Head Of Arizona GOP Pushes School Sales Tax Hike

By Lauren Gilger, Steve Goldstein
Associated Press
Published: Thursday, April 25, 2019 - 9:01am
Updated: Friday, April 26, 2019 - 8:14am

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Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward appeared at a state Capitol news conference with several Republican lawmakers to boost support for plan in the Legislature on April 24, 2019.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: State Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward surprised some in the GOP when she yesterday announced her support for the expansion of a sales tax that goes to education. The proposal would ask voters to increase Prop 301 from six-tenths of a cent to a full penny. It would also change the way the money is divvied up. Ben Giles of the Arizona Capital Times was at yesterday's announcement and joins us now. Ben, good morning.

BEN GILES: Good morning.

GOLDSTEIN: So take us back a little bit, because when the session was early on, Sen. Sylvia Allen was advocating for this particular legislation and it surprised people because she has a very conservative background. And now Kelli Ward is jumping on. What can we learn from this, if anything?

GILES: Well, we can learn that not a lot of Republicans are necessarily happy with the leader of the state Republican Party jumping into a policy issue and advocating essentially for a tax hike. Now the technicality that Chairman Kelli Ward and other Republicans will lean on is the fact that in Arizona, it takes a two-thirds majority vote of the House and the Senate to raise taxes, to increase state revenues. Hardly anything ever passes here with the two-thirds majority vote. So what that means is we always refer these matters to the ballot. Ward's message yesterday is let the people decide, we're going to refer this to the ballot. If this legislation was approved, voters would decide in November 2020 if they want to increase that tax from six-tenths of a cent to a full penny. And that's sort of the message — if voters want to increase funding for education, we're going to give them the opportunity to do that and have their say.

LAUREN GILGER: Ben, what's the political story here? Like, I mean, how surprising is this that some conservative Republicans are coming out for a tax hike, essentially? I mean is this just show that something has to be done in terms of education funding?

GILES: Well it was surprising enough when Sylvia Allen jumped on this bandwagon back in January. She said this is something that she'd been contemplating for three years but definitely hadn't acted on in three years. And she herself acknowledged, “I'm not one to advocate for tax increases.” So, surprising enough when the Snowflake Republican announced support for this, even more surprising when Kelli Ward announced it earlier this week. I mean this is the head of the state Republican Party going against the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, who said repeatedly and has campaigned on promises of never raising taxes or creating new taxes. And now the, you know, the face of the Republican Party is saying, let's go ahead and do this. It's been a big shock to, not just folks at the Capitol, but I mean even Kelli Ward told me earlier this week that she's received calls from the general public just wondering, “What the heck are you thinking?”

GILGER: So are they trying to head off an effort that would be more substantial, a different kind of tax increase?

GILES: That is certainly a part of it. Now Republicans have decried an effort by the Invest in Education movement last summer that attempted to get an income tax hike on the ballot to help pay for education. Ward did say that this is, it's better to put forward an alternative and get this plan on the ballot, particularly if that Invest in Ed movement tries again, be it this summer or next summer, to collect signatures and get their own initiative on the 2020 ballot. They want something to compete. I also heard a lot of complaints about Republicans not getting any credit for what has occurred in education funding in the last couple of years. There have been some increases, obviously the 20% teacher pay raise plan that's being implemented last year and the next couple of years. It was kind of sour grapes over, you know, I heard from Allen and I heard from Ward, Republicans don't get credit for this type of stuff. So we want to get out ahead of this. We want to pitch this idea. We want people to view the Republican Party as the party of funding education.

GOLDSTEIN: Now Ben, cheap plug here, because later this hour we'll air a conversation Lauren had with a teacher who is upset that there hasn't been more progress this session. Based on the momentum that there was at the end of last session, the fact that Governor Ducey acted as he did, the lawmakers did what they did, why isn't there sort of that next step during this session? It seems like we're hearing more about the state’s official drink as opposed to this. Is there stuff going on behind the scenes?

GILES: Well, certainly there are a lot of negotiations behind closed doors that I'm not invited to take part in or watch. But no, it is fascinating given that there's so much money to fight over this year, a billion-dollar surplus. Now a lot of that is one-time funding, which means lawmakers don't want to commit to ongoing expenses for education. But other than a promise to continue fulfilling that teacher pay raise proposal, this is the most concrete policy idea that we've heard, this penny sales tax increase, to try and provide a new sustainable funding source for education. But mostly there's just been, you know, fighting and bickering behind the scenes over that a billion dollars, over saving it, spending it. And I think that for the most part, folks are leaning on the fact that we're going to fulfill that pay-raise promise and kind of hoping that that maybe stems the tide. But absolutely, teachers still want to see more. There's certainly lawmakers that still want to see more money go to education. I don't know if there's enough support at this point for this sales tax plan to go through, but there's plenty of time left in session, given how slow budget negotiations are going.

GOLDSTEIN: Yes, I was going to ask you about that but we ran out of time, so we both walked out on that. Ben Giles of the Arizona Capitol Times. Ben, thanks as always.

GILES: Thank you.

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