The dominant theme of the recently concluded 116-day legislative session was education funding, with lawmakers agreeing to provide more dollars for education following a statewide teacher walkout.
But there were relatively few bills that made it into law that will affect towns such as Oro Valley and Marana, according to Oro Valley Councilmember Joe Hornat, who serves as the council’s liaison to the State Legislature.
“There wasn’t a whole lot that affected us here in Oro Valley,” Hornat said. “Almost everything was overshadowed by the education debate. I don’t know where they get all the money they’re having to give away.”
Hornat said two major bills that would have affected the town, HB 2479 and SB 1387, both failed to pass.
House Bill 2479, which would tax digital goods and services, failed to pass despite the fact that Arizonans are buying more things online than ever before. The Arizona House voted to exempt digital goods and services such as digital software, books and cloud-based programming, from sales tax. The bill was passed in the House in a 39-19 vote, but held by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“Every time they say ‘tax,’ people get excited,” Hornat said. “And every time they give someone a tax break, they have to take something away from local municipalities.”
The other bill, SB 1387, is a home-business bill that would have prevented local municipalities from regulating small home-based businesses. Opponents of this bill, such as homeowner associations, were concerned that the legislation would have a negative impact on neighborhoods. But while the legislation passed the House, it also didn’t get final passage out of the Senate.
“Nothing too much came out of it,” Hornat said.
Hornat added that Oro Valley didn’t have much of a legislative agenda this year.
“Most of the representatives were essentially saying ‘I’m not here asking for anything, just don’t give us anything new!’” he said.
And although it didn’t specifically affect Oro Valley, Hornat said he was excited that the new educational funding included more dollars for the Joint Technical Education District of Pima County, which essentially provides vocational and specialized education for high-school students.
“We were very encouraged,” Hornat said. “We are big supporters of that for workforce development.”
The situation was similar in Marana, although town officials were following legislation that would have allowed Pima County to ask voters to approve a countywide sales tax for road repair, which is a bigger problem in unincorporated Pima County and the City of Tucson than it is in Marana.
“Pavement management should be a program, and it should be ongoing,” said Marana Town Manager Jamsheed Mehta. “Fixing roads once every few years extends their life, but some jurisdictions have failed to use their maintenance funds adequately.”
While Marana public schools will benefit as a result of the new education funding, Mehta was not fully ready to celebrate, as he said education needs a dedicated funding source, much like transportation.
“We have historically had many connections between the town and schools,” Mehta said. “And it could be a tremendous advantage to dedicate funding, as right now we rely on grants and tax dollars. This current situation was not a long term solution. We’d need dedicated state revenue for that.”
Lawmakers did increase education funding to increase teacher pay following a teacher walkout that lasted from April 26 to May 3, although many educators say the spending boost isn’t enough to cover the cost of other priorities, such as boosting support staff, replacing outdated textbooks and computers, and repairing schools.
In addition, Gov. Ducey’s Safe Arizona Schools Plan was shot down by the Legislature, with both Republicans and Democrats opposing it for different reasons. House and Senate Republicans claimed it stepped on the rights of gun owners, while Democrats said it didn’t do enough to close the so-called “gun show loophole,” which allows second-hand gun sales without background checks if the seller is not a federally licensed firearms dealer.