The campaign to ask voters in November to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Arizonans to increase spending on Arizona public schools kicked off Monday, as more than 200 red-shirted supporters – many of them teachers – rallied at the state Capitol.
The supporters gathered in Wesley Bolin Plaza across the street from the Capitol, and lined the area with some 1,800 campaign signs to represent the teacher shortage in the state, which has left roughly 1,800 classrooms without a permanent certified teacher.
The Invest in Education Act would add a 3.5% surcharge on all income earned above $250,000 for individual tax filers and $500,000 for joint filers. The measure was unveiled in January, but the campaign to gather signatures didn’t launch until after legislative attorneys reviewed the proposal and recommended changes. Organizers said some “technical” changes were made to the ballot initiative as a result of the review.
“We have five months to do what we did two years ago in two weeks,” Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said. Organizers must collect signatures from 237,645 Arizona voters by July 2 to qualify the measure for the ballot.
A recent analysis found that Arizonans strongly support the idea of increasing taxes on the wealthy to spend more on schools.
Two years ago, a similar measure was removed from the ballot after the Arizona Supreme Court determined that a description of the ballot proposal shared with voters when they signed petitions was misleading.
Thomas said the Invest in Education campaign expects this year’s effort to wind up in court, as well.
“We’re ready for them to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at us,” he said when asked about challenges to the measure, adding he believes it will survive legal scrutiny.
The new measure is structured differently from the 2018 version, which would have created new income tax brackets and increased the tax rate for higher-income earners. This year’s version simply applies a surcharge on the wealthiest tax filers.
“Four out of five (people affected) will see a tax increase of less than $200 a year,” said David Lujan, the director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress.
In 2018, the Invest in Education measure was opposed by Gov. Doug Ducey, who has built his political career fighting tax increases, and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which spearheaded the lawsuit that led to the measure being removed from the ballot.