PHOENIX (AP) — Massive income tax cuts passed by the Arizona Legislature earlier this year and a series of election law changes could be put on hold until voters weigh in next year if opponents turn in enough signatures by a midnight Tuesday deadline.
A coalition of education advocates believe they have gathered enough signatures to put at least one and possibly three new tax cut laws on hold. They were working Monday validating and double-checking petition sheets in advance of turning them into the Arizona secretary of state's office on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a group opposed to three new election laws were also going through their petition sheets, although they were less certain they had collected the 118,823 valid signatures they need.
The tax cuts enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Doug Ducey in late June would cut taxes by at nearly $2 billion a year by phasing in a flat tax. They also would shield high-earning taxpayers from a 3.5% additional levy voters approved last year through Proposition 208, and a separate tax cut bill would exempt small business owners from being liable for the new tax.
“We’re turning in hundreds of thousands of signatures,” said Beth Lewis, executive Director of Save Our Schools, Arizona, one of the pro-public education groups hoping to block the tax cuts. "And I’m confident that we’re going to turn back the attacks on Prop. 208 and keep $1 billion in our classrooms every single year."
Lewis and other proponents of blocking the new tax cuts say they will prevent the Legislature from boosting funding for schools and other important spending priorities.
“We know that Arizona’s 49th in the country in education funding, and honestly, I’m a teacher, we can’t afford to lose a dollar from our classrooms much less $1 billion every year,” she said.
Ducey and Republican backers of the tax cuts say with the state running a surplus for the first time in a decade now is the time to cut taxes. The vast majority of the tax cuts go to high-earning Arizonans.
A group called Arizona Deserves Better is trying to block three new election laws — one requiring that voters who do not vote in two election cycles be removed from the list of people who automatically get mailed ballots, and a second blocking election officials from taking private grants. A third measure contains a host of what Republican backers call “election security measures” but that opponents say are designed to suppress the vote and compromise the privacy if the ballot.
A judge on Monday blocked that law from taking effect as part of a larger lawsuit targeting provisions in several budget bills, including a ban on school mask requirements.
“It’s possible we may not have enough signatures to file," said Alison Porter, a senior advisor to the group. “No matter what happens, as things continue to play out today. Arizona Deserves Better we’ll continue to work to protect democracy in Arizona.”
Porter said many voters are unaware of the election law changes and her group's effort to collect signatures succeeded in increasing awareness and interest in the Legislature's actions, even if they do not succeed in blocking the bills.
Under the Arizona Constitution, the groups had 90 days after the Legislature adjourned for the year to collect the signatures required to put the big tax cuts on hold until voters can weigh in on November 2022. New laws take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday.
The coalition opposing the tax cuts includes the Arizona Education Association teachers union, Children’s Action Alliance, Center for Economic Progress and Arizona Interfaith Network and Stand With Children. Invest in Arizona Now, the renamed group that got Proposition 208 on the ballot, is also involved.
Save Our Schools Arizona has experience in voter referendums — it organized in early 2017 to oppose and successfully refer to the ballot a new universal school voucher law. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the voucher expansion the following year.