Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has declared Proposition 123 a winner.
The school-funding measure pushed by Ducey had held a very narrow lead since polls closed in the special election held Tuesday, May 17.
Two days later, election officials in Maricopa County hadn't quite finished counting ballots, but the latest results showed that Prop 123 had increased its lead to more than 16,000 votes.
The "yes" side now has 520,425 votes, the "no" side 503,659. On Thursday, election workers for the state's largest county counted more than 66,000 ballots out of the 82,000 yet to be tallied. With the trend of increasing "yes" votes and fewer than 18,000 outstanding ballots remaining, it would be nearly impossible for Prop 123 to lose at this point.
"The votes have been counted, and the result is clear," Ducey said in a prepared statement just before 6 p.m. Thursday. "This is a huge victory for public education in Arizona. After years of lawsuits and fighting, we are moving forward and funding our teachers, students, and schools – instead of lawyers."
Ducey noted that schools "will soon see a cash infusion, with billions of new dollars flowing in the years ahead."
The measure, put on the ballot by a referendum from the Arizona Legislature, increases the amount of money taken annually from the State Land Trust and gives it to schools around the state. The cash will help pay for funding ordered by a court, but also costs the state in the long run by reducing the amount of future payouts from the trust.
Ducey chided critics who wanted to put the question on November's ballot, saying the schools need the money immediately and will now get it as early as next month.
Ducey proposed the idea this past June, calling it a win-win that immediately infuses nearly $2 billion into schools without raising taxes. One of his senior aides, J.P. Twist, took a leave of absence from Ducey's administration to run the campaign. The effort received large donations from various business leaders, including GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons and Discount Tire founder Bruce Halle.
State Treasurer Jeff DeWit led the opposition. His official position, published on the Secretary of State's website, reads in part: "This plan spends principal. By dipping into the principal we will not only face potential lawsuits that would tie up the money for years but we also will face a huge financial shortfall in just ten years that will create yet another gigantic education funding problem."
But owing to yet another screw-up by state elections officials, following on the heels of Arizona's March 22 election-day nightmare of long lines, hundreds of thousands of voters never saw DeWit's argument.
In a statement on Wednesday posted on Twitter, DeWit blasted the failure by the Secretary of State's Office to distribute 400,000 pro-and-con pamphlets to voters before the election, and said the election was not a "true and accurate representation" of voters' wishes. (DeWit didn't immediately respond to a request for comment for this story on Thursday.)
Attorney General Mark Brnovich, responding to an official complaint about the pamphlets lodged by local activist attorney Tom Ryan, said last week that Secretary of State Michele Reagan had broken the law by failing to mail the voting material, but that he wouldn't stop Tuesday's election.
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