The Arizona Education Association is mulling a ballot measure that would ask voters to find the revenue for increased education funding in their own pockets – one way or another.
AEA met with other education groups in early April to discuss two possible approaches: an increased sales tax or increased personal income taxes on wealthy Arizonans.
But AEA, the state’s largest teachers union, is not sharing details publicly just yet even as its members prepare to walk out of schools statewide for an indefinite period of time.
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, who was in town this week to stand with AEA and Arizona Educators United as teachers prepared to strike, told the Arizona Capitol Times that Gov. Doug Ducey’s refusal to meet with leaders of the Red for Ed movement had forced the group to consider going to the ballot.
Ducey has offered a 20-percent pay hike by the 2020 school year, but he hasn’t offered to meet a list of other demands as teachers walked off the job April 26.
“We are absolutely looking at going over the heads of the governor and the state Legislature if they can’t come up with a sustainable funding solution that really starts to fill in the holes,” Eskelsen Garcia said.
AEA President Joe Thomas on April 19 told the Yellow Sheet Report, a sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times, his organization had been just one of many involved in discussions about an income tax proposal that may include personal income tax increases for people who make $300,000 or more. Thomas said the group was no longer considering trying to get that option on the ballot.
He also said initiatives on excise taxes and closing tax loopholes were being considered, but that nothing would go to the ballot this year as their focus shifted toward the strike.
Thomas did not return multiple requests for comment on this story.
An April 22 AEA email to its members suggested the union still has an eye on a ballot measure.
“We have to be willing to take matters into our own hands, which is why we are considering going to the voters ourselves to raise revenue for schools,” read the email.
AEA Vice President Marisol Garcia said the union had no plans as of this week to announce a ballot measure campaign, and all options are still being considered.
The sales tax option may not be especially appealing, though.
“We’ve seen sales taxes come and go in this state,” she said. “We’ve tried it before.”
She said the ultimate initiative would have to be one that stands a political chance, and Arizona School Boards Association lobbyist Chris Kotterman said that’s where the income tax hike proposal may fall short.
Kotterman said such a proposal would just be too big of a request in Arizona when the political winds typically prevail against such ideas.
ASBA was included in the April meeting, he said, but was outnumbered by others in the room who preferred income tax increases over increased sales taxes, which the coalition saw as having too big of an effect on lower income Arizonans.
He said no formal vote was taken nor was a final decision shared, at least not with him, and that despite ASBA’s trepidation, the group would not come out against an income tax proposal.
But he also said ASBA wouldn’t be leading the charge for such a thing if it came to that.
From ASBA’s perspective, an income tax initiative would draw too much outside money and outside pressure against it to ultimately pass even if polling suggests it would have the voters’ support.
Thomas told the Yellow Sheet Report that he was unaware of any local or national funding for the proposed initiative.
If AEA and others do decide to move forward with an initiative this year, whatever that may be, they’ll have to move fast.
Petitions for ballot measures are due on July 5, giving AEA just over two months to collect the required 150,642 valid signatures of registered voters needed for a statutory change.
Yellow Sheet Report editor Jeremy Duda contributed to this report.l