It seems the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is suffering from a full-blown case of Chicken Little syndrome.
The Chamber is, once again, making all kinds of doomsday predictions about ballot initiatives, in particular the #InvestinEd initiative to tax Arizona’s highest earners to pump nearly $1 billion annually into our schools.
Just like in 2016, when the Chamber opposed an increase to the state’s minimum wage, the group and its allies are claiming the #InvestinEd initiative will devastate our economy, harm small businesses and force the “job creators” to flee.
But the sky didn’t fall in 2016 when voters decided they wanted higher wages and paid sick leave for thousands of Arizonans. In fact, until COVID-19 laid waste to economies around the world, Arizona’s unemployment fell and the economy expanded.
Still, the Chamber persists with its doom and gloom messaging, trying as hard as it can to convince us that the wants of Arizona’s wealthiest individuals are much more important than the needs of more than a million current students and the countless students who will come after them.
They attempt to make the argument that our millionaires and billionaires have been unduly burdened by taxes, and there’s been some kind of war waged against them by the working class.
But the Chamber’s crocodile tears are as insincere as their arguments.
Wealthy individuals have enjoyed decades of tax cuts — so many cuts, in fact, that in 2019, the wealthiest 400 Americans paid a lower total tax rate than any other income group.
Income inequality rose after the Great Recession and is continuing to rise, even now, during the pandemic.
On the flip side are Arizona’s public-school students. Their funding was slashed following the 2008 economic crash, and more than a decade later, that funding still lags the not-so-great 2008 levels.
The Chamber, Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican legislators want you to believe that we’re trending in the right direction. Teachers received a raise, after all, and most of the funding from previous cuts was restored.
But those raises didn’t lift our teachers out of basement level funding. They’re still near the bottom in teacher pay.
And a chunk of the funding failed to make it to the classrooms most in need. In fact, Arizona’s wealthiest schools have been the biggest beneficiaries of increased spending, raking in additional bucks from tax credits and test-based funding schemes that were pushed by — you guessed it — the Arizona Chamber.
The very folks who are screaming the loudest against #InvestinEd are the very folks who squandered an opportunity to make #InvestinEd unnecessary.
When the economy was booming and revenues were rising, Ducey and his allies could have prioritized increased revenues to do more than simply restore some cuts or maintain subpar wages.
Instead, they chose more of the same. More tax cuts. More tax credits. More vouchers for private schools.
Now, they claim we cannot possibly pass a tax increase on the wealthy, not during a pandemic.
But the pandemic should be the clearest reason yet as to why #InvestinEd is so crucial.
Arizona is in one of the worst positions to reopen our schools. Because of poor teacher pay and working conditions, almost one-fourth of our classrooms are missing permanent teachers.
And what happens when there aren’t enough teachers to go around?
Class sizes balloon. Students are crammed into rooms with more bodies than desk space, making proper social distancing impossible and putting both students and teachers at an elevated risk of infection.
That makes it harder to reopen and even harder to stay open. And what happens when students are forced to stay home and learn online?
Parents are forced to leave the workforce or downsize hours or perform the unrealistic task of working two full-time jobs simultaneously.
The reality is that Arizona cannot afford to continue down the same trajectory. We cannot afford to lose more teachers. We cannot afford to graduate students unprepared for the workforce or higher education.
A tax increase on the wealthy will not decimate the mom and pop shops down the street, the vast majority of whom will not pay a single cent more in taxes.
Nor will it harm the CEOs making million-dollar bonuses.
It will, however, allow schools to hire more teachers and counselors and cram fewer students into classrooms. And it will expand opportunities for students, the ones who will be propping up and maintaining our state’s economy.
So ignore the Chicken Littles claiming the sky will fall if we invest in education. The sky won’t fall. Rather, the wages of thousands of teachers will be raised and the prospects of countless students lifted.