The Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that voters in November will get the chance to decide whether to tax wealthy Arizonans to provide more funding to public schools, overturning a lower court that earlier tossed the Invest in Education Act after concluding that organizers crafted a misleading summary of the measure.
In a brief order, Chief Justice Robert Brutinel wrote that the seven-member Supreme Court unanimously concluded that the 100-word summary that was presented to voters when organizers sought petition signatures to qualify for the ballot “did not create a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.”
The court’s full opinion will be published at a later date.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury ruled last month that the Invest in Education initiative’s summary didn’t include a half dozen key components of the measure.
Initiative campaigns must include a description of up to 100 words on the petitions they use to collect the signatures they need to refer citizen initiatives to the ballot. That description does not appear on the ballot or on any official election materials.
Invest in Education’s 100-word description stated that the proposal would impose a 3.5% surcharge on the income of individuals earning more than $250,000 per year, or couples earning more than a half million dollars. The income tax rate for those earners is currently 4.54%.
It also explained that the money raised by the new surcharge would be used to hire and increase salaries for teachers and other personnel, mentoring and retention programs for new teachers, career training and education programs for teachers, and would help fund the Arizona Teachers Academy.
But Coury said that description left out a host of other things that he deemed principal provisions.
Most notably, Coury said that by describing the new tax as a 3.5% surcharge, the campaign failed to explain to voters that Invest in Education would raise the taxes of some Arizonans by nearly 78%. The Arizona Supreme Court used the exact same logic when it rejected the 2018 Invest in Education initiative, ruling that describing a proposed income tax increase by saying “percent” instead of “percentage points” risked confusing voters.
The Invest in Education ballot measure would raise an estimated $940 million a year, about half of which would be dedicated for hiring new teachers and increasing teacher pay. Another 25% of the money raised by the tax would be devoted to increasing wages for support service workers at schools, including classroom aides, security, cafeteria workers and bus drivers. The rest of the money would be divided to fund career training, mentoring for new teachers and university programs to train new teachers.
“Today’s ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court keeping Invest in Education on the November ballot is an important victory because it gives millions of Arizona voters the opportunity to put more resources into our schools. We are confident voters will say ‘yes’ to improving Arizona’s K-12 schools by voting Yes on Invest in Education this November,” said Amber Gould, the campaign’s chairwoman.
The lawsuit challenging the measure was filed by a coalition of corporate interests, led by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In a written statement, Jaime Molera, the nominal head of that coalition, said opponents will take their case to the electorate.
“Between now and Election Day we look forward to sharing with voters how damaging this 77.7% income tax increase on small business will be to Arizona’s economy and how it will fall far short of what proponents’ have promised the state’s teachers,” he said.