Arizona Invest In Education

In this June 5, 2018, photo, mathematics teacher Heather LaBelle, seated, shows Roger Baker how to gather signatures for the Invest in Education Act, a proposal to raise money on high earners to fund public education in Phoenix, Ariz. 

Education advocacy groups are again proposing a ballot initiative that would fund education through a tax surcharge to raise nearly $1 billion from high-income earners.

The Arizona Education Association announced the effort during a press conference. Called the Invest In Ed movement, education leaders and activists will begin the process to gather the necessary signatures to certify the proposal for the ballot this November. 

State election law requires the organizers to collect at least 237,645 signatures from voters across the state. During the past effort to certify this measure in 2018, supporters received double the required signatures in several months.

Invest In Ed's proposal will increase taxes for single filers earning more than $250,000 or married filing jointly, making more than $500,000. Activists claim that this new tax scheme would raise $940 million every year for education programs run by the state.  

The actual surcharge rate would be 3.5 percent, building on Arizona's 4.5 percent on earners making at least $159,000 per annum — one of the nation's lowest rates.

If the tax is voted into law, as The Arizona Republic reports, it would transmit the raised tax revenues into a variety of state programs. At least 50 percent of tax revenues would go to improving salaries for teachers and classroom support staff.  

Another 25 percent would go to student support services, 10 percent to teacher retention programs, 12 percent to career and technical education programs, and 3 percent that would help fund the Arizona Teachers Academy — a program created to waive college tuition and fees for future teachers. 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, however, already pledged not to raise taxes in his state of the state speech Monday.

“No new taxes – not this session, not next session, not here in this chamber, not at the ballot box, not on my watch,” he said.

A 5-2 majority on the Arizona Supreme Court invalidated the 2018 version of the proposal. According to the court's majority, Invest In Ed did not sufficiently disclose to voters that the measure would modify the indexing of the state's income tax rates leading to the exposure of new tax increases for most taxpayers. 

The current income tax indices were adopted in 2015. 2018 data the court pointed to showed that Arizona citizens could face a $16 increase for an individual's specific tax burden.

Advocates for Invest In Ed protested the Arizona Chamber of Commerce for killing the proposal before the state Supreme Court. The chamber funded the group that brought the legal challenge that resulted in the high court invalidating the 2018 Invest In Ed proposal.  

Advocates of the plan accused the chamber of unethical practice for attending a gala for the industry group days after the court's decision. However, court procedures in Arizona do not bar magistrates from attending these sorts of events. 

Dissenting justices, Chief Justice Scott Bales and Ann Timmer, argued that the "we have never required perfection" for ballot proposals. The two also argued that claims about tax increases should have been left to those trying to persuade or dissuade voters for support.