Advocates turn in signatures to put tax cuts that impact education funding on ballot
Updated 6 p.m. Sept. 28, 2021: The Invest in Arizona Now coalition turned in 600 boxes of petitions with voters signatures on them in an effort to put the flat tax, which will severely impact public education funding, on the ballot for the 2022 elections.
“I’m here to celebrate the work of our incredible volunteers statewide who just collected hundreds of thousands of signatures. We just saw them carted off on these huge pallets 600 boxes of them, and what they do is keep $1 billion in our classrooms every single year,” said Beth Lewis, executive director of Save Our Schools Arizona .
In June, the Arizona Legislature approved the 2.5% flat tax and other tax cuts crafted by Republican Legislative leadership in collaboration with Gov. Doug Ducey that would reduce state revenues by 25% and severely impact funding for public schools.
“Our classrooms can’t afford to lose a dollar, $10, much less a billion dollars, so that’s why we spent the last three months working nonstop in the heat trying to collect these signatures, and we’re really proud of what just got done,” Lewis said.
AZEdNews video: Advocates turn in petitions to put flat tax on ballot
Video shot & edited by Fatma Abid & Brooke Martinez/ AZEdNews
Children’s Action Alliance President and CEO David Lujan said, “We’re really thrilled today we can turn in more than 215,000 signatures to put the horrible flat tax on the November 2022 ballot.”
“This is a tax giveaway for the rich that would decimate Arizona’s future by taking away more than $1.5 billion every year that would otherwise go to Arizona’s public schools, affordable housing, for all the priorities that Arizonans care about, so we’re really happy that voters will have the opportunity to reject this horrible tax giveaway for the rich in November of 2022,” said Lujan, who created Prop. 208.
Volunteers have been collecting signatures since early July to halt the implementation of Senate Bill 1828 and Senate Bill 1783. If the Invest in Arizona Now coalition volunteers turn in enough signatures, the flat tax and it’s impact on Prop. 208 funding for schools and teachers could be paused until voters have their say in next year’s elections.
Steven Chapman, president of Friends of Arizona School Boards Association, said “We’re here today with AEA, Stand for Children and thousands of volunteers across Arizona filing petition signatures to challenge two pieces of legislation and refer them to the ballot in November 2022.”
“We’re here to make sure that over a billion dollars in tax handouts don’t go to the wealthy, but go back to our public school system, our children, our teachers and our communities that desperately need that funding to make sure that we are preparing the next generation to give them the future that they deserve with every dollar that we can,” Chapman said.
The Invest in Arizona Now coalition is made up of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, Arizona Education Association, Arizona Interfaith Network, Children’s Action Alliance, Friends of the Arizona School Boards Association, Save Our Schools Arizona, and Stand for Children Arizona.
“Because of the work by all of you, today is a great day in Arizona. Absolutely a great day where the voters will get to decide how we will invest our dollars in this state, and it’s because of you,” said Joe Thomas, president of Arizona Education Association at the news conference at the Arizona Capitol this afternoon. “The coalition members behind me have worked diligently over the last 90 days to do what our constitution allows us to do, which is to refer bad policy to the voters, so that they can reject it.”
“This year after one the hardest years our community has experienced the Governor and the Legislature decided to undercut the will of the voters who passed Invest in Education and further rob our children by passing tax handouts for the wealthy at the expense of our kids,” said Raquel Mamani, a teacher, parent and board member for Save Our Schools Arizona at the news conference.
“What you see here today and all the way back in those beautiful trucks right there is nothing short of a miracle,” Mamani, said. “Once again they told us that we could not get it done and yet again we got it done.”
Mamani said she taught in her classroom each day and collected signatures evenings and nights along with many other volunteers.
“The thought that kept me going when things got tough is that our kids and our communities are worth it,” Mamani said.
Las Brisas Elementary Kindergarten Teacher Kelley Fisher said, “We put in the hard work that’s required of us to ensure that our students get the education and the opportunities they deserve in our public schools.”
“It is our responsibility as educators and community members to show students that anything is possible. Even when it is hard and you get knocked down, you stand back up and you keep on going, because when you do, your possibilities become realities,” Fisher said. “Today, we celebrate our success. Today, we start working to make these possibilities a reality for our students, our schools and our communities.”
Dayspring United Methodist Church Lead Pastor Jeff Procter-Murphy said, “Just last year we were here with some 430,000 signatures to put Prop. 208 on the ballot, because our state Legislature refused to adequately fund our schools.”
“A lack of political will to invest in our future generations has to stop,” said Pastor Procter-Murphy, who is also a clergy leader with Valley Interfaith Project and the Arizona Interfaith Network. “For too long we have neglected our responsibility to future generations.”
“Last November, Arizonans passed Prop. 208 to reverse three decades of disinvestments in our schools. It was a historic victory to provide nearly a billion dollars to our schools to invest in education, yet our Governor and our Legislature flagrantly disregarded the will of Arizona voters,” Pastor Procter-Murphy said.
“They not only passed legislation to dismantle Prop. 208, they decided to radically restructure our tax code to reward the very wealthy on the backs of everyone else, and they did so by the narrowest of margins and they thought we wouldn’t notice,” Pastor Procter-Murphy said. “This is an affront to the voters of this state, it’s an insult to our teachers, and it’s a direct attack on the very people that all of us people of faith are instructed to protect – children, the vulnerable, those who live on the margins and who have suffered the most in this pandemic.”
This tax cut with “handcuff our state in coming budget cycles, and we see how it shortchanges our most vulnerable families for generations to come,” and it will impact, health, public safety, and services as well as education, Pastor Procter-Murphy said.
Apollo High School freshman Yasmin Castro said she started realizing how the loss of funding was affecting schools when she was in seventh grade.
When her seventh grade math teacher left, “for almost half of the year, I was left in the dark having to teach myself everything,” Castro said. “Although there was always a substitute there, it was never the same as having a teacher dedicated to that subject.”
“Going so long with no one there to help us, it made me wonder why aren’t they doing anything to find a replacement? It made us feel like no one was looking out for us,” Castro said.
Slowing down learning made Castro feel like she was throwing away all her hard work.
“My eighth grade teacher had to backtrack a lot by how heavily we were affected by the previous year,” Castro said. “My peers and I should have entered high school a lot more ahead than we did.”
In a journalism course, the teacher told Castro and the other students to be extremely careful with how they handled their cameras because they came out of their own money.
“Journalism had once fallen under the CTE program, therefore meaning it was funded by the school, now that it had been cut the program had to host it’s own fundraisers if it ever wanted to do something that required funding,” Castro said.
“If budget cuts continue and we don’t direct the necessary funding back to our schools more and more programs are going to be cut,” Castro said.
Stand for Children Arizona Executive Director Rebecca Gau said after 1.7 million voters passed Prop. 208 powerful interests started work to undermine the new law.
“Their efforts threaten the economic future of our state,” Gau said. “Their efforts to roll-back state revenue and education funding benefit Gov. Ducey and his wealthy political donors, while harming Arizona’s children and economy.”
“Today we’re delivering over 600 boxes of signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office. That’s a lot. That’s a whole lot,” Gau said.
“The next step though is more legal battles. Opponents who want to protect the wealthy at the expense of students have already filed legal challenges to the signatures we submitted today,” Gau said. “They don’t want you to be able to vote on this issue. They think it belongs in the hands of 48 people at the Capitol and the legal fees continue to add up.”
“We need to win these battles and ensure these bad bills show up on the November 2022 ballot for us to decide not 48 people at the Capitol,” Gau said.
2 p.m. Sept. 28, 2021:
Education and children’s advocates will turn in their petitions with voters’ signatures today in an effort to put the large income tax cuts approved by the Arizona Legislature and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey that impact the voter approved Prop. 208 Invest in Education Initiative on the ballot.
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Education advocates are opposed to the $12.8 billion budget proposal crafted by Republican Legislative leadership in collaboration with Gov. Doug Ducey, because the 2.5% flat tax and other tax cuts proposed would reduce state revenues by 25% and severely impact funding for public schools.
If the Invest in Arizona coalition volunteers turn in enough signatures, the flat tax and it’s impact on Prop. 208 funding for schools and teachers could be paused until voters have their say in next year’s elections.
The Invest in Arizona coalition is made up of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, Arizona Education Association, Arizona Interfaith Network, Children’s Action Alliance, Friends of the Arizona School Boards Association, Save our Schools Arizona, and Stand for Children Arizona.
Volunteers have been collecting signatures since early July to halt the implementation of Senate Bill 1828 and Senate Bill 1783.
“We’re turning in hundreds of thousands of signatures,” said Beth Lewis, executive director of Save Our Schools Arizona, one of the pro-public education groups hoping to block the tax cuts in an interview with KJZZ 91.5 FM. “And I’m confident that we’re going to turn back the attacks on Prop. 208 and keep $1 billion in our classrooms every single year.”
The organization is holding a press conference today at 3:25 p.m. today at the Arizona Capitol where education and children’s advocates, teachers, parents and students will speak about the effort and their next steps.
Arizona’s current tax brackets range from 2.59% to 4.5%. The flat tax caps taxes at 4.5% of income, which would eliminate the impact of voter-approved Proposition 208, also known as the Invest in Education Act Initiative, which imposes a 3.5% individual income tax surcharge on taxable annual income above $250,000 per individual and $500,000 per couple.
Based on Arizona Department of Revenue models before the flat tax was approved, Prop. 208 would have generated $940 million annually for teachers, counselors, therapists, support staff, vocational education and other critical services, said David Lujan, director of The Arizona Center for Economic Progress, who helped draft the initiative.
In May, 47.8 percent of Arizona voters said they opposed the budget plan being considered by the Arizona Legislature that would cut income taxes by 25% over three years, institute a 2.5% flat income tax rate, and shield high earners from directly paying the voter-approved Proposition 208 surcharge to fund schools in a poll conducted by HighGround Public Affairs.
Paul Bentz with HighGround said then that local governments, which provide the greatest number of daily services, remain popular among voters and no issue can survive without a coalition of support.
At that time, the Arizona League of Cities and Towns expressed concerns about how the flat tax and tax cuts would decrease funding to municipalities which would impact the services their residents rely on.
When the flat tax proposal was introduced education and children’s advocates and several legislators said they were concerned that the flat tax is based on a snapshot of the economy and not long-term forecasts.
“Our main concern is the whole structure of the budget, which we believe is structured based on the very unique situation of having lots of federal dollars for COVID relief and this is artificially inflating the strength of Arizona’s economy right now,” said Leigh Jensen, governmental relations associate for Arizona School Boards Association.
At the time, Jensen said education advocates were hoping the current surplus would be used to “pay down the K-12 rollover and invest in building renewal for our aging school facilities,” Jensen said.
“The flat tax proposal is a risky move that banks on revenue from sports betting and recreational marijuana being sufficient to offset the significant losses, but both of these revenue streams are brand new in Arizona,” Jensen said.
“It has the potential to undo the progress we’ve made in the last few years to restore education funding to pre-recession levels, all while leaving us flat-footed if and when another recession comes,” Jensen said.