As is always the case, education is the trump card in the poker game that is the Arizona state budget process.
The latest shuffle of the cards has Gov. Janet Brewer issuing this ultimatum: We either increase taxes or we further cannibalize the state's K-12 education system.
The reason K-12 education is always the obvious target in state budget discussions is that it represents the biggest piece of the pie. Year-in, year-out, K-12 education represents roughly 46 percent of the overall state budget.
You cannot look at state budget cuts without considering education.
The hand now dealt to state lawmakers by Brewer calls for a one-cent increase in the state sales tax for three years and a partial reinstatement of the state property tax.
The alternative, according to the governor, will be cuts to K-12 education that will severely cripple Arizona schools.
No matter how you look at it, we're being dealt a lousy hand. Just look at the number of teachers in the Verde Valley who have received reduction-in-force notices this year. This current economic downturn has been horrible for our school system.
At the same time, this is the absolute worst time imaginable for any kind of tax increase. The foreclosure market dominates real estate sales. Some folks are barely holding on to their homes; the last thing they need is a property tax bump. The same goes for small businesses who have had to reduce man hours and/or layoff people. A jump in property tax very well could cost someone their job.
Ditto for a an increase in sales tax. House Minority Whip Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said a penny hike in the state sales tax will cost the average Arizona family $438 a year. Who can afford such a hit in these times?
If there is any silver lining at all in this mess it's coming from lawmakers such as our own District 1 Rep. Lucy Mason. Earlier this week, Mason told a group of Prescott-area educators that she believes any cuts in education should come in the form of eliminating the Arizona Department of Education.
Mason said she would eliminate the Department of Education and give local school districts control of their budgets and operations.
And while we have the highest regard for County School Superintendent Tim Carter, one can't help but ask how critical is it that we have a county school superintendent's office and staff.
If there are to be more cuts in education budgets in Arizona, it should be at the expense of the education bureaucracy.
Leave the teachers and classrooms alone.