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Proposition 208 still makes me queasy, but I’m supporting Invest in Ed

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Opinion: Two years ago, I opposed Invest in Education. Here’s why I’ve changed my mind.

Marisol Garcia, an eighth-grade social studies teacher in the Isaac School District and vice president of the Arizona Education Association, stands by boxes containing the 435,669 signatures for the InvestInEd ballot initiative that were turned in at the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office at the state Capitol in Phoenix on July 2, 2020. (Photo: David Wallace/The Republic)

Here, finally, is where the rubber meets the road for Arizona’s children.

Should we raise taxes to boost funding for public schools? Or is the state’s current investment in their (and our) future good enough?

Supporters of Proposition 208 will tell you that it’s time, finally, to Invest in Education.

As long as we can do it with someone else’s money.

Opponents of Proposition 208 will tell you that if voters raise taxes on the richest among us, Arizona’s economy will make like a tumbleweed and bounce off into the sunset.

So what to do?

Arizona students have been the losers

There’s no doubt that Arizona’s children have been the losers over the last decade.

A generation of kids has come and gone since our leaders slashed funding for schools. When the Great Recession eased, our governor and Legislature opted to cut corporate taxes rather than restore funding to public education.

The result has been schools that are falling apart, textbooks that are woefully outdated and overcrowded classes taught by under qualified teachers.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s 20by2020 plan to raise teacher pay — a plan brought forth only after tens of thousands of fed-up educators were taking to the streets — was a start. But it was only a start given the magnitude of damage done over the last decade.

Despite those raises, Arizona teacher pay remains low when compared with other states and teachers continue to bolt. Our schools offer one counselor for every 905 students — a ratio that is nearly twice the national average of 455:1.

Schools are still $1 billion short

Ducey has assured us he can grow us out of the hole in which our public schools live, ignoring the fact that corporate tax cuts have siphoned away hundreds of millions of dollars in just the last few years. Ignoring the fact that tax credits and vouchers for private schools are draining hundreds of millions from the schools each year.

Ignoring the fact that even the governor’s own business advisers have said a tax hike is needed to pull the schools out of the hole.

“From a business perspective, properly funding education is probably the greatest economic development thing we can do in our state,” Kitchell CEO Jim Swanson, chairman of Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative, wrote in 2017. “We need to work on a plan, and the time is now.”

That was three years ago.

Since then, Ducey and the Legislature have added roughly $1 billion back into the schools — because the courts and the court of public opinion have demanded

Proposition 208 hurts education-funding cause in Arizona; no on Invest in Ed

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Opinion: Proposition 208 is an extreme proposal with more pitfalls than promise, that deepens the divisions in our society and puts the state’s economy at risk.

Education funding has, rightfully, dominated Arizona’s political and fiscal attention in recent years. But Proposition 208, the Invest in Education Act, goes way too far. (Photo: The Republic)

Starved for years, Arizona schools remain undernourished.

The state has among the largest class sizes in the country, a nation-worst student-counselor ratio of more than 900 to 1, and districts short of nurses, librarians, aides and other support staff.

The crisis is most evident in the continued shortage of certified teachers in classrooms. A survey of schools document more than 1,700 positions that remain unfilled this year alone.

Proposition 208 promises to change much of that, by imposing a 78% tax increase on individual income above $250,000 (and household income above $500,000). It raises the top marginal tax rate from 4.5% to 8%.

An architect of the plan says passage of the ballot measure would mean reduced class sizes, diminished teacher shortage and markedly improved student achievement.

We wish it were so.

Proposition 208 puts our state’s economy at risk

Because Proposition 208 is not the solution. Far from it.

It is an extreme proposal with more pitfalls than promise, that deepens the divisions in our society and puts the state’s economy at risk.

The ballot initiative won’t generate the $940 million backers project.

An analysis by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, a nonpartisan office, puts the figure closer to $827 million. And even that estimate comes with caveats that could further reduce actual revenue.

The tax increase threatens Arizona’s economic well-being by targeting a segment of taxpayers who create and sustain jobs.

A study by the Goldwater Institute estimates that more than half of the roughly 90,000 tax filers affected by the new tax are operators of small businesses — the backbone of our economy. The researchers project that tens of thousands of jobs and about $2.4 billion in taxes would be lost over the next decade if Proposition 208 passes.

Businesses’ response won’t benefit Arizona

Proponents of 208 argue that the tax hit on small business is manageable, and considerably less for mom-and-pop operations that barely meet the threshold. But a successful 208 will draw imitators, special-interest groups that will want higher-income earners to bear the burden of their pet cause, knowing you can get middle- and lower-income voters to support big-ticket initiatives that won’t cost them a dime. Pretty soon we will be punishing the job creators in our community and they will exercise their options.

If you don’t believe that, pay attention to the otherwise tax-friendly Democratic governors of New York and California who are pushing back against the latest efforts to tax the rich in their states.

Even if you question the specific estimates on Proposition 208, there’s no argument that the big tax hike will dampen growth. Businesses use capital to reinvest, including pay and benefits to keep workers