Arizona's Left Leaning Community
I am opposed to making the one cent sales tax permanent as proposed by the Arizona Sales Tax Renewal Amendment, which will likely appear on November 6, 2012 ballot. This may not make me popular in some quarters, but please hear me out. I voted for and supported the original temporary one cent sales tax in May 2010, but I have serious reservations about this latest initiative.
This initiative does far more than simply extend and make permanent the temporary one cent sales tax passed by voters in May 2010 as Prop. 100. In order to make it palatable to to a wide variety of special interest groups from educators to the construction industry, the authors of this initiative have thrown in everything but the kitchen sink. The resulting 14 page initiative has the potential to set into stone a variety of measures that may have unfortunate unintended consequences. I urge you at least read the initiative before you make up your mind whether or not to support it. You can find the full text of the initiative here.
Laws passed by initiative cannot be easily modified or fixed. Provisions of a initiative are pretty much set in stone and require yet another another voter initiative to change them, so we have to careful when we pass law by initiative.
For example, read the section having to do with the evaluation of schools and teachers on page 2 of the initiative:
B. THE STATEWIDE PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENTS ADOPTED PURSUENT TO THIS SECTION SHALL CONSIST OF THE FOLLOWING MEASURES:
1. FIFTY PER CENT OF PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENTS SHALL CONSIST OF MEASURES OF ACADEMIC PROGRESS, INCLUDING THE STATEWIDE PERCENTAGE OF THIRD-GRADE STUDENTS MEETING STATE READING STANDARDS PRESCRIBED PURSUANT TO SECTION 15-701, STATEWIDE GRADUATION AND DROPOUT RATES AND STATEWIDE PERFORMANCE ON NATIONALLY ADMINISTERED NORM-REFERENCED ASSESSMENTS SUCH AS THE NATIONAL ASSESSMENT OF EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS AND NATIONALLY ADMINISTERED COLLEGE PLACEMENT AND ADMISSION EXAMINATIONS.
2. TWENTY-FIVE PER CENT OF THE PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENTS SHALL BE BASED ON MEASURES OF PARENTAL SATISFACTION.
3. TWENTY-FIVE PER CENT OF THE PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENTS SHALL BE BASED ON STUDENT ENGAGEMENT.
What in the hell is “student engagement”? This term is not defined in the bill and seems sufficiently nebulous to create mischief. How will “parental satisfaction” be measured? Will this be left up to whoever is serving as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction at the time? I believe these ill-defined terms can be misused for political purposes and to the detriment of our schools. This is just an example of unintended consequences that might result from passing this initiative.
The temporary one cent sales tax passed by in May 2010 (Prop. 100) expires on May 31, 2013. 66% of the revenue from this measure was designated for primary and secondary education. It should come as no surprise that the Arizona Legislature used this additional source of funding as an excuse to cut funding to education and human services from other sources. That’s exactly what they did.
I am told by supporters of the current initiative that it contains non-supplantation language that will prevent this from happening again, but I remain skeptical. Exactly what sort of legal verbiage will prevent a legislature intent on providing an unending stream of tax cuts for corporation and wealthy individuals from cutting funding in other areas to be able to provide yet another tax cut? At very least they will make cuts in areas not specified by the non-supplantation clauses and blame these cuts on the lack of flexibility that they now have because of the initiative language.
What is really needed is an initiative that both funds education and and makes sure that the wealthy pay their fair share. Arizona already has one of the most regressive tax systems in the county, largely because of its overdependence on sales taxes. According to a recent report published by Children’s Action Alliance, low-income Arizonans pay the highest percentage of their income in total taxes;
The lowest income bracket pays 224% more in combined taxes as a share of their income than Arizonans in the top 1%.
80% of Arizonans pay a higher percentage of their income in general sales taxes than in income taxes.
Arizona cities have some of the highest sales tax rate in the nation with some cities having a sales tax rate as high as 10%.
Rather than address the unfairness of Arizona''s tax system, the proposed initiative makes us permanently dependent on a regressive sales tax to fund education. To me, this is unacceptable.
ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy warned us after the passage of Prop. 100:
Proposition 100 was critical, but is not the long-term solution. We cannot continue to ask voters to pass sales taxes to bring the budget into balance.
The one cent sales tax was a necessary stop-gap measure called for in desperate times; but it should not become a permanent solution. Better and more equitable solutions exist. Sadly they are not being considered.
Some tell me that we have no other viable choice. I say they are wrong. This initiative is the only alternative because the big money players have decided that they don’t want us to have other options
Polling was never conducted by the organizations promoting the permanent sales tax regarding less regressive solutions such as an income tax on high incomes. One must ask why this is so. Keep in mind that some of those helping to finance this initiative would be adversely affected by an increase in taxes on upper incomes.
The Arizona Hospital Association back in 2010 proposed a voter initiative to fund health-care by increasing taxes on upper wage earners. I'm told they had polling that showing it could win at the ballot box. Unfortunately, Republicans in our State Legislature strong-armed them into dropping this idea with the threat they would do bad things to the hospital industry if they even thought about supporting such an initiative. This initiative proposed raising the tax rate on incomes above $150,000 from 4.5% to 5.5%. It was never filed with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office.
Now that the Arizona Legislature has dramatically cut funding to hospitals anyway, one wonders if the hospitals might have the stomach for such a fight now. Perhaps they would be willing to help fund a ballot initiative of this sort.
In California, the teacher’s unions are supporting an initiative that combines an income tax on upper wage earners with a sales tax. Originally they supported an increase in the income tax on upper wage earners alone, but they reached a compromise with Governor Jerry Brown who favored a sales tax.
I am told by some that we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good and that this initiative, flawed as it might be, is our only option if we are to obtain adequate financing for Arizona schools in the immediate future. My response is this; Don’t just accept any old solution without asking some hard questions first. "Do something even if it's wrong" is not a good way to make policy, particularly when the measures put into place by this initiative will be difficult to undo in the future. Take the time to actually read the initiative and you’ll realize that not only is it not a good solution, it may have results that are positively harmful.
Moreover, passing this initiative will remove the pressure from voters and lobbyists that will be required to achieve a decent solution, one that doesn't perpetuate a tax system that puts the greatest burden on low-income Arizonans.
Arizonans will simply not let their schools crumble or hospitals close if this measure fails at the ballot box, as I believe it should. They will insist that their elected representatives do something about it. Hospitals and teachers unions won’t let this happen either. If this initiative goes down in flames, they’ll simply try something else. Perhaps they'll even give progressive taxation a try.