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Ballot measure to tax the rich for K-12 funding launched

Mesa High School teacher Joshua Buckley explains Friday why he and David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, are proposing a large surcharge on income taxes paid by state residents who earn the most money to fund public education (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Mesa High School teacher Joshua Buckley explains Friday why he and David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, are proposing a large surcharge on income taxes paid by state residents who earn the most money to fund public education (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

A coalition of teachers, parents and education advocates led by the Center for Economic Progress, a progressive public policy group, launched an effort Friday to raise income taxes on wealthy Arizonans to pay for the state’s public education.

The proposal, dubbed the Invest in Education Act, would increase the state’s 4.54-percent personal income tax rate to 8 percent for those who earn more than $250,000 or whose household income reaches more than $500,000, and would double the rate to 9 percent for individuals who earn more than $500,000 or whose household income is greater than $1 million.

Under current law, someone with a taxable income of $600,000 pays $25,162. That same individual would pay $14,200 more if the measure is adopted.

Consultants for the campaign estimate the proposal would generate $690 million annually in new revenue.

The coalition announced the ballot initiative on the second day of Red for Ed rallies at the state Capitol as schools statewide remained closed during mass walkouts.

Center for Economic Progress Director David Lujan and teacher Joshua Buckley, who will chair the Invest in Education Committee, refused to take any questions on Friday. They told reporters questions would be answered on Monday.

“Rather than lead, the politicians who run the state Capitol have spent years causing this crisis, choosing to serve donors and lobbyists while ignoring our students,” Buckley said in a brief statement after filing the initiative. “And when we the people have forced them to confront this crisis from time to time, we have only ever gotten half-measures and promises they never intended to keep.”

The measure would also designate 60 percent of the revenue from the tax hike for teacher salaries and the remaining 40 percent for operations, including full-day kindergarten and pay raises for student support employees as applicable uses for the funds.

Governing boards would be required to seek employee input on plans for the use of the additional dollars, and the act would define who is a teacher and who is support staff.

After Gov. Doug Ducey released his 20 percent teacher pay raise by 2020 plan, some in the Red for Ed movement questioned who among them count for such raises and criticized the plan for leaving out support staff.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce came out against the proposal less than an hour after it was filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

“It is never a good time to raise income taxes on small businesses and their employees; that would just create a drag on the state’s overall economy,” said President and CEO Glenn Hamer in a statement. “The tax brackets that would be targeted under this initiative historically have the most volatile collections, with wild dips in economic downturns, which would put teacher pay at terrible risk.

“Should this measure to dramatically hike income taxes secure a spot on the ballot, we will oppose it strongly, and we will urge Arizona voters to do the same.”

The effort’s launch came a day after an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Arizona teachers, students and other supporters marched on the state Capitol to demand better pay for teachers and all public education employees, increased per pupil funding and no new tax cuts until funding was restored to the public education system.

And it also comes weeks after the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and other education groups gathered in early April to discuss going to the voters.

In a text to the Arizona Capitol Times, AEA President Joe Thomas said the state’s largest teachers’ union is a partner in the coalition.

Both the income tax increase and a sales tax increase were discussed at that time.

The Arizona School Boards Association was part of the April talks with AEA, and lobbyist Chris Kotterman told the Arizona Capitol Times the coalition leaned toward the income tax option.

ASBA, though, was not enthusiastic about going that route.

Kotterman said such a proposal would just be too big of a request in Arizona when the political winds typically prevail against such ideas.

Though ASBA would not come out against an income tax initiative, Kotterman said, the organization’s perspective was that it would draw too much outside money and outside pressure against it to ultimately pass.

Petitions for ballot measures are due on July 5, giving AEA just over two months to collect 150,642 valid signatures to get on the ballot.

Current state aid to K-12 schools is $5.39 billion. That compares with $5.15 billion a decade ago.

But in that same time, nearly 79,000 youngsters have been added to the system, bringing enrollment up about 1.1 million.

So the actual aid per student has $4,949 a decade ago to $4,760 now.

What really makes a difference, though, is those dollars have not kept pace with inflation. Once that is factored in, legislative budget staffers say the money per student is worth $1,000 less than in 2008.

Multiply that by 1.1 million students and that’s the $1 billion educators say is has been taken from schools.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report. 

6 comments

  1. If we’re going to keep on funding the bulk of AZ State government with a sales tax then something has got to give. The sales tax has reached its percentage limit of tolerance with important segments of the public. The way to finesse this inevitable voter resistance is to make the sales tax rate progressive. The actual net rate paid for a year should be graduated to ability-to-pay (i.e. income).

    A refundable income tax credit could do that. The federal income tax forms already provide a way to estimate sales tax paid. (And it’s in all the tax prep software.) All the Dept. of Revenue tax-quants need to do is: 1) create a simple schedule of percentage refunds; 2) create a separate form (both paper and electronic versions) to calculate the refund.

    On the schedule, each income tax bracket would link to a specific percentage. The higher the income, the lower the percentage refund of your estimated (or actual) sales tax paid. (The highest income bracket would be linked to a zero percentage.) An actual amount of sales tax paid would be documented with receipts.

    Obviously, any revenue projections for a sales tax rate increase would have to take the tax credit into account. And create a back-up rebate system in case the income tax is abolished.

  2. Put the money back into schools. We have given away so many tax dollars to large companies while our public schools have suffered. If you don’t have a good public school system why would large companies and their rich CEOS want to move here. The governor and his 19 percent increase is just a re-election ploy, he gives no guarantee.

  3. People can get really creative at ways to hide income. And the more these liberals attempt to abscond with the more creative folks will get. Therefore’ the figure mentioned in the article is little more than pie in the sky.

  4. The tax brackets need to be changed. Why is $250,000 grouped in with millionaires and billionaires? But, if we are going to increase taxes on any single tax bracket, why not the $200,000 – $249,999 bracket that is only paying 5.9%, when the two brackets below them are paying 14.9% and 21.9% respectively, and the $250,000 and up group is already paying 51.6%! Why is the $200,000 – $249,999 bracket getting such a break…???

  5. Bill Butler – who has give to what companies? Are you referring to 0bama and GM/Solyndra?

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