Schools Can’t Win, Politicians Undermine Vote

This piece was published on the Arizona Republic on August 30th, 2021.

Opinion: The cards are stacked against Invest in Ed, but we haven’t stopped fighting. We’ll do it in the trial court and we’ll do it with 3 referenda in 2022. 

Last week, in a flawed decision that has dangerous implications for the future of our state, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the entirety of Proposition 208, the Invest in Education Act, should be found unconstitutional if revenues from the new fund, created by voters in November 2020, exceed an education expenditure limit established in 1980. 

The Supreme Court, filled with Gov. Doug Ducey appointees, sent Proposition 208 back to the lower court, but with a ruling that was clearly intended to seal its fate.   

Meanwhile, each time the Legislature has known the expenditure limit would be reached, it voted to authorize expenditures that exceed the limit. Lawmakers will have to do so again by March 2022 to accommodate revenue from the Proposition 301 education sales tax. 

In fact, Proposition 208 had the same language used by the Legislature and passed by voters in Proposition 301 that excluded its revenues from the expenditure limit. Make no mistake. There was no “drafting error” in Proposition 208. 

School are ‘awash with cash’? Voters disagree 

When asked about convening a special session for the Legislature to address this conflict and allow Proposition 208 to move forward, Gov. Ducey said the state is currently “awash with cash” for education and “brushed aside the suggestion.” 

Arizona ranks 49th for school funding and has the highest average class size in the nation. Our persistent teacher shortage crisis is getting even worse. 

Arizona voters understood this crisis when they passed Proposition 208, expecting to increase school funding to address these dire issues. Polls continue to show that voters want to see significant investment in Arizona’s schools. They do not see an education system “awash with cash.” 

What voters do see, however, is 47 Republican legislators and a governor who care more about their wealthy political donors – who are truly “awash with cash” – than Arizona’s students.   

The disconnect with voters is clear in the direct attacks on Proposition 208, as well as the massive tax cuts for the wealthy enacted this past legislative session and signed by Gov. Ducey. 

That’s why we’re asking voters for help again 

That is why, in addition to defending Proposition 208 in the trial court, the Invest in Arizona coalition is moving forward with three referenda to reject these fiscally irresponsible giveaways that personally benefit Ducey and his wealthy political donors, while harming Arizona’s children and economy. 

Even former Republican Gov. Jan Brewer warned of the dangers of this tax cut and called on him to put the future of Arizona before his personal interests and political ambitions. 

The public shares Gov. Brewer’s concern. 

A strong majority of Arizona voters say they would reject all three bills on the November 2022 ballot. Our polling shows:

  • 62% of voters, including 51% strongly, say they would vote to reject a maximum personal income tax of 4.5%. 
  • 60% of voters, including 45% strongly, say they would vote to reject a new category for certain wealthy taxpayers to avoid the Proposition 208 surcharge. 
  • 53% of voters, including 46% strongly, say they would vote to reject a reduction of the highest income tax bracket to 2.5%. 

Voters reject these bills with impressive numbers that extend across the partisan spectrum. 

Arizona voters are fed up with Doug Ducey and the Legislature’s failed leadership. Voters want stronger schools and a stronger economy, not self-serving leaders whose priority is welfare for the wealthy. 

Arizonans are, once again, collecting signatures to do what the Legislature and governor won’t: Do the right thing for Arizona’s students.  

Rebecca Gau is executive director of Stand for Children Arizona and writes on behalf of the Invest in Arizona coalition: Arizona Center for Economic Progress, Arizona Education Association, Arizona Interfaith Network, Children’s Action Alliance, Friends of the Arizona School Boards Association, Save our Schools Arizona, Stand for Children Arizona. Share your thoughts at [email protected]