Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Arizonans Say, Raise State Taxes to Pay for Education

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 2015 at 2:30 PM

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The ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy recently conducted a poll covering a number of issues. When people were asked what is the most important issue facing Arizona voters, they put education at number one (32 percent), with immigration (17.1 percent)  and the budget (16.1 percent) coming in distant seconds. It's good news that the Republican screaming about immigrants invading our country and the state budget bankrupting taxpayers is taking a back seat to concerns about the way we educate our children here in Arizona.

So what did the people polled say they wanted to do to improve education? A strong majority—65.8 percent—agreed with the statement, "I would be willing to pay higher state taxes to improve Arizona's public schools." Democrats and liberal Independents agreed in large numbers—84.4 percent and 86.2 percent—while Republicans and conservative Independents came in just a little shy of agreement—43.3 percent and 49.7 percent.

The pollsters gave their respondents a chance to go the other way on this, asking how they felt about the statement, "I prefer that Arizona reduce funding for state services such as public schools, universities and public health rather than raise taxes." A feeble 23.5 percent agreed. Even on the Republican side, only 35.6 percent of Republicans agreed that it's OK to reduce government services to keep taxes at their current level.

If this poll is anywhere near accurate, Arizonans are willing to pay higher taxes to improve education—theoretically, anyway. That number would probably come down if voters were faced with a choice. One of the rules I've heard from politicos about tax initiatives submitted for voter approval is, you need to have at least 60% of the people on your side in the months before the election to win on election day. Lots of people who like the idea of paying more for services in theory change their minds when it comes time to fill in the "Yes" bubble on their ballot. But even with that caveat, a 65.8% majority in favor of more taxes to improve education is impressive.

So. Democrats. Maybe it's time to take the risk of suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous negative ads and come out strongly in favor of increasing funding for education, even if it means raising taxes for some people. You can strengthen your case by reminding people that Arizona's top one percent of earners pay 4.6 percent of their incomes on state and local taxes while the lowest 20 percent pays 12.5 percent. It's not "soaking the rich" to make them pay their fair share in taxes, which would allow us to fund our schools at a level where our per student funding is, oh, say, 40th in the nation rather than 49th.

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