Arizona lawmakers OK revised tuition tax-credit bill

In a rare effort to blunt the governor’s veto, the Legislature passed a scaled-back bill early Wednesday to further expand private-school tuition 

An amendment to Senate Bill 1186 would still increase the donation limits for individuals and married couples by 50 percent, but it would do so by allowing them to contribute all the extra funds to a similar program set up for corporations.

Lawmakers abandoned several provisions of the vetoed bill, including one that would have allowed unlimited dollar-for-dollar tax credits for corporations.

The changes dropped the estimated price tag from $16.8 million to about $9 million, according to the nonpartisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

The number of students who must use the tax-credit scholarships for it to become cost-neutral also fell, from 3,300 under the original bill to 1,700 under the new one.

“She’s going to be looking at that bill closely in the days ahead, but she doesn’t have a determination on it just yet,” said Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer. It is just one of the 168 bills she must weigh by May 2.

“This governor has a very strong record on school choice,” Benson said. “At the same time, she has been adamant that we not do things that throw the budget out of balance.”

Brewer seemed primarily worried about the original bill’s cost.

Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, guided the revised plan through the Legislature.

He tacked it on to a lengthy bill adjusting tax language affecting several programs, including the jobs program Brewer signed into law earlier this year.

“We went through (the veto letter) with a fine-tooth comb,” said Yarbrough, who also operates the state’s largest school-tuition organization, which distributes tax-credit donations from individuals to private-school scholarships.

“We’re hopeful she’ll sign (the new bill).”

Brewer’s veto of House Bill 2581 was seen by some as a surprise snub to school-choice advocates, who only days earlier had celebrated a 5-4 victory in the U.S. Supreme Court that made it harder to legally challenge the tax-credit program.

Brewer’s veto sparked a one-sided outcry last week.

The tax-credit legislation generated 337 messages to her in favor of signing HB 2581, and only four against it, a spokeswoman said. Yarbrough said he had no role in that response.

The corporate tax-credit program has several key differences from the more-popular program for individual taxpayers.

Scholarship recipients must be switching from public to private schools, and donors cannot recommend recipients.

Also, scholarships must go to students with family incomes within 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. For a family of four, that’s about $41,348 this year.

Under the new bill, an individual could contribute $750 between the two programs; a married couple filing jointly could contribute $1,500.

Read more: