If it were me, I’d be ashamed. If a judge told me I had cheated children out of money I owed them, that I had violated the law by giving them less money than I was legally bound to give, I would hang my head in shame, and I’d ask the judge, “How much do I owe?”
But apparently the Republicans in our state legislature have no shame. Confronted with that same scenario, they told the judge, “Your decision means nothing to us. We don’t care about the law. We’re not planning to pay what we owe to the children of Arizona, and you know what? You can’t make us.”
This is a story about funding our children’s education, about the voters demanding a certain minimum level of financial support for our public schools and the Republican legislators illegally refusing to pay. When a judge ruled that they have to pay, that they have to follow the express will of the voters, the Republicans’ response was, “I’m not paying. If you don’t like it, vote me out of office.”
In a ballot initiative in 2000, the voters said the legislature had to increase the amount of money it budgets for schools to keep up with inflation. It’s a simple, straightforward mandate: make sure our schools have the same purchasing power tomorrow -- to pay for salaries, transportation, building costs and supplies -- that they have today. Don’t let them slip behind as the cost of everything goes up.
Republican legislators have shown time and again they don’t like the idea of funding schools to keep up with inflation. But that’s tough. It’s the law. Try saying to a traffic cop, “I don’t like driving at 35 miles an hour, so I decided to go 50.” Watch the officer shrug and hand you the ticket you deserve. You don’t like the 35 mile an hour speed limit? Tough. It’s the law.
Since 2000, the state legislature has ignored the voter mandate and underfunded our children’s education to the tune of $2.9 billion. Yes, that’s “billion” with a B. The result has been increased class sizes, fewer student services and out-of-date textbooks, not to mention neglected repairs on deteriorating school buildings. We were already at the bottom of the states in the amount we spend per student. Thanks to the neglect of our legislators, we’ve slipped even further behind.
According to an Arizona Supreme Court ruling, the legislature violated the Voter Protection Act when it ignored the voter mandate to increase school funding to keep up with inflation. In essence, the ruling declared that Republicans are the legislative equivalent of deadbeat dads and moms who refuse to pay child support. It’s the law, and the education of all Arizona children is their legal responsibility, yet they’re paying less than the law demands. Our lawmakers are law breakers, and their illegal behavior is hurting our children. Like I said, if it were me in that situation, I would hang my head in shame and ask the judge, “How much do I owe?”
But according to the lawyer representing the Republicans, the judge whose job it is to decide how the legislature will pay its debt is wasting her time. They don’t plan to pay and, according to the lawyer, the judge can’t make them. If the voters don’t like it -- I’m not making this part up, though I wish I were -- the lawyer says their only choice is to vote the deadbeat dads and moms out of office.
That’s where things stand as I write this. Republicans, who love the phrase “The rule of law” when it’s in their interests, don’t think the law applies to them. Worse, they don’t have a problem with cheating our children out of the education they need and deserve. They should be deeply ashamed. And they should be voted out of office.