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Lawmakers may vote on education sales tax extension

Lawmakers may vote on education sales tax extension
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PHOENIX – The Arizona House and Senate were poised Thursday to debate and possibly vote on legislation extending a sales tax that provides more than $500 million a year for K-12 education.

The move comes as lawmakers are seeking to remove what has been dubbed a “fiscal cliff” facing schools if the tax expires in mid-2021 as planned. The sales tax provides more than 10 percent of total state funding for schools.

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Companion bills to extend the soon-to-expire 6/10 of a cent sales tax approved by voters in 2000 are scheduled for House debate at midday. Meanwhile, a Senate committee unanimously approved its version Thursday morning, setting the stage for possible action by the full Senate in the afternoon. The proposals by Republican Rep. Doug Coleman and Sen. Kate Brophy McGee have been stalled since January but suddenly came back into play this week.

The original proposals make the education sales tax contained in Proposition 301 permanent, but the Senate Education Committee amended the proposal to include just a 20 year extension. It was set to expire in mid-2021.

The Senate committee also moved $64 million now used to pay for school building construction debt service into a fund used to boost teacher pay and school operations.

The House version differs from the one approved by the Senate panel. A spokesman for House Republicans, Matt Specht, said the plan is to adopt the Senate version.

Lawmakers had been considering asking voters to renew the tax, but instead are moving to pass it on their own it they can corral the needed 2/3 vote. That appears likely, since there are nearly 60 co-sponsors to proposal. Fiscal conservatives could still oppose the move, but it is unclear if they will try.

The sales tax currently brings in about $670 million a year, with $511 million going to K-12 schools. The rest goes to colleges and universities and school construction debt.

Republican House Speaker J.D. Mesnard is backing the measures, a change from earlier this month when he said he expected a voter referral in 2020.

“I strongly support the Prop 301 extension,’ he said in a Wednesday interview. “I think there are ways we can use that to get more money into K-12 from the existing pie by moving some things around.”

 — The bills are HB2158 and SB1390 .

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