Not as easy as 123: House and Senate Republicans, governor split over teacher pay measure

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House Republican lawmakers tweaked their plan to renew a key education funding measure that draws on state trust land revenue, creating a trio of conflicting proposals awaiting further action at the Arizona Capitol.

The three plans to extend what is called Proposition 123 for another decade agree that Arizonans should vote whether to increase teacher pay using trust land revenues. But they diverge in key areas, including how much should be taken from trust revenue and whether K-12 school staff such as counselors and bus drivers should get a pay boost, too.

Senate Republicans have advanced measures that put the revenue distribution at 6.9%, which they said last year would mean an average teacher raise of $4,000.

Those measures have moved forward over the objections of Democrats and allies of Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, who wants an even higher draw of 8.9% that would be dedicated to educator and support staff pay increases and school safety measures. The Senate plan is nearing final votes, while Hobbs' proposals have stalled on the starting line.

By a 9-7 party line vote Monday, Republicans on the House Appropriations committee offered a third option. The GOP lawmakers made changes to their own plan and in doing so created a divide from Senate Republicans.

Dome of the Arizona capitol in Phoenix.
Dome of the Arizona capitol in Phoenix.

The House version, House Concurrent Resolution 2047, now proposes a smaller draw from trust land revenue of 5.5%. How much that would decrease the projected average raise wasn't clear, and amendment sponsor Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, said those details would be hammered out before final votes.

House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Glendale, said negotiations between the House and Senate would begin for lawmakers to "get on the same page."

"I think that is sustainable, that’s OK," Toma said of the 5.5% draw. "But again I'm open to discussions, we've just got to be realistic about it."

Negotiations thus far haven't included Hobbs. The governor has not had conversations with Toma or Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, about a compromise, according to Hobbs' spokesperson Christian Slater.

Slater said the Governor's Office is "in touch" with other GOP lawmakers, but Slater said those conversations would not be characterized as "negotiations at this point."

Lawmakers can send propositions before Arizonans with a majority vote. Those resolutions do not require the governor's approval, but Hobbs has signaled she would be involved.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, a Chandler Republican, sponsored the main resolution enacting the Senate's Proposition 123 plan. Mesnard said Monday the 6.9% distribution still had his support.

"I continue to think that sticking with what worked for the last 10 years is the right way forward," Mesnard said. "Obviously this is a process of discussion and compromise. My priority will be to get teachers as much as I possibly can, knowing I am but one vote."

A key Hobbs ally, the Arizona Education Association, on Monday publicly pressed Petersen and Toma to consider Hobbs' version. The state's largest teachers union is aligned with the governor and Democratic lawmakers in calling for the larger distribution that also would fund pay increases for support staff. Education support professionals make an average of $29,000 a year in Arizona, according to the National Education Association.

Arizona Education Association President Marisol Garcia charged that Republicans were trying to score points during an election year by addressing teacher pay as a way to combat staff shortages. But the GOP was simultaneously cutting out the union, which can drive public support and backed the original Proposition 123, Garcia said.

"What they've shown over the last nine years is that there's money there that can be going to schools. It's sitting in the stock market when we really should have the money in the schools," Garcia said. "That again is something we would love to have a conversation about, but nobody spoke to us when the Republican bill was dropped."

Phoenix Republican Rep. Matt Gress, who sponsors the House version, criticized the teachers' union for opposing any teacher pay increase, which he and others say is the solution to the "biggest crisis:" vacant teaching jobs. He noted support staff salary increases could be paid through other state support of education.

Proposition 123 was narrowly approved by Arizona voters in 2016 as a way to settle a lawsuit over education funding, and it expires next year. The proposition increased to 6.9% from 2.5% the amount of money the state can draw from state trust land revenues to spend on education. In practice, that percentage means $424 million will go to education in the current fiscal year, according to state figures.

The federal government put millions of acres in a trust when Arizona became a state, and sales or leases of the land benefit programs including K-12 education.

Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at or 480-416-5669.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: House and Senate Republicans, governor split over teacher pay measure