About 100 people – many in #RedForEd t-shirts – attended a Legislative Council meeting Wednesday at the Arizona Legislature to determine ballot proposition language for Invest in Education and several other initiatives for the November elections.
The Legislative Council is in charge of creating impartial ballot analyses for every initiative that’s going on the ballot in November – among those are the Outlaw Dirty Money initiative, the Invest in Ed initiative, the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona initiative, and the Protect Arizona Taxpayers Act, said Chris Kotterman, director of government relations for Arizona School Boards Association.
“The Council is hearing testimony from members of the public about whether or not they agree with whether those analyses are fair or not, because by law they have to be fair and impartial,” Kotterman said.
Invest in Ed Ballot Language Hearing video by Brooke Razo/ AZEdNews
Petra Schmid-Riggins, a teacher in the Phoenix Union High School District and Arizona Education Association member said after the governor did not meet with #RedForEd leaders she and many other teachers “instead of having a well-deserved summer break, we spent a lot of our time talking to voters and collecting signatures.”
“Voters responded very positively. I also had conversations with people who may not have agreed completely with the Invest for Ed initiative but after I talked to them and explained to them my personal walk of life and some of the experiences my child had growing up, I suddenly saw this change in people who said ‘You know what? I really appreciate that you talked to me and explained your personal story, because now I get it,’ ” Schmid-Riggins said.
Melanie Cobos, who has taught for 18 years in Arizona, was one of many teachers who attended the hearing. She said, “I’m here to ensure that Arizona and the voters understand and know what the Invest in Ed measure it going to be and that they get accurate language.”
“We need to make sure that our schools are properly funded, our students are taken care of and that teachers have the resources to do their job in the most effective way,” Cobos said.
According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee fiscal impact analysis and ballot proposition summary presented to the Legislative Council on Wednesday afternoon, the Invest in Ed initiative would create starting Jan. 1, 2019 an 8% income tax rate for single taxpayers with $250,001 to $500,000 in taxable income and for married persons with $500,001 to $1 million in taxable income as well as a 9% income tax rate for single taxpayers with $500,001 or more in taxable income and for married persons with $1,000,001 or more in taxable income.
That would put an estimated $650 million to $750 million into the Classroom Site Fund in the first full year of implementation and those monies would be distributed to school districts and charter schools, according to the JLBC analysis. The actual amount would depend on factors including whether high-income taxpayers leave or shift income out of state because of the new tax rates, and whether higher tax rates might reduce business investment, the JLBC said.
Rivko Knox with the League of Women Voters of Arizona said, “I am here to say that we disagree with the language that’s being proposed in terms of the inflation adjustment. We do not think it’s accurate.”
Knox also noted that she did not have access to the amendments being proposed, although she wished she did.
The Legislative Council discussed how the ballot summary should be worded and offered amendments to explain who would be affected, the magnitude of the increases from the current 4.54% to 8% income tax rate and 4.54% to 9% income tax rate, and whether the ballot proposition should mention small businesses, which are affected, or C corporations, which are not.
“Once we determine what information needs to be there, we need to determine how it should be presented,” said House Speaker J.D. Mesnard.
Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and CEO of Childrens Action Alliance, said it’s important for voters to have clear impartial information to make a good decision in November.
“I also learned from the #RedForEd walkouts and the days at the Capitol how important it is to be here in person and to be watching and be present while the legislators are debating and voting,” Naimark said. “We want voters to have a chance to vote on a plan that has dedicated resources for our students, our teachers and our classrooms.”
Jaime Molera, chairman of Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy, a committee created by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry to oppose the Invest in Ed initiative, said he supported the proposed ballot language with a few clarifications. The group filed a lawsuit earlier this week to block the proposition from the ballot.
“One, would be that we believe that there needs to be on what the percentages of increases actually are so people can see that this has been termed to be just a 3.4% and a 4.4% respectively increase, when it’s in fact a 76% and 98% increase respectively,” said Molera, a former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Molera also said that there should be clarifying language that LLC and S corp business organizations are affected by this initiative, while corporations are not taxed by this initiative.
Also, Molera asked that there be some proposed language on the definition of teacher.
“It gives a lot of broad authority now to governing boards and charter schools to define what is a teacher, basically allowing it to encompass anybody who works in the school system,” said Molera, who coordinated the original Prop. 301 campaign. “Somehow allowing the public to understand what is being done is very important, that if indeed a teacher is going to be defined as everybody that has to be included in the language.”
Heather LaBelle, a teacher in the Washington Elementary School District, said “We as educators teach our children to look for inflammatory and biased language in the texts that they review, and we try to teach them to be very mindful about that. So I would ask you as a legislative body – as the council here – to be mindful of that as well in the preparation of this very important dissemination of information to the public – the people that we represent.”
Julie Gunnigle, a community activist, attorney and a candidate for state representative in Legislative District 15 who attended the hearing, said “I think the law is difficult for most people to understand, and ballot measures are even more difficult.”
“What I saw last week happen down at the Legislature was our Legislators deciding that they were going to in some cases misinform voters about what these initiatives mean. It’s so important that people understand what Invest in Ed does and why it’s important and why outlaw dirty money is the most important vote that we have in November, but we have to get the ballot measure right in order to do that.”
Devin Del Palacio, a Tolleson Union High School District Governing Board member, said “We need to engage at all levels, show up to committee meetings and hearings when you can, which is critical to making sure our long term goals are met.”
“Civic engagement doesn’t just end at the ballot box,” said Del Palacio, who is also a candidate for state representative in LD 19 . “One has to be engaged on all levels, especially on committees in which you can lend an opinion on certain issues.”
“Today’s initiative is around the tax bill, and I thought it was of paramount importance to speak up and talk about transparency and information that should be included so voters can make an informed decision,” Del Palacio said.
Kathy Hoffman, an educator and candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, said she was here to make sure that the language that appears on the ballot is understandable to voters.
“I’ve worked my entire career in our public schools, and I’ve seen the effects of the severe under-funding that has been affecting our schools for the past 20 years, so it is critically important to see that our schools have the opportunity receive a big burst in funding to make sure that our schools have the resources that they need for our students to be successful,” Hoffman said.
Sustainable education funding is important whether you have children in the school system now or your children have grown up, Schmid-Riggins said.
“We are all a community, and if our children are hurting then our community is hurting,” Schmid-Riggins said.
At around 4:30 p.m., the Legislative Council voted 8 to 4 with 2 members abstaining to approve the amended ballot measure language and fiscal analysis.