A ballot measure that would raise a billion dollars for Arizona’s K-12 schools by boosting the state’s top tax rate has sharply divided the candidates in Arizona’s fiercely contested District 6 state Senate seat.
Democrat Felicia French strongly supports doubling the maximum state income tax rate for those making more than $250,000 annually — or $500,000 for a couple.
“Every child, no matter where they live, deserves to go to a good school. Today, that’s just not the case,” she said.
“When Arizona is 49th in teacher pay, 48th in high school graduation rates, and 46th for student funding, we have to put our students first, and protect the economic future of our state,” she continued.
On the other hand, Republican Wendy Rogers urged voters to reject the November ballot measure. “Just when our small businesses are dealing with the economic fallout caused by COVID-19, the last thing they need is the prospect of a billion-dollar tax increase.”
The Invest in Ed ballot measure made it onto the ballot despite vigorous efforts to challenge the signature gathering effort by various education advocacy groups. The measure grew out of the Red for Ed movement by teachers seeking to convince the Arizona Legislature to increase support for one of the worst-funded K-12 school systems in the country. Arizona currently spends about $6 billion on K-12 schools. The $1 billion increase would represent a roughly 16% increase.
The measure would roughly double the income tax rate for the amount earned above $250,000 for an individual — boosting the top marginal rate from about 3.5% to about 7% of net income above the threshold.
Arizona spends about $8,300 per student, compared to a national average of $12,756, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A billion dollars a year would boost per-student spending by about $900, leaving the state still far behind the national average.
The money would be earmarked mostly for teacher salaries, hiring and training. Arizona has among the largest class sizes and lowest teacher salaries in the nation, despite legislative approval of funding for an average 20% teacher pay raise in the past three years.
The state was suffering from a serious teacher shortage even before the pandemic hit. The Legislature responded with the money for the pay raise when the state’s economy was booming, plus laws that effectively waived the requirement that teachers have credentials and specific training. The state now has one of the nation’s highest percentages of teachers without credentials in their field.
French, a retired Army colonel, nurse and Medivac helicopter pilot, said the failure to support education will blight the state’s economy in the long run.
“Education funding in Arizona still does not match pre-2008 recession levels. A generation of students has already missed out. Tens of thousands of students in Arizona still don’t have a permanent teacher, because 25% of our teaching positions are unfilled!”
She worried about the impact of a tax increase, but said upgrading schools should take priority, “Working and middle-class families shouldn’t be asked to make even more sacrifices. That’s why it makes sense that only the top 1% of Arizonans, those who earn over $250,000 a year, are being asked to give their fair share. Even with the 3.5% surcharge, Arizona’s wealthiest will still pay one of the lowest income tax rates in the country. More than 400,000 Arizonans stood up for a ballot initiative (despite the pandemic), because they understand how critical it is to restore the hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars for K-12 education that has been siphoned off over the years.
“It’s time we start listening to the 95% of Arizonans who want our children to get the tools they need to succeed; it’s time to pass legislation that reflects our values and priorities,” concluded French.
Rogers, a retired Air Force colonel and pilot, won a bruising Republican primary in which she unseated longtime incumbent District 6 Senator Sylvia Allen of Snowflake.
She argued that “Invest In Ed would nearly double the state’s top tax rate and make Arizona one of the top 10 highest-taxing states in the nation” when the state’s high sales tax is taken into account.
“Our state has been a leader in the nation for job growth and in these challenging times we need to focus on policies that encourage, rather than stifle Arizona’s economic recovery. I support continued investment in education, and certainly, the recent 20% pay increase for our hardworking teachers was a great place to start. Working together, we can ensure that all of Arizona’s children have access to a great education without devastating small business owners,” Rogers said.
The average business owner in Arizona makes $89,000 annually, according to the Indeed.com business recruitment website.
Arizona has the 31st heaviest tax burden, according to the Wallet Hub website (https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-highest-lowest-tax-burden/20494/).
District 6 stretches from the Grand Canyon to Alpine and includes all of Rim Country and the White Mountains. It’s considered one of the most competitive races in the state. Republicans hold a registration advantage, but independents account for a third of the voters and generally determine the outcome.
Both Senate candidates have attracted record financial support, according to the most recent campaign finance reports posted on the Arizona Secretary of State’s website. Rogers, who has run repeatedly for Congress, raised at least $551,000 in the primary and spent $451,000.
French, who lives in Pine, raised $214,000 and spent $53,000.
However, outside groups have also spent heavily in the race, with heavy ad buys continuing into the general election cycle. Much of the spending by outside political action committees and special interest groups has attacked French — a total of about $67,000 in the primary. Outside groups also spent $124,000 supporting Rogers and $91,000 attacking her in the primary.