Judge orders changes to explanation of education tax measure

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — A judge has ordered changes to the description of a proposed tax increase on the wealthy designed to fund education that will be sent to voters if the initiative makes the November ballot.

The order came after another judge blocked the Invest in Education Act from the ballot on July 31 because of what he said was a misleading 100-word summary seen by more than 400,000 people who signed qualifying petitions. That ruling is being appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall H. Warner ruled Tuesday that if the high court resurrects the initiative, language adopted by majority Republican members of the Legislative Council must be modified. The committee backing the initiative challenged the impartiality of the description adopted by the Council.

The election publicity pamphlet mailed to voters explains the initiatives that will be up for a vote. The proposed Invest in Education initiative backed by many educators and the state teachers union would impose a 3.5% tax surcharge on income above $250,000 for an individual or above $500,000 for couples. Half the new money would fund raises for teachers, with the rest going to support staff pay increases, vocational education, teacher training and other initiatives.

The judge ordered the removal of language that would spell out that the new tax would be a “77.7% increase” from the current 4.5% rate on high-earners. Warner said including that figure was not impartial and was indeed confusing because “anyone can understand that the current 4.5% tax rate would bump up to 8% if the proposition is passed.”

He also ordered the removal of language saying that the tax would be imposed on personal income derived from “typically small businesses.” Warner called that “a rhetorical strategy that tinges the analysis with partisan coloring” because many medium and large businesses are organized to distribute earnings to their individual owners, which claim the income on their tax returns.

And he ordered an addition to language the council adopted that explained how the Voter Protection Act prevents the Legislature from changing the law unless it “furthers the purpose” of the measure and that it requires a supermajority vote.

Warner said that wasn't true, because voters could also change the new law at the ballot box. He ordered that language added.

All four initiatives that appeared headed to the ballot have seen legal challenges this summer. The Invest in Education Act was blocked, while judges rejected challenges to sentencing reform and marijuana legalization measures. A trial on a measure blocking surprise medical billing, banning insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and boosting pay for medical workers is underway.

The state Supreme Court will likely review rulings on all four. The secretary of state has an Aug. 21 printing deadline for state voter publicity pamphlets. so challenges to all four initiatives must be completed by that date.