Democrats Need to Man and Woman Up on Education and Taxes

It's worth sitting up and taking notice when a poll says almost two-thirds of Arizonans support a tax increase—especially when 50 percent of Republicans are on board.
Nearly two-thirds of Arizonans, including more than 50 percent of Republicans, would be willing to pay an additional $200 in state taxes annually to better fund K-12 education, according to a new poll.
Why are respondents willing to dig into their own pockets to support our children's educations?
Respondents overwhelmingly chose K-12 education as their top priority, and 50 percent said Arizona high school graduates are not as prepared as students in other states. Almost three-quarters of those polled said Arizona spends fewer tax dollars on K-12 education than other states, and almost 80 percent said the state doesn't spend enough.
Those are amazing numbers. Even if the poll is a bit skewed and overstates the pro-education sentiment by 10 percent, it's still an impressive show of support for education, a sign that Arizonans understand that we need to spend more money on schools.

So. Democrats. Have you ever seen numbers so strongly in your favor when it comes to education and taxation here in Arizona? I haven't. Now is the time to throw off your natural reticence—I'll refrain from calling it cowardice, though I'm tempted to—and Man Up! Woman Up! Stand Up! Say it loud. We need more funds to educate our children, and we can only get those funds if we increase taxes.

Everyone who's looked at the numbers knows it's impossible for Arizona to have a balanced budget while supporting education and other necessary services adequately if we don't put more cash in the state coffers. And really, as sensible as it would be to cut back on all those tax breaks legislators have lavished on businesses, and as sensible as it would be to bag the current round of business tax cuts, that won't bring in all the required revenue. We need to raise taxes.

As generous as the people who took the poll said they were willing to be, they really don't have to kick in an extra $200. Those who have benefited most over the past 40 years from our growing income inequality should be paying their fair share, meaning their state income tax rates need to go up. They can afford a significant tax hike, which will hurt their pride more than their pocketbooks, far more easily than the average taxpayer can afford $200. Our current dependence on sales tax puts too great a burden on bottom 50 percent of wage earners. The only fair thing to do is raise the tax rates at the top income levels.

Only Democrats can tell that truth, and they should. Starting now. Of course, Democrats have every reason to fear if they advocate for higher taxes for the rich, they'll be assaulted by a haboob-intensity money storm of negative TV ads, print ads, internet ads, robocalls, whisper campaigns and whatever else the forces of dark money can throw at them. And they're right, that's exactly what will happen. If they continue to hold firm, if they keep pushing out the tax-and-education message in spite of the assault, the storm clouds are sure to grow even stronger. It's possible, come 2016, a few of them could even lose their seats.

You know what? Much as I like the Democratic legislators I know, if a few of them lose their seats standing up for what's right for Arizona, I'm not going to shed many tears. Hell, they're already a minority. If it comes to that, a few less Democrats in the  legislature won't matter nearly as much as keeping a few more spineless Democrats in office who are more worried about their reelections than standing up for their principles.

What matters is hammering home a strong message over and over until it resonates with voters, until those voters who aren't hard line anti-taxers decide that Republicans are harming our children and our economy, short term and long term, and Democrats who are willing to stand up and be counted are worth voting for. Who knows, maybe some of those Democrats who sit out elections — because, why bother to vote for Democrats who can't be bothered to speak out for what they believe? — will decide it's worth their while to cast a ballot for candidates worthy of their hire.

Of course, it's not a slam dunk that Democrats will lose seats if they stand up, especially in a presidential election year which always brings out more casual voters, which usually means more Democrat-leaning voters. There's no way of predicting what the political zeitgeist will look like two years from now. It could be more favorable to Democrats. But it doesn't take a crystal ball to see that if Democrats don't stand up, things aren't going to get any better around here no matter who ends up getting elected. And things could get a hell of a lot worse.