Did you know that private jets and horse vitamins are exempt from sales tax in Arizona? Or how about the fact that 74 percent of Arizona corporations only paid the minimum $50 in income tax in 2014? Does it surprise you to hear that the wealthiest Arizonans pay half as much income tax per every $100 of income as the poorest 20 percent of Arizonans?
Workshop participants learned how tasty tidbits like these affect Arizona’s infrastructure, child-care subsidies, public K-12 education, community colleges, universities and more at the workshop, “Connecting the dots between fiscal policies and your priorities,” put on by the Arizona Center for Economic Progress (ACEP), a fiscal-policy think tank create by the Children’s Action Alliance.
Workshops like these are just one facet of ACEP’s Fair Share Campaign, which aims to educate Arizona voters about how tax policies affect their everyday lives. As part of the Campaign, ACEP will hold events to educate people on how “fiscal decisions affect the priorities that Arizonans care about,” said ACEP Director David Lujan.
“Our tax code basically picks winners and losers,” he said. “The Fair Share Campaign is about cleaning up Arizona’s tax code so that we’re better able to invest in priorities that will benefit all Arizonans—things like public education, early childhood education, affordable post-secondary education, job training, infrastructure, healthcare, childcare. The list goes on and on.”
Since 1990, Arizona has cut taxes every year, giving consistent cuts to corporations and special interest groups, making it harder to invest in issues ACEP fights for, Lujan said.
“No state in the country has cut taxes more consistently, more regularly, than Arizona,” he said. “All those tax cuts, since 1990, add up to $2.2 billion, but when you adjust it for inflation, it’s $4.4 billion that we would have in our general fund today if we had not been cutting taxes year after year.”
Lujan served in the legislature for eight years, and has worked on Arizona’s public policy since the ‘90s. The sound bite he always heard in the state legislature was that tax cuts would bring jobs and economic growth. But despite consistent tax cuts, a lack of state funding has resulted in a critical shortage of qualified teachers, inadequate child care subsidies and a high poverty rate.
As we approach midterm elections in November, ACEP will be holding town halls throughout Arizona, social media campaigns and working with local organizations to lobby for issues that affect a majority of Arizonans. They’ve also introduced six bills into the 2018 legislative session that address what they see as unfair tax code and policies, such as a $50 minimum corporate tax and sales tax exemptions for certain luxury items.
Lujan said the bills have bipartisan support, but whether they make it to the house floor is not the point. The bills are meant to start a discussion around tax policy and bring that to the forefront during an election year.
Another ACEP project is to hold bipartisan seminars to educate incumbent legislative candidates on the domino effect of tax policies on their constituents. For example, cutting taxes is contrary to supporting education, Lujan said.
“When people in Arizona are looking at candidates, and you have a candidate that has a mailer, and on one side it says that they support public education,” he said. “And then you flip the postcard over and on the other side, it says they want to cut your taxes. You can know that that cannot happen…. We can’t cut taxes and still have the revenue to invest in public education.”
Once people understand how to “connect the dots” between tax policies and their own lives, they can go to candidate forums and ask smart questions that have an effect on lawmakers’ thinking, said ACEP board member and former state legislator Bill Cunningham.
“So often what legislators or public-policy makers do is pass laws that recommend policies that aren’t easily translated into how they affect everyday citizens,” Cunningham said. “The effort here is to try to connect legislators acting at the state level with ‘how does that directly affect everyday lives?’”
One example Cunningham gives is how a 60 percent decrease in public funding from state universities resulted in tuition more than doubling over a nine-year period. Another example is school teachers having to purchase classroom supplies because of a funding shortage to public schools.
Cunningham said these types of tax policies are a result of many Arizona lawmakers believing in a free market ideology, one that moves financial responsibility away from the public market to the private market.
“Those of us that can afford a large, three-seater SUV for $40,000 or $50,000, we go buy one,” he said. “Those of us who can’t, we buy a Ford Escort. So that’s where it’ll be with public education. Those of us who can afford it will purchase the most expensive educational tuition environment from K-12 that we can, and those that can’t will be left with Ford Escorts. And it’ll create divisions in our society and sow the seeds of social disintegration.”