In three decades of watching government, it's nearly impossible to recall a more difficult climate within which to pass a tax increase than … this one. The banged-up people of Arizona, whacked by the housing crunch and everything that has tumbled with it, don't want to pay more taxes. Enough, they say. The great volume of chatter is in opposition to Proposition 100, the 1 percent sales tax placed before voters May 18.
Yet it's time for courageous, selfless, far-sighted behavior. We believe Arizonans ought to say "Yes" to Proposition 100, and give 1 percent more of their disposed spending to the greater good.
A well-constructed study of Proposition 100 was written by Mark Evans, former editor of The Explorer, for http://tucsoncitizen.com">tucsoncitizen.com. Evans points out, correctly, that compelling arguments can be made on either side of the vote, and he makes them. To paraphrase:
Prop 100 is temporary, expiring in three years, when we believe times will be better. Two-thirds of it goes to Arizona's beleaguered, unsettled public education system, a place where crying teachers are being "RIF'd" left and right. One third goes toward "public safety." Prop 100 would protect local property taxpayers from higher bills for incarceration, as an example, that might be shifted to local governments.
Prop 100 is "regressive," taking a greater percentage of income from poorer people than the wealthy. It's a sales tax, and when sales decline, tax revenue does, too. Would a higher sales tax mean less consumer spending, and resulting private sector job losses? That argument has been made, along with the view that public sector jobs are on the see-saw's other seat. The Legislature could look at income and property taxes as more equitable, more predictable means of raising money. And the state's budget hole, $3 billion deep, won't be filled by what is optimistically labeled a $1 billion annual life jacket.
Enough is enough? That's not only about taxes; Arizona's legislators have made significant cuts in services during these two very ugly years. Our state's budget was unsustainably bloated before the bust, and the Legislature has whacked $2.3 billion in two years. We're borrowing against our lottery earnings for 20 years. We've sold our state buildings, to lease them back. We're closing state parks. Universities and colleges are raising tuition and fees. School districts have made do with less, and are about to make more reductions, even if Prop 100 passes. It's a matter of degree. Marana Unified, for example, has RIF'd 64 teachers and 113 support staff, Amphi 245 employees. Services are being reduced.
The Legislature has taken this budget down to $8.4 billion, and the shrinking has not been pretty. That's still $1.2 billion short. Prop 100, paid by hard-working residents as well as our many visitors, narrows that gap.
Evans argues for defeat of Prop 100, requiring the Legislature to "solve the state budget deficit properly." That's a wonderful sentiment. But, every day it seems, the Arizona Legislature erodes the people's confidence in its ability to solve anything. There are no more budget "solutions" coming from the Senate and House. And the state's revenue picture isn't going to get better anytime soon.
Yes, sales taxes are regressive. But we don't pay taxes on groceries. Fuel taxes are a small percentage of our prices at the pump. If there is concern for Prop 100's effect on low-income people, Arizona could enact some form of sales tax relief for them. Let's be clear, though; Arizona's income tax is 4.5 percent or less, and the $250 million statewide equalization property tax for schools appears kaput. The Tax Foundation reports Arizona's tax burden for 2008 was 10th-lowest in America.
It's a waste of time to declare Arizona's official ranking in per student spending for public education. Suffice it to say we're nowhere near the top. We have great schools and fine colleges and universities. They are the intellectual engine for our future; if ever a state needed to diversify its economy, we're living in it. Yet the confidence of our education community is badly shaken.
If Prop 100 is defeated, K-12 schools cut another $420 million, higher education another $100 million, public safety another $85 million, health and human services another $110 million, according to Yes on 100.
That's too much. Enough is enough. Let's do the right thing, for the future of our children and grandchildren, and for the future of our state. Let's pass Proposition 100.