How not to develop public policy

A proposed ballot initiative that seeks to double the income tax on small business completely dismantles one of the most substantive and impactful education-related measures implemented in the last two decades.

Adopted by voters in 2000, Proposition 301 established a statewide .6 percent sales tax for K-12 education, community colleges, and universities. It carefully balanced a dramatic infusion of new resources with academic and financial accountability.

Referred to the ballot by a bipartisan majority of the Legislature, Proposition 301 has proven so integral to Arizona’s educational funding mix that the Legislature in 2018 renewed it for another 20 years, again by a wide bipartisan majority.

The crafting of Proposition 301 and the campaign that led to its passage stands in stark contrast to what pro-tax-hike advocates are attempting to pass today.

Proposition 301 was drafted and negotiated at the legislative level. That means it went through several committee meetings and was debated on the floor of both legislative chambers. The public had a chance to weigh in throughout, shining sunshine on mistakes or unintended consequences.

Compare that to the 2018 tax hike initiative. Is there anyone willing to stand up and claim to have drafted this mess? Anyone who wants to claim responsibility for failing to shoot straight with voters over the initiative’s actual proposed percentage tax increases of 76 percent and 98 percent? What about the initiative’s rollback of a law that protects lower and middle-income earners from tax increases due to inflation?

Two of Proposition 301’s most vocal supporters back in 2000 were statewide elected officials at the time: Gov. Jane Dee Hull, and superintendent of public instruction, Lisa Graham Keegan, one of the nation’s foremost education reform advocates, whose influence can be seen throughout the proposition. Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera, one of the leaders in the proposition’s crafting and successful campaign, is now chairing the campaign committee to defeat the highly flawed 2018 initiative.

In fact, Proposition 301 was backed by a broad coalition of the business community, education community, and elected officials.

Flash forward to today. There is no statewide elected official who supports a doubling of the personal income tax rate, and few statewide education organizations were willing to put their names and reputation behind this poorly designed measure.

The coalition pushing today’s initiative is far from a broad cross-section of the state. Instead, out-of-state unions have already dumped over $1 million into the effort to secure its passage.

Where Proposition 301 is defined by student achievement, better pay for teachers, and accountability, the small business tax increase proposal is defined by empty rhetoric and false promises.

Proposition 301 was designed to focus more resources into the classroom. It recognized teacher performance and increased pay for teachers, not administrators.

It delivered a system of school ratings, so parents and taxpayers could better understand how our schools are performing and hold local school boards accountable.

It considered the entire educational continuum, from the K-12 years to the college years.

On all of these points, the tax increase proponents fall woefully short.

There is no mention of new student achievement measures throughout the initiative.

It is silent on educational attainment or post-secondary schooling.

Teachers, the very group that is supposed to benefit from the tax increase, are left with little.

The initiative broadly redefines what it means to be a teacher, which greatly dilutes whatever revenue the initiative might raise.

There are no accountability measures to protect parents and taxpayers. Under Proposition 301, the auditor general could report on how many dollars were flowing from taxpayers to schools and into classrooms. With the dilution of the definition of teacher, however, it will be incredibly difficult to know whether dollars are making it into the paychecks of the individuals at the front of the classroom.

Proposition 301 is not perfect. But it is the result of a process that was built on transparency, compromise, and accountability, all originating from Arizona-based stakeholders.

The small business tax increase initiative is a lesson in how not to develop policy. We don’t know who wrote it, the public didn’t see its development, and it won’t deliver the pay increases it promises.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Glenn Hamer

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