industrialists and political kingmakers. So it came as no surprise recently when an Arizona State University research center created by the Koch brothers produced a “research report” that supports Ducey’s plan to tap the state’s land trust to fund the state’s schools while taking funding away from future students.
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The ASU Center for the Study of Economic Liberty’s ringing endorsement of the Ducey plan resulted in a columnist laying bare the relationship between Ducey, the university center and the Koch brothers.
Did I mention that ASU’s Center for the Study of Economic Liberty was created in November, with a little help – OK, $3.5 million worth of help – from the Charles Koch Foundation?
And did I mention that Ducey is basically a Koch creation?
His defeat of the 2012 sales tax for schools – the campaign that transformed an obscure state treasurer into a political force — came with the help of Americans for Responsible Leadership, a dark-money group that sunk $925,000 into Ducey’s $1.8 million campaign to kill Proposition 204. Thanks to IRS records, we know that ARL was funded almost wholly by the network run by billionaire libertarians David and Charles Koch.
Ducey’s 2014 path to the governor’s office was lined with millions of dollars in Koch-connected dark money, which curiously always seemed to target whichever opponent appeared to stand in Ducey’s way.
Ducey kisses the ring at least once a year, at the annual summit where the Kochs and their deep pocketed pals screen candidates and extol the virtues of private prisons, publicly funded private schools and tax cuts and such.
Ducey’s plan, which siphons money from the land trust, is in response to a judge ordering the legislature in July 2014 to pay $330 million to schools. The order was the result of of lawmakers’s failure to provide annual inflation adjustments for schools as required by a voter-approved law.
Ducey has long argued that the state cannot afford to raise new revenue for school funding because Arizonans are overtaxed. Nevertheless, his most recent budget includes funding increases for private, for-profit prisons, $267 million in corporate tax giveaways, $500,000 to Teach for America, and more than $100 million for a corporate tuition tax credit program for private school vouchers.
The Ducey plan, which must be approved by voters, would temporarily boost school funding by $2 billion over 10 years by increasing from 2.5 percent to 10 percent the schools’ share of the trust fund for five years. In the sixth through 10th years, the schools’ portion would drop to 5 percent, then to zero. School allies have urged Ducey to settle the lawsuit before he tries to tap trust land money.
State Treasurer Jeff DeWit criticized the plan’s reliance on the land trust’s value, pointing to a 1 percent decline, or a nearly $200 million drop, in the most recent quarter.
“The only way this can work is if the stock market keeps going the way it has for the past five years,” said DeWit, the state’s chief financial officer. The plan’s assumptions are overly optimistic and will take away what is supposed to be a source of school funding for future generations of students, said DeWit.
Andrew Morrill, high school English teacher and president of the Arizona Education Association, scoffed at the ASU report’s premise that future students won’t have to rely on the land trust because they and their families will be better off economically.
The middle class is losing earning power right now, they’re losing their savings, the recession cost a lot of the middle class their homes, they’re racking up debt and higher education is harder and harder to afford.