After failure of Prop 204, what's next?
While supporters of Prop. 204 grapple with the next step to take after the proposition’s defeat by a 2-1 margin, one place that some are looking to for funding restoration to the state’s education system is the state Legislature.
With the election sending more moderates to the state House and Senate, and the state and country’s continued, albeit slow, progression out of the recession, many hope that funding for education will be fully restored to what it was four years ago.
If education supporters ever hope to repeat this message and get a different response from voters then the message needs to be changed to outweigh charges by opponents, who handily took a straightforward messaging campaign that convinced voters to turn down the education tax.
Opponents of Prop. 204 had a favorite one-liner, “No new taxes.”
The message did its job, sticking with Arizonans from the 30-second sound bite all the way to the polls.
Even though Prop. 204 was merely an extension of the existing 1-cent sales tax that passed in 2010, the message that stuck was “new taxes,” not “continue the tax you already passed,” which is the message the supporters failed to get across.
Prop. 204 opponents also had an advantage in the complexity of the proposal. Simple talking points like, “This measure is 15 pages long!” tells voters that proponents are not being straightforward, and opponents, like State Treasurer Doug Ducey, can imply that there is additional funding for special interests other than education.
Supporters of the measure did not do enough to counter that claim. The best they could do was air commercials with teachers and students saying that they are not special interests.
But that did not tell viewers what the entire proposal would do if passed.
While education advocates can hope for another try with voters in two years, they shouldn’t get their hopes up with legislators in Phoenix.
It is true that we will have a more centrist-minded legislative makeup, but that is outweighed by the fact that legislative leadership is aiming to keep business going as usual.
In a letter to the Arizona Republic, House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said that by voting to keep a Republican majority at the Legislature, Arizonans said, “Stay the course. Continue reining in big government and bloated spending while … supporting our schools.”
With Tobin leading the House, and Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, a more ideological Republican replacing moderate Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, the outlook for education funding restoration looks grim, from the legislative view.
In yesterday’s Daily Wildcat, state Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that the Legislature restored $177 million to education this year. While that seems an impressive figure, it doesn’t make up for the over $2 billion that education lost in the last few years.
While Arizonans can expect for a better outlook for education this year along with the state’s economic progress, they can’t hope for restoration from the Legislature.
Instead, proponents need a new, innovative way to encourage restoration of education funding with a simple, clear-cut message that pounds out political rhetoric and makes a solid stance on how it will be funded.
Make a proposal for education only, be clear that funding goes more to classrooms than to administrators and have an effective messaging campaign.
Without such a proposal, we can only expect education funding to be restored as slowly as the state wants it to.