Tax initiatives flounder in California, Arizona
Selling it was supposed to be easy. Everybody loves Quality Jobs and Education! It should be as easy as getting people to agree that Schools and Safety are important. So why don’t they love Proposition 204: The Quality Jobs and Education Act, or its sister in California, Proposition 30: The Schools and Safety Protection Act?
The answer is that they’re extremely similar, and similarly flawed initiatives.
The propositions use the claim that there is a crisis in school funding to ask for a tax increase, despite the fact that billions of dollars will go to social programs, public transit, infrastructure, and other budget items. Perhaps if it had been as straightforward as asking for higher taxes that would go directly to hiring more cops and teachers, it would have been easier to market these initiatives to a body politic generally skeptical of spending more on government. But because these ballot initiatives were artificially constructed around the political goal of higher taxes and spending, voters have become more apprehensive as they learn the details.
One of the main criticisms of the ballot initiatives in both states has been that the K-12 education programs in place for students are systematically flawed and need reform, not merely more spending. “The problem, however, is that K-12 public education in California is replete with systemic flaws and Prop. 30 does absolutely nothing to correct any of them. No reforms – zip, nada – just more money to pay for the status quo,” one editorial lambasting the measure reads. The same statement, nearly verbatim, has been made repeatedly by opponents of Arizona’s Prop 204 and the ‘education status quo’. Spending on education has already risen very rapidly in both states, with no tangible return on investment for students or taxpayers.
Only the interest groups backing 204 and 30 will see any gain from these politically-motivated new taxes. Mentioning unions and bureaucrats as beneficiaries of the new spending is almost too easy, but there are other less-obvious special interests with their hands out. Both states have massive organized support from their respective Student Associations, which are advocacy groups for college students. The Arizona Students’ Association donated $120,000 in student fees to Yes on 204, and both groups are providing a lot of the grassroots support that exists for the measures.
And what is the payoff for these young students, giving their time, and sometimes unwittingly, their money to these causes? California is perhaps known for providing its residents with instant gratification more than anything else, and its approach to paying off political interests is no different: Governor Jerry Brown has been going around the state, stumping on college campuses promoting the tax increase by telling students they will get a $250 rebate check in the mail if it passes.
Arizona’s special interests have taken the long view on promoting fiscal insanity: the billion-dollar sales tax increase would be permanent, unlike California’s. The ballot language allocates the revenue into a bunch of new “funds” based on a rigid formula rather than allowing for flexibility to accommodate for future spending needs. Most notably, it creates a permanent slush fund for projects that require a lot of construction work, which sounds odd, until you consider that a lobbying group called We Build Arizona has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Yes on 204 campaign.
Fortunately, both initiatives have one other similarity: they are floundering in the polls. As voters in California and Arizona struggle to make ends meet or find jobs, many see the damage caused by raising taxes during a recession. Proposition 30’s support has fallen dramatically in recent weeks, with only 46% now in favor of the billions of dollars in new taxes. No major poll in Arizona has shown Prop 204 lagging behind the opposition by less than 10 points. Hopefully these trends continue through election day, and both measures fail.