We often hear that some politicians, notably President Donald Trump, are working to divide us as a nation. They use the “us versus them” argument to unify their supporters and vilify their opponents.
We see the same argument for the initiative announced Monday in Phoenix that would raise taxes on the wealthiest Arizonans to generate about $940 million for public education. The plan is the work of four groups seeking to collect about 238,000 signatures by July 2 to get the measure on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
If adopted, individuals earning more than $250,000, or couples earning $500,000, in annual income would pay a 3.5 percent surcharge on their income tax. That’s about 4 percent of the state’s 7.5 million residents.
In addition to segregating the rich, this proposal is bad for education. This tax on a special class of income-earners lacks ownership by most taxpayers in Arizona. Without any “skin in the game,” people who aren’t earning at the taxable levels have little reason to be concerned about welfare of public education, especially if they don’t have children involved. This plan also encourages those with high incomes to leave Arizona, which would have an impact on tax dollars paid to other governments at the local and state levels.
We recognize the need to find more money for public education. Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State address on Monday prioritized putting more state funds into the classroom. We understand without more shared revenue from Phoenix, public education and rural schools in particular will continue to suffer teacher vacancies, poor academic performance and lack of opportunity.
Solving those challenges should not be the sole responsibility of those classified as “the rich.”
There are other revenue-raising initiatives currently being considered, including raising the state sales tax from 6/10 of a cent to a full penny, which would raise about $500 million. That plan spreads the financial pain of an additional tax without pushing the burden onto a single class of income-earners.
Increasing the sales tax should be recognized as a final option for state government. Arizona already has the 11th highest sales tax in the nation and continued increases are a recipe for economic troubles, making the state less attractive to businesses, new residents and tourists. Increasing the property tax is also not a viable, long-term option for the state, with only about 13 percent of all land in Arizona privately owned.
More revenue for education is necessary, but it can’t be solely the responsibility of those with the highest incomes.