Arizona schools chief Tom Horne has turned an "idea" that has been lingering in his mind since he took office in 2003 into a proposed bill that could put $2,500 in teachers’ pockets.
Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, said he has been "waiting" for state revenue "to turn around" before he drafted legislation that would give kindergarten through 12th grade teachers, nurses, counselors, librarians and media specialists statewide tax credits.
"I have been a proponent for better compensation for teachers my whole political career," he said. "And from the moment I took office, I said when the economy turns around and funds become available, we need to do something about teacher compensation."
General Fund revenue for July and August combined has exceeded forecasts by $100 million, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. For two years before Horne took office, the Legislature had to make adjustments during the year for shortfalls.
"If this trend continues, revenues will exceed expectations by $600 million ," by the end of the year, Horne said.
If approved by the Legislature, the bill would divert $150 million to fund the tax credit.
Arizona’s lawmakers and educators are wary of Horne’s $600 million prediction, saying the economy could change by January.
"It’s one of those things that probably a lot of people in the Legislature would love to do, because we love teachers," said Rep. Mark Anderson, RMesa. "Is it something we can actually do? It’s a fairly steep price tag for one item, but with the economy going up, we may be in better shape going into January."
John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, said teachers should be paid the money, instead of offered a "back way to it."
"If we are going to find a way to increase teacher pay, we really need to talk about putting it in their paychecks," he said.
Mike Horne, a science teacher at Gilbert Junior High School, said "it would be really nice to give us a $2,500 tax credit, but there has to be luggage with it."
A tax credit instead of salary increase saves the Legislature about $50 million, Horne said.
"If you were to try to get the same amount in a raise, it would have to be $3,500 because of deductions for Social Security and federal taxes," he said. "It is much more efficient to do it in a form of a tax credit. The teacher actually ends up with $2,500 after tax."
According to the American Federation of Teachers’ annual teacher salary survey, Arizona ranked 26th in the nation in 2003-04 for annual salaries, which averaged $42,324.
Arizona was one of 28 states where the increase in average teacher salary was lower than the national rate of inflation.
Currently, teachers can deduct up to $200 of what they spend out of their own pockets in the classroom on their taxes.
Dan Zemke, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Revenue, said, in general, that could save them "a little over $10 in tax." Whereas, if teachers could take a $200 tax credit, "it would literally knock $200 off of their tax bill."
Horne has yet to announce a sponsor for the bill.