Gov. Ducey says school funding plan changing with talks

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In this Jan. 12, 2015, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey gives his State of the State address as Arizona House Speaker David Gowan, left rear, and Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs listen at the Capitol in Phoenix. (Source: AP Photo/Ross D. In this Jan. 12, 2015, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey gives his State of the State address as Arizona House Speaker David Gowan, left rear, and Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs listen at the Capitol in Phoenix. (Source: AP Photo/Ross D.
(Source: KPHO/KTVK) (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
PHOENIX (AP) -

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday he's revising his plan to use state land trust cash to boost school funding as his office engages in talks with lawmakers and educators.

The governor said the changes to the plan he proposed in June are evolving as he negotiates with Republican leaders in the House and Senate and with education leaders.

"We feel confident that we're going to be able to do something good, it's just we'd like to improve it," Ducey said.

Boosting school funding has become the top issue for state government as a lawsuit so far won by schools remains unsettled and parents and educators decry the state's low financial support for K-12 schools.

A recent report from the Legislature's budget analysts shows Arizona's coffers will be flush with cash in the coming year. An unexpected revenue increase left Arizona with $378 million in added cash as of July 1 that is expected to rise to $650 million by next June.

However, this month's report by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee staff concluded that the Legislature can afford to commit $240 million to new spending initiatives or tax cuts while maintaining a structurally balanced budget. The state also has a $460 million rainy day fund.

The governor hinted that he was willing to use some of that surplus for schools.

Members of Ducey's staff have been meeting almost daily for several weeks with school proponents and lawmakers as he tries to come up with a deal to solve the education funding crisis. If an agreement is reached, Ducey is expected to call lawmakers into a special Legislative session to enact the plan - if he can wrangle the votes for passage.

"The discussions are part of a total package, so we're looking at not only the cash that we have but what next year's budget is going to look like," Ducey said. "What we want to do is make sure we're being responsible and not spending money that won't be there year after year. So we're thinking in terms of a balanced budget, but we're also thinking of supplementing K-12 education in a dramatic way."

There are a host of funding proposals circulating around the Capitol. They include Ducey's plan to tap cash in the state's permanent land trust endowment to add $2.2 billion in funding over 10 years. It would require voter approval, but it has been criticized for using too much of the permanent fund.

House Speaker David Gowan and Senate President Andy Biggs are proposing four key ways to increase spending by $5 billion over 10 years, including a lower increase in state trust land cash spending, general fund money and using tobacco tax money that is now in a voter-approved early childhood development fund. Voter approval is needed for all but the general-fund spending.

Democrats propose spending excess state cash, as does Superintendent of Public Instruction Dianne Douglas, but she also adds trust land cash.

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