With deadline looming, business community urges swift vote to override K-12 spending limit

The Arizona business community on Monday reiterated its strong support of a legislative effort to lift the state’s school spending limit for this academic year. 

Last week, a resolution to exceed the Aggregate Expenditure Limit (AEL) cleared its first hurdle, bringing Arizona one step closer to saving school districts from looming budget cuts, layoffs, or school closures.  

The state Legislature last year passed a budget that made historic investments in public schools, but the AEL restricts how much school districts can spend each year. HCR 2001, introduced by Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, would lift the limit by March 1. The bill passed out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday with bipartisan support, with eight members voting yes, one voting no, and one voting present.  

The move was welcome news to Arizona business leaders, who have been calling on lawmakers since the beginning of the legislative session to act swiftly to lift the cap.  

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Greater Phoenix Chamber, Greater Phoenix Economic Council and Greater Phoenix Leadership last month sent a letter to legislative leadership reinforcing the business community’s support for exceeding the limit and encouraging legislators to do so “as soon as practicable.”  

Doing so, the letter noted, “will not only be consistent with the adopted FY 23 budget and fulfill the Legislature’s intent, but it will also remove any doubt that Arizona’s school districts will have the resources they need to complete the school year without implementing dramatic cuts.”  

Arizona Chamber President and CEO Danny Seiden on Monday lauded members for their efforts to advance the measure.  

“Addressing the AEL remains among the highest priorities of Arizona’s business community this session, and we’re encouraged to see the effort moving forward with bipartisan support,” he said. “We hope the Legislature will act promptly to approve the resolution and get it sent to Gov. Hobbs’ desk as soon as possible.”  

In testimony in a House Appropriations Committee subcommittee hearing last month that examined the AEL, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne stressed the importance of securing a vote to exceed the AEL, noting that a failure to do so would run counter to the Fiscal Year 2023 budget lawmakers passed with bipartisan support last June. 

“The work of the Legislature must be respected,” Horne said. “It is the Legislature that passed the budget this year, and it would be a travesty to undo the work that the Legislature did and have such a horrible impact on our schools.”  

HCR 2001 and companion legislation, SCR 1009, are expected to proceed to votes of the full House and Senate Monday afternoon. Exceeding the limit will require a two-thirds vote of each legislative chamber.     

The AEL dates to 1980, when voters approved the constitutional amendment that set a spending cap for school districts based on the total expenditure of all districts. Legislators have until March 1 to pass the measure and ensure school district operations won’t be interrupted.

Humaira Zafari

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