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2/20/2012 3:22:00 PM
Education group wants higher sales taxes earmarked for schools

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- A group of educators and others hoping to preserve higher sales taxes have taken the first steps to put the issue on the ballot.

Quality Education and Jobs filed the necessary paperwork to start raising money for the initiative fight. Ann-Eve Pedersen, president of the Arizona Education Network, is chairing the effort; former state Sen. George Cunningham, a Tucson Democrat is treasurer.

But Pedersen told Capitol Media Services the group is not quite ready to roll out the measure which is designed to generate about $1 billion a year for education. She said work was still under way to craft the final language in a way designed to convince voters that the higher taxes would be properly used and that there would be accountability to show that the funds were having results.

Time to act, though, is running out: Backers have only until June 17 to gather 172,809 valid signatures on petitions to put the issue on the November ballot.

And waiting another two years is not an option.

That is because this levy is designed to kick in when the current one-cent temporary sales tax hike approved by voters self-destructs on May 31, 2013. Without voter approval, the expiration will send the rate back to the 5.6 percent it was at the beginning of 2010.

More to the point, that will reduce state revenues by about $1 billion a year, a loss that proponents believe will fall disproportionately on education.

Pedersen said she is "well aware' of the deadlines, saying she anticipates that supporters will be able to start gathering signatures by the end of the month.

While voters approved the temporary sales tax hike in 2010 by nearly a 2-1 margin, the battle is expected to be more pitched this time.

For one, that 2010 fight had the backing of Gov. Jan Brewer.

She pitched it by pointing out that lawmakers also were cutting $1 billion in spending and borrowing that much to balance the budget. That, she said, made the tax hike part of a balanced plan.

And the governor also emphasized the temporary nature of the tax.

Brewer has repeatedly said she will not support extending the tax. But she has been more circumspect about whether she would support an entirely new levy, even if the amount was the same and it picked up where the old one drops off.

The initiative also could face another hurdle.

Last week the Senate Committee on Government Reform approved what amounts to a "poison pill' for any tax hike. SB 1155 spells out that if any measure is approved after May 31, 2013 that takes the sales tax higher than it was three years earlier, the Department of Revenue is required to reduce individual income tax rates to a level to offset the additional revenues.

"I think it's important to remind people that a promise was made to the public that the sales tax increase would be temporary,' Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs told colleagues. He said the legislation would provide a "disincentive' to any move to make the current 6.6 percent tax rate permanent.

But Biggs said there's a good policy reason for discouraging a voter-approved tax hike, one that lawmakers would be unable to repeal without taking the issue back to the ballot.

"We probably need some broad-based tax reform,' he said. Biggs said anything that increases the sales tax -- or even keeps it at current levels -- would continue the practice of "patch-working our somewhat dysfunctional tax system.'

That measure now awaits a vote of the full Senate.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Article comment by: Matthew Fiori

Well, the entire budget is about 7 billion so 1 out of 7 is about a 14% reduction in income. The ADE represents about half of the current budget spending so 3.5 billion approximately out of the 7 in revenue. Theoretically, this means that the ADE will need to absorb .5 billion out of the total revenue reduction or 14% of current ADE spending. That is significant. You can look the numbers up yourself here

Posted: Monday, February 20, 2012
Article comment by: Georgio Piachettapelli

In the beginning, God created taxes and saw that this was good.

Having created taxes, God then created man so that he would have something to tax. Seeing that man suffered under taxes, God created death... the only effective form of tax relief ... then left it at that.

Note after the creation of taxes, Man created war as a way for governments to decide who collects taxes and bureaucracy and oppression as means for collecting taxes. When tax collection gets too far out of hand, God invokes widespread tax-relief in the form of famine.

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