Dare to Say, 'Tax the Rich'

If there's a Democratic primary for governor, I'm supporting the candidate who says "Tax the rich."

David Garcia already signed on to run against Ducey in 2018. Steve Farley has said he's interested. Farley and Garcia are both very smart, energetic guys who I would be happy to see as our next governor. Add the extra pleasure of seeing Ducey crash and burn at the polls, and I'd be damn near ecstatic if either won. Both of them are strong backers of public education. Both will push for inclusive social services from state agencies. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but not enough for me to give either the political edge. That makes it tough to choose between them, assuming Farley jumps in the race.

So if there's a primary, I'm going to be listening for their stands on raising taxes. There's no way to stretch current dollars to pay for what we need. Education. Social services. Did I mention highway repair? Those are all big ticket items, and Arizona has a small ticket budget.

Farley has made a good case for getting rid of some of the tax exemptions gifted to special interests over the years. He thinks there's at least $2 billion in trimmable tax breaks, maybe more, without touching the sales tax exemptions for things like food and prescriptions. And that would be terrific. But whenever I hear that kind of talk from Farley and other Democrats, much as I think it's a great idea, I always feel like it's a way of avoiding the elephant in the room. And I don't mean the Republican elephant. I mean that big ol' "Tax increase" elephant.

Garcia has edged up next to the idea of a tax increase. He says we absolutely need more money for education and he wants to raise revenue, maybe even raise taxes if necessary. But if he has a plan, I don't know what it is.

So long as Arizona Democrats are afraid to say we need a tax increase, voters assume the Republicans must be right when they say we're taxed too much already. And I admit the Rs have a point when it comes to most Arizonans. Our state's tax inequality is among the worst in the country when you add together income, sales and excise taxes. By keeping our income taxes low, we've shifted the costs of government away from the rich who can best afford it and placed too much of the burden on middle and lower class taxpayers. Whenever we need more money, state or local, we go for another regressive sales tax increase when we should be making the rich pay their fair share by increasing their income taxes.

It's going to take some heavy lifting for any Democrat to make it to the governor's office. Ducey has done himself some political damage lately, but he's still the odds-on favorite. Playing it safe won't get a Democratic candidate anywhere. Somewhere, somehow, some Democrat is going to have to take a serious political risk or go down to another safe, predictable gubernatorial defeat. Finding the right way to say "Tax the rich" is one way to get the voters' attention, and the only way to lift Arizona out of its budgetary quagmire.