Originally Published: April 19, 2016 6:01 a.m.
Soon Arizona voters will be receiving their ballots for the May 17 Statewide Special Election. There are two very important propositions on this ballot that will have a lasting impact for our public schools and public safety pension reform.
Both propositions are seeking to amend the Arizona Constitution and require your support to do so. Let’s take a quick look at both.
Proposition 123 is an unprecedented opportunity to provide much-needed resources for our public K-12 schools WITHOUT RAISING TAXES!
Proposition 123 puts $3.5 billion directly into all Arizona’s public schools (traditional district schools and public charter schools) starting this school year and spread over the next 10 years. Decisions on how to spend these funds will be made at the local school level.
Prescott Unified School District will receive nearly $1 million in new funding this year alone if Proposition 123 passes. That’s money that will go directly to our district schools, teachers and classrooms.
Proposition 123 also settles a lawsuit over inflation funding that has plagued our state for a number of years. If it’s not settled, this lawsuit will continue to cost all involved, provide continued uncertainty to our schools, and finally, threatens to create a huge tax increase if the court decides an immediate billion dollar payment is due. Proposition 123 will fix all of that.
Governor Doug Ducey brought all the stakeholders together and found a solution to this problem. Every single Republican legislator including Sen. Steve Pierce, and Reps. Karen Fann and Noel Campbell are supporting Prop 123. In addition, teachers across the state, business organizations and community leaders are encouraging a Yes on Proposition 123.
How does Prop 123 work? When Arizona became a state in 1912, 10 million acres of trust land were given to Arizona to sell over time to fund K-12 education. Revenues from the sale of trust land are deposited into the state land trust, which is currently valued at $5 billion. The state trust land has 9.2 million acres estimated to be worth $70 billion. The trust fund will continue to grow as land is sold and trust investments grow.
The purpose of the state trust lands is to fund K-12 public schools, not to gather large amounts of money to be bragged about by politicians, but to simply fund our public schools. Period!
It has been difficult for Arizona schools to pay competitive salaries resulting in an exodus of highly qualified teachers to other states or different professions. A “Yes” vote on Proposition 123 is crucial for our public schools and Arizona’s continued economic prosperity.
Once again, Proposition 123 does not raise taxes!
Proposition 124 – Public Safety Pension Reform
So what about the second proposition on our ballots? Proposition 124 also seeks to amend the Arizona Constitution allowing for much needed public safety pension reform.
Those of us who live and work in Prescott are well aware of the $70 million-plus debt our city owes due to the Public Safety Pension Retirement System (PSPRS) unfunded liability. As it is defined today, PSPRS threatens our quality of life and public safety capabilities in Prescott. In order to begin to fix this unsustainable PSPRS system, Proposition 124 must be passed by the voters.
Proposition 124 and accompanying legislation permit the state to adjust certain benefits to alleviate PSPRS underfunding, including the replacement of the current permanent benefit increase structure (PBI) with a cost-of-living adjustment based on inflation and capped at 2 percent per year.
Let me be clear, passing Prop 124 will not have any effect on the $70 million debt the City of Prescott owes. We will still owe that debt. However, by approving Prop 124, the state legislature can reform the system to help assure this does not happen again.
In short our state legislators have done their part in passing much-needed legislation, and now we must do our part by voting “Yes” on 124 to reform PSPRS.
I ask you to join me in voting “YES – YES” in this Statewide Special Election. “Yes” for public schools and “Yes” for public safety pension reform!
Billie Orr is a member of the Prescott City Council.