Invest for Ed, dark money measures may go on ballot - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Invest for Ed, dark money measures may go on ballot

July 20th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Invest for Ed, dark money measures may go on ballot

By Howard Fischer

Capitol Media Services

Arizonans may get a chance in November to weigh in on a proposal to tax the rich to provide more money for public education and another that would require full disclosure of any groups or individuals trying to influence their elections.

Supporters in separate drives filed petitions to put both referendum questions on the General Election ballot. Now they must now be checked to determine if each effort secured the required number of signatures.

Supporters of more money for K-12 education said there’s a reason they are taxing only the top 1 percent of Arizona wage earners to pick up the entire cost: It’s politically expedient.

“We wanted to know what the voters were going to tell us,’’ Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said Thursday as organizers of the Invest in Ed movement submitted about 270,000 signatures to put a surcharge on state income taxes.

Only individuals earning more than $250,000 and couples who file jointly with income of more than $500,000 will pay a surcharge of 8 percent on anything they earn over that amount. The current maximum state tax rate is 4.54 percent. Those in the $500,000-plus range or couples with $1 million income will pay 9 percent of what they earn above those numbers.

Figures from the state Department of Revenue estimate that the bulk of the estimated $690 million that would be raised would come from about 20,000 taxpayers out of nearly 2.8 million who file tax returns.

Thomas bristled at questions of whether such a system to fund education on the backs of a small minority of Arizonans is fair. “How is it fair that students are in overcrowded, underfunded classrooms right now?’’ he responded.

“What’s not fair is we have the lowest-paid teachers in the nation,’’ Thomas added. “What’s not fair is we have underfunded and understaffed schools.’’

Backers need for at least 150,642 of the signatures to be found valid to qualify for the November ballot.

There already has been opposition of a sort. And it has political overtones for Gov. Doug Ducey who is trying to get re-elected, at least in part by touting what has been done for K-12 education.

The Arizona Education Project already has spent more than $1 million on TV ads praising Gov. Doug Ducey for the money that was put into education this session, saying that progress is being made in improving teacher salaries.

And on Thursday, the chamber unveiled yet another committee, Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy, which chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor said will spend whatever is necessary to defeat the measure.

Arguments about effects on the economy aside, Taylor said the initiative, if it passes, “actually is putting teacher pay at risk’’ because the income of those at the very top of the tax scale is highly volatile.

“The proponents are looking for a stable funding source,’’ he said. “This isn’t it.’’

The #InvestInEd campaign actually is a political marriage of sorts. It originally was pushed by the Arizona Center for Economic Progress as a method of coming up with a sustainable source of revenues for education.

In launching the drive, David Lujan, director of that group, pointed out that lawmakers agreed two decades ago to assume responsibility for new school construction and repairs. But lawmakers reneged on that commitment when tax revenues dipped during the recession.

In the interim, the #RedForEd movement took hold, forcing Ducey to agree to a 19 percent increase in teacher salaries by 2020 and a commitment to restore all the money he and his predecessor, Jan Brewer, took from an account that pays for things like books, computers, buses and some capital needs.

Supporters of that movement, however, pointed out that Ducey’s promise is based on projections of an improving economy, with no new dedicated revenues to finance either the raises or the restoration of the special account.

Joshua Buckley, a teacher at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, who chairs the #InvestInEd campaign, said the number of signatures collected proves that voters do not believe that elected officials will adequately invest in education.

Meanwhile, backers of a constitutional amendment to mandate disclosure of donors submitted more than 285,000 signatures to put the issue to voters. That’s only about 25,000 more than need to be found valid to have the constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.

But campaign organizer and former Attorney General Terry Goddard said he’s convinced that the error rate will be low enough to meet the goal.

If he succeeds, the campaign is likely to have stiff opposition from business groups and others who now put money into political races knowing that Arizona law allows them to shield the names of their donors from public scrutiny.

At the heart of the fight are state laws that say that any group recognized by the Internal Revenue Services as a “social welfare’’ organization need not spell out who is financing the effort. The result has been a series of campaigns for statewide and legislative offices where funds flow into mailers and commercials on behalf of candidates, with no disclosure of who is spending the money.

In 2014, for example, American Encore spent more than $1.4 million on Arizona races. And while the group originated with an organization founded by the Koch brothers, there is nothing on the record of who put up those dollars.

Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Legislature voted to extend that same protection against disclosure to local elections. That overrode the 91-9 percent vote by Tempe residents to prohibit anonymous donations to city races.

The initiative would require any group seeking to influence a political race or ballot measure to reveal the identity of anyone who contributed more than $10,000. As a constitutional amendment, it could not be overridden by lawmakers without asking for voter approval.

Goddard said it is structured to also guard against “chain donations,’’ in which one group gives to a second and that one funnels money to a third and so on. He said the law requires the organization that ultimately spends the money in Arizona to trace those dollars back and disclose the original source.

Goddard dubbed the campaign “Outlaw Dirty Money.’’

“That’s the sums and the millions of dollars that are being spent in Arizona elections,’’ he said while filing the petitions Thursday. “And we have no idea where they come from because our laws don’t require disclosure of those contributors.’’

Goddard said this is not a partisan issue, saying the campaign also is being led by Republicans like Grant Woods, another former attorney general, who is a Republican.

But it has been the Republicans in the Legislature who have allowed for anonymous donations.

During 2016 debate on the legislation, Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said voters don’t need to know the source of the funds paying for those TV ads, mailers, billboards, phone calls and literature left at the door.

“A message is a message,’’ said Mesnard, now the House speaker. “If it’s important to you to know who’s behind the message and you don’t know who’s behind the message, then disregard it.’’

Capitol Media Services

Former state Attorney General Terry Goddard dropped off scores of boxes filled with petitions in support of a Constitutional amendment requiring more disclosure in state campaign financing.