An Arizona Supreme Court ruling Wednesday knocked the Invest in Education income-tax measure off the November ballot.
According to the ruling, the measure’s description “did not accurately represent the increased tax burden on the affected classes of taxpayers.”
The measure, recently titled Proposition 207, was expected to bring in $690 million in additional funding for Arizona public district and charter schools.
Supporters had framed Prop. 207 as a way to fully restore the more than $1 billion in cuts to education funding since the recession.
Prop. 207 would have raised income-tax rates by 3.46 percentage points to 8 percent on individuals who earn more than $250,000 or households that earn more than $500,000. It also would have raised individual rates by 4.46 percentage points to 9 percent for individuals who earn more than $500,000 and households that earn more than $1 million.
Currently, both incomes are taxed at the highest state bracket of 4.54 percent. So, under Arizona’s graduated tax, an individual who makes $750,000 now pays about $33,000 in state income taxes. Under the #InvestInEd proposal, the individual would have paid about $53,000.
The complaint alleged the petitions were misleading because they referred to the proposed tax-rate increase as a “percent” increase and not the more accurate “percentage point” increase. According to the complaint, the tax rate would have seen a 76 and 98 percent increase and not a 3.46 and 4.46 percent increase.
Raising the stakes in November
Supporters of the measure expressed outrage over the court’s decision as news spread on social media late Wednesday afternoon. Many — including educators responding on the Arizona Educators United Facebook page that advanced the #RedForEd teacher-activism movement — said the decision upped the stakes of the November election.
Education had already been among the most significant issues driving this election. Much of what has fueled the issue for voters came from a sentiment that state leaders have not done enough to address the decade-long funding cuts to public education.
Prop. 207 had the backing of progressive groups — including the Arizona Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union — and many education advocates, but it also produced polarizing discussions over how it proposed to restore education funding.
Jaime Molera, chair of Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy, celebrated the ballot measure’s disqualification, calling the measure “fatally flawed.”
Molera and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce had challenged the measure in court.
“Not only was the initiative poorly crafted, it was the wrong plan. It would have harmed all taxpayers, small businesses, and would not have delivered on its promises for teachers, while weakening education reforms that were achieved in a bipartisan fashion under Proposition 301,” Molera said in a statement.
Opponents of the measure have alleged the proposed income-tax hike would have been catastrophic for Arizona’s economy and small-business owners. Opponents did not offer alternative funding proposals, though they generally supported Gov. Doug Ducey’s #20by2020 plan to raise teacher wages.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Ducey and other state business leaders have largely ignored a proposal by former PetSmart CEO Phil Francis and several others to raise the sales tax by a cent to bring in more money for education.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas’ suggestion to raise the sales tax has also been ignored.
The Prop. 207 campaign gathered 270,000 signatures within 10 weeks to secure the measure on the ballot after it was first introduced during the #RedForEd teacher walkout.
Thousands of volunteers — many of them spurred on by the #RedForEd teacher-activism movement that erupted in early March and culminated in a six-day statewide teacher walkout — mounted a grassroots effort to help gather the needed signatures.
The measure had stalled as supporters and opponents fought two separate court battles. Supporters successfully argued one of those challenges — that a committee of state legislators used biased wording to describe the measure in publicity pamphlets.
The other, brought forth by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, led to Wednesday’s court ruling.
David Lujan, treasurer for the Prop. 207 campaign, told The Arizona Republic that the measure’s disqualification is “completely unprecedented” and is “reversing the work of thousands of people in Arizona who collected signatures to put it on the ballot.”
Lujan said the measure’s removal means that voters will no longer have the option to decide on a plan to restore those education cuts.
“Now it makes the November election that much more critical,” Lujan said. “Arizona’s public schools cannot wait any longer for our politicians to continue on with no plan to properly fund our schools.
“We need to elect people who care more about investing in education than passing more tax cuts.”
Supporters of Prop. 207 immediately placed blame for the measure’s defeat on Ducey, who is running for re-election.
David Garcia, the Democratic nominee for governor, on Wednesday said Ducey had “stacked” the state’s highest court, leading it to shoot down Prop. 207.
Ducey has appointed three of the seven judges who sit on the court’s bench. The governor also signed legislation in 2016 that expanded the court from five justices to seven.
READ MORE: Governor’s race: Ducey, Garcia win primaries
“The stakes for the race for governor in Arizona just changed utterly and irrevocably,” Garcia said. “We must elect pro-public education candidates up and down the ballot to prevent this kind of corruption in the future. I’m proud to stand with our educators, parents and kids.”
The Ducey campaign did not immediately comment on Wednesday’s court ruling. A spokesman for Ducey said Wednesday evening that the governor was still reviewing the five-paragraph ruling.
Gubernatorial candidates Doug Ducey and David Garcia defeated their opponents in the primary race. Arizona Republic, Arizona Republic
Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, and Noah Karvelis, a teacher who gained local fame and scorn for his role in organizing the walkout, addressed the ruling in a Facebook live video on the Arizona Educators United page.
Activity on the private Facebook page had mostly been dormant compared with the height of the teacher-activism movement. But Wednesday’s video address drew a higher-than-usual audience.
Thomas called the ruling “a dirty, low blow by the governor.”
“Voters have been cheated out of this opportunity,” Thomas told teachers in the group.
He added: “Don’t mourn, organize” and encouraged teachers and education supporters to wear red on Thursday.
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