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Invest in Ed coalition leaders oppose GOP sales tax increase

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, speaks at a press conference calling for increased public school funding on April 13. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Leaders of the Invest in Ed coalition, which tried but failed to get an income tax hike for education spending on the 2018 ballot, are urging lawmakers to reject a proposal to instead raise Arizona’s sales tax.

Key Republicans have a plan to ask voters to raise a 0.6-cent sales tax earmarked for education to a full penny. That plan, which calls for the tax hike to take effect in 2021, still needs to clear votes in the Senate and House, but if it does, voters will decide the fate of the sales tax on the 2020 ballot.

Invest in Ed leaders, like Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas, would prefer the measure never make it to the ballot. In a statement released this week, Thomas said the plan backed by Sens. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, and Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, doesn’t provide enough funding from a regressive tax increase that harms Arizona’s poor.

The proposals before the Legislature “put the biggest burden on the lowest income Arizonans, and the total revenues raised is not enough to solve the teacher shortage crisis or remedy crumbling school facilities and classrooms without enough computers, books or desks,” Thomas said in a statement.

Arizona’s school children deserve “permanent, sustainable solutions. They deserve better than SB1080 and SCR1001,” he added.

Dana Naimark, president of Children’s Action Alliance, said a better proposal would follow the principles that guided the Invest in Ed Committee’s 2018 ballot proposal. That measure, which the Arizona Supreme Court struck from the ballot, would have raised income taxes to generate an estimated $690 million annually in new revenue for K-12 public schools.

Having failed to put the question before voters in 2018, Naimark said they’re pushing for lawmakers to do the job for them.

“As we said before session started, we’re asking legislators to do their job, and respond to voters and their campaign promises and put forward a plan that meets all of our principles,” Naimark told the Arizona Capitol Times. “We’re still asking that.”

Invest in Ed leaders aren’t necessarily opposed to a sales tax, Naimark said.

A higher sales tax could be one part of a package of revenue-generating maneuvers that achieve one of the organization’s goals: Generate more than $1 billion in new revenue for schools from sustainable sources.

If the Legislature won’t oblige, “we’re fully prepared to go back to the ballot,” she said.

“We are open to a revenue package that might include multiple sources,” Naimark said. “It won’t necessarily look exactly like the last proposal. But it needs to meet those principles that we laid out, which includes making the overall system more fair, not less fair, to low- and middle-income families.”

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