Monday, May 09, 2016

Dear Governor Ducey--What to Do about Prop 123? Letter #80

Dear Governor Ducey,

            When I lived in Portland, I had a VW Jetta. It wasn’t like my ex-boyfriends’ Volkswagen round microbuses and beetles. The Jetta was square and gray and perfect. And then I moved myself and the Jetta to Portland where the stereo was ripped straight out of the dash. The thieves broke the window too. This whole smash and grab led to me and my best friend Misty riding our bikes to Fred Meyer rather than drive because we would not let some hooligans stop our dream of buying a kiddie swimming pool to fill with hot water so we could manufacture a hot tub-like situation in our college dorm. We went into Fred Meyer hoping to find an inflatable tub but could only find the fully formed plastic blue kind with pictures of orange fish painted on the bottom. We bought it. And then we went back to the parking lot. And then we thought. Hmm. How can we get this home?
            Misty is intrepid. “We’ll carry it,” she said. And she did, pedaling down 40th Avenue (39th was too busy) with a swimming pool for a hat. Not to be out intrepided, I said, “I’ll take a turn.” But then the wind kicked up. It lifted the pool like wind lifted Mary Poppins’ umbrella. The wind and the pool took me with them. For a bit. And then deposited me where I more likely belonged, on the ground. Elbow broken.
            Later, Misty successfully installed the hot tub but I could never partake because I wasn’t allowed to get my cast wet.
            By the end of the year, the painted orange fish had turned green with mildew. It took twelve people to throw it off the dorm room balcony. Look out below. Falling swimming pools. Falling mildew. Unseeable-orange fish.
            Also in Portland, the Jetta’s fuel injectors got stolen. I’d replace them. They’d get stolen again. I’d replace them. $1500 worth of fuel injectors later, I finally got a new car.
            Prop 123 is like this Jetta. This is a car we the people own clear out. But the legislature stole our car stereo and would like to sell us a new one. The legislature stole our fuel injectors and would like to sell us some new ones. They stole them again and again even though the courts have told them to give us our damn fuel injectors back. They won’t. Now, they’d like us to borrow some money against a car we already own.
            The State Trust Land is not the legislature’s. It is the land of the state. That means us, not them. It is our car. We shouldn’t need to borrow against it to raise the amount of money for education, especially since a) there is a 600 million dollar budget surplus and b) especially since the money we need already exists as long as we stop giving business tax breaks which do no good since no business except the prison business wants to do business where education ranks at the very bottom of investment and c) we already own the car, the fuel injectors and the stereo. We shouldn’t have to buy them again. Just stop taking them away.
            But listen. It’s tricky, I know. It is our car but if we don’t replace the fuel injectors, we can’t drive the thing. Teachers and students need money now. And, how will it look to the legislature if we abandon our car on the side of the road just to make a statement that says, look, you already owe us this money? The courts say you have to pay it!
            The thieves who stole the Jetta’s fuel injectors didn’t care what the courts had to say either.
            My ballot sits on the counter. I already sent it in once but I forgot to sign the envelope. I am so conflicted. I want students to have more money. Lots more money. But Prop 123 has these horrible triggers that say if in a recession, no money, if unemployment goes up, no money, and triggers permanent amendments to the constitution that says we’ll never spend more than 48% of the budget on education.
            The triggers scare me. They’re like saying you will own this Jetta forever. The thieves know how to crack the hood, pull the plugs. The triggers are like saying, we’ll give you this car you already own and let you borrow money against it and then if we want, we’ll take the car away. We can leave you carless, fuel injectorless, broken elbowed, with nothing but a mildewed old hot tub with fish on the bottom you can’t even see.  
            I know I have to decide soon but I’m having a hard time. I really do love that car.


Derek Born said...

Hi Ms. Walker,

I took and enjoyed your Creative Writing Process class a couple summers ago and quite enjoyed it. I have been enjoying many of your letters to the Governor ever since.

As a K-12 teacher, this issue is near and dear to my heart, and I get the conflicted place you are writing this from, even though I will be confidently voting YES with my ballot.

Of everything you write here, I only take issue with a couple points. One is the characterization that the legislature stole from education repeatedly even though the courts told them not to. They did withhold the inflation funding for 4 years, but as soon as it became clear that even the AZ Supreme Court was siding with the plaintiffs, they began funding inflation again, and have done so for the last 3 budget years. What was still working its way through the courts was exactly how much the base level reset for per pupil funding would be set at, so it's a bit disingenuous to claim that they are disobeying the courts; they are in fact using the legal process available through our justice system to come to a final judgment. If Prop 123 fails, that process will continue.

If we believe in the justice system (such as it is), I think it's hypocritical to fault someone for utilizing the full appeal process available to them by law, if we wouldn't do so when "our side" does the same.

Sure, I disagree with the legislature's priorities on a number of issues, education funding not least. But I do stand up for their right to fight for what they believe in court even when I disagree with it. This may seem like a rather small matter, but in this case it is central to some of the rage that many on the Left have hurled at the Legislature, which I believe is misplaced in part.

Either way, I will continue to do my part to hold them accountable at the ballot box for enacting bad policy, for refusing to appropriate funds where they are desperately needed, for being so terribly shortsighted about investing in our future. After all, I love this car dearly, too.

Derek Born said...

I also very much enjoy using the word "enjoy" three times in the same sentence; it's quite enjoyable. ;o)

Nik said...

HI Derek,
It's so good to hear from you. Thanks for this feedback! My understanding is that they legislature is not complying with the courts to fulfill its obligation from Prop 301 but I will look into it further, thanks to your comments. I enjoy your input and your enjoyment!

Derek Born said...

Haha, thanks. Regarding the court compliance, again, I think it's instructive to rethink the case from our own side's perspective. If the plaintiffs had lost in the lower court, wouldn't we have wanted them to appeal it all the way to the Supreme? And if the AZ Supreme had said, "Nah, the choice to not fund inflation increases wasn't illegal," but there was still some smaller matter of fact that we could appeal through the lower courts, wouldn't we have pushed for the plaintiffs to exhaust every option if there was any chance at all of a positive outcome for our side? I know that's what I would have wanted.

And that's exactly where we're at. It's true that the Superior Court ordered them to pay $317 million, but they filed an appeal which was granted, so that basically puts the prior order on hold until a higher court decides. One can call it stonewalling, stymie-ing, or flouting the courts, but it's also using the legal tools available, which I think we would have done on our end and felt perfectly righteous about. After all, the higher courts would not have granted the writ of appeal unless they felt the case deserved another hearing. So it's fair to say that there was at least enough merit in their legal argument that the justices at each level wanted to hear more. It's not like they didn't have a leg to stand on, or the appeal would've been dismissed.

Nik said...

Yes, the thievery part pushes it a bit but really, stalling, stymying, appealing what the voters voted seems equally unethical. What "we would have done" shouldn't be the point. "We" are supposedly the same people--Arizonans who, majorily, voted for this. But, yes, they didn't steal the fuel injectors directly. I'm pretty loose with the metaphors around here.

Deramberek Vietorborn said...

Sure, well loose metaphors are much preferred to loose stool!

Allow me to get wonky here, but what the voters passed was poorly written and unclear in intent, because it said that the "base level or other components of the revenue control limit" had to increase by inflation each year. As a lover of language, I'm sure you can appreciate the very real and widely known difference between AND and OR. So once the recession hit the legislature thought they were well within the voter mandate of 301 to increase a cheaper component of the revenue control limit by inflation and leave the base support level (i.e., the main per pupil funding that districts rely on) where it was while they waited for revenues to stabilize. I would even go so far as to say that it was a fiscally prudent thing to do given the circumstances (and the "or" appearing to authorize just such a move).

But the courts held a different opinion, much to my surprise at the time. They determined that the original "legislative intent" was an AND, language be damned.

Keep in mind, too, that since 301 was referred to voters in 2000, and the choice not to increase the base support level was made in 2010, virtually none of the legislators in office at the time would have been around for those discussions due to term limits.

I have found that these facts are often forgotten or not known at all.