School bus

The richest Arizonans may end up financing additional cash for public schools.

Very early returns show support for Proposition 208 was running ahead of opposition. The most recent breakout puts the margin at 52.56% to 47.44%.

But the results are far from certain as the first batch of results covers only those who submitted early ballots days or weeks before Election Day. And that likely skews Democratic, an important factor in a campaign that saw many Republicans, including Gov. Doug Ducey, campaigning against the proposal.

At issue is a plan to alter the state's top income tax rate.

Right now individuals earning at least $250,000 pay 4.5% for any earnings above that figure. The same cutoff exists for couples making more than $500,000 a year.

The initiative proposes a 3.5% surcharge on top of that, bringing the effective tax rate on those top earnings to 8%.

Opposition, led by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, argued that would be among the highest tax rates in the nation.

But foes pointed out that the levy affects only those earnings above the threshold. So a couple with taxable income of $550,000 a year would pay that extra 3.5% only on $50,000, or an additional $1,750 a year.

Foes also said that about half the levy would be paid by the owners of certain small businesses. These are firms organized under sections of the Internal Revenue Code which pay no corporate income taxes but instead have the net earnings passed through to the individual owners.

The counter argument was that the higher tax did not apply to a firm's gross earnings but only what was left in profits for the owner after paying all expenses for payroll, rent, supplies and even any money set aside in retirement plans.

According to the most recent financial disclosure reports, proponents and opponents spent a combined $30 million as of two weeks before the election. The pro-208 side had spent about $3 million more than foes. But those numbers also include the cost of getting the measure on the ballot in the first place.

It almost didn't get there.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Chris Coury, ruling in a lawsuit financed by the state Chamber, had ruled the legally required 100-word description was misleading and failed to describe all the key provisions. But that decision was overturned by a unanimous ruling of the Arizona Supreme Court.

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