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Tax Hike On Wealthy Proposed To Fund Arizona K-12 Education

A coalition of public school advocates filed an initiative to raise taxes on the wealthiest Arizonans as the state’s lawmakers headed back to the Capitol on Monday afternoon.

The proposal, backed by the Arizona Education Association and others with Invest in Ed , would add a 3.5% surcharge to any income above $250,000 annually for individuals and above $500,000 annually for couples who file taxes jointly.

AEA President Joe Thomas said a new tax on the wealthiest Arizonans would generate roughly $940 million annually.

Those dollars would all be allocated to K-12 public schools.

A bulk of the funding, 75%, would be earmarked for new hires and raises for teachers, classroom personnel and other support staff.

“After listening to educators and voters for about a year, we have compiled what they know will impact student learning and achievement and end the teacher exodus,” Thomas said Monday.

The remaining 25% of those funds would be divvied up between mentoring teachers and teacher retention efforts, increased spending on career and technical courses and more dollars for the Arizona Teacher’s Academy, which provides free tuition at in-state universities for teachers who agree to teach in Arizona schools upon graduation.

The tax hike is expected to generate plenty of criticism, particularly from Republican lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey, who has said raising taxes is a non-starter amid the state’s thriving economy and budget surpluses.

Other Republican senators are pushing their own plans to raise revenues, but with a sales tax rather than an income tax surcharge.

That plan, a legislative ballot referral to raise a 0.6-cent sales tax for education, would raise the tax to a full penny and generate an additional $500 million in revenue for education.

David Lujan of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, which is backing the initiative, said the state is already too dependent on sales taxes, “which means everyday Arizonans have been paying more as a portion of their income for education.”

Thomas said research indicated that voters wouldn’t support such a tax hike, and instead prefer a plan to draw a more substantial amount of new revenue for education.

“We’ve done research, polling and then conversations with the public, and this is the strongest taxing mechanism they will support,” Thomas said.

The initiative is the coalition’s second attempt to qualify for the ballot in as many years. Their first effort was struck from the ballot after the Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the language failed to properly explain the proposal’s impact on taxes.

Backers need to collect 237,645 signatures by July 2 in order for their initiative to qualify for the November ballot.

Before that, they’ll give legislative staff 30 days to review the initiative and make any necessary changes to avoid a repeat of legal issues with the language.

Thomas joined The Show to talk about why things might be different this time.

Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.