Several Arizona teachers are set to walkout of their classrooms Thursday in protest of low teacher salaries and in-classroom spending that put Arizona below nearly every state. School districts are even closing hundreds of schools in anticipation of how many teachers will participate.
It's a topic that has educators, voters, and some candidates riled up as Republican and Democratic policymakers fail to do anything about it.
Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Kevin McCormick has put forth a solution that would increase funding for public education in Arizona -- including teachers' salaries -- without raising taxes on state voters. In short, he says he can do what state politicians have failed to do by ending Arizona's war on drugs.
Legalizing Cannabis: Killing Two Birds with One Stone
"The overwhelming majority of Arizonans want our schools funded properly, but instead of fulfilling their campaign promises and listening to the people, our politicians and Governor Ducey are providing lip service and political theater at the expense of my children and everyone else's children," McCormick said in an interview for IVN.
McCormick says his plan is the only real plan out there, and would provide an additional $200 to $500 million "in fully-funded, reoccurring revenue" for education funding without raising taxes on income, property, or essential consumer goods.
Knowing exactly what the next question would be, he beat me to the punch:
"The question that always comes next is, how am I going to achieve that? And, why hasn't anyone come up with a similar idea? I am running to actually represent the people of Arizona, and I see this as a great opportunity for us to pull together two issues that the majority of Arizonans agree on: education funding and legalization of recreational cannabis."
McCormick's plan calls for a 9 percent sales tax that would be applied to all recreational cannabis sales, in addition to existing local and state sales taxes. Plus, he says there are multiple areas where the state can cut on "special interest groups, other PACs," and the over $200 million annual spending that goes to lock up non-violent drug offenders.
"My plan also would allow for non-violent drug offenders to petition the court for their release and the expungement of their records, allowing them to return to the peaceful lives they were living before our politicians turned our political system to the private companies that require a guaranteed occupancy rate for our prisons," McCormick explains.
According to McCormick, Arizona politicians are in the pocket of the private prison industry, which has contracts with the state that require over 90 percent incarceration rates at all times, or the state will be fined by the private prison organizations.
"We are the only state in the nation that requires that someone serves 85 percent of their sentence, regardless of special circumstances that occur, and it's truly because of these contracts that are put in place," he says.
"Imagine if a developer came along, and said 'I want to build a hotel here, but only if you guarantee that the rooms will be filled 95% of the time.' People would be outraged."
He further remarked that people should be even more outraged because we are not talking about a hotel here, but prisons that have to be filled by going out and arresting people.
Essentially, McCormick's plan kills two birds with one stone: It ends the war on drugs and implements criminal justice reform for non-violent drug offenders, and increases funding for teachers and public schools.
McCormick: The Legislature Needs to Step Up
There is a ballot initiative being proposed that would legalize recreational cannabis (actually, there are multiple). Signatures are currently being collected to get the measure on the November ballot.
However, McCormick says that while he supports the initiative, the people should not have to rely on the ballot initiative process so much.
"One of the problems with ballot initiatives is that it is very hard for legislators to tweak them if there is an issue," says McCormick.
"It is important for our legislature to step up and listen to the people, and make these changes that a majority of people agree on, so we have that ability to tweak our program over the next couple of years if we see there is a major issue with how we get our legalization so it's easier to change and adjust."
There are two ballot initiatives confirmed for the November ballot, according to Ballotpedia, and 16 potential initiatives. McCormick argues that this new norm in Arizona would not be necessary if policymakers did their job and represented their constituents.
McCormick understands the apparent irony of a libertarian proposing a new tax and public funding for education, but he sees the issue a bit more practically.
"I am looking for what is best for the people of Arizona," he says.
"The people of Arizona are never going to vote to remove public funding of education from our constitution, and the majority of Arizonans are never going to pass marijuana legalization without additional tax revenue. So I see an opportunity here to listen to the people, bring these two topics together, and solve a problem we all want solved."
And he says the feedback on social media has been "overwhelmingly positive," despite the media's refusal to cover independent and third-party candidacies like his. Education spending is a hot topic in Arizona right now, especially as teachers walk out of their classrooms to protest teacher pay and school districts close their schools because of the protest.Source: KSTAR.com
"Our funding for teacher and general operations of schools is well below the national average," says McCormick.
In fact, according to the Arizona Auditor General's 2017 School District Spending Report the average operational spending in Arizona was over $3,300 below the 2015 national average (most recent figures). Arizona also pays its teachers less than all but one state in the US.
McCormick says whether a cannabis initiative passes or not, if he is elected governor, voters will be voting for his plan for the future, and says this is the greatest opportunity Arizona has.
"I don't think we can get out of this -- what I call a one-party system that we have in Arizona right now, where we are fighting over which one is going to negatively impact us the least. And I'll be at the top forcing these two groups to work together on legislation that is in the best interest of the people, not the special interest groups, not the PACs, not the dark money that has taken over in the state of Arizona, and I will work with the legislature, and we will put forth a bill that will legalize marijuana, and use that money for education."
Kevin McCormick is currently collecting signatures to qualify for the November ballot. He needs 3,153 by May 30. The Libertarian candidate in 2014 only needed 133 signatures to get on the ballot, but state lawmakers passed a law in 2016 to make it harder for outside candidates to gain ballot access.