“Calling mob rule to the passing of Prop. 208, I hate to inform you … that’s called democracy.”
An Arizona lawmaker referred to a voter-approved education tax as “mob rule” last week as the legislature debated a budget introduced by state lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey.
The budget would include a tax cut for Arizona residents, but critics say it’s the latest example of efforts by Republicans to undermine Prop. 208, a voter-approved tax hike on the state’s wealthiest residents that would raise millions of dollars for public schools.
As educators were camped outside the Arizona State Capitol to oppose the flat tax last Tuesday, Sen. David Livington, R-Peoria, described Prop. 208 as a “mess” that needed to be fixed by the legislature.
Arizonans narrowly approved Prop. 208 in November. A state audit found last year that school districts in Arizona, which consistently ranks low among states across the country for quality of education, spend about $3,100 less per pupil than the national average.
As part of the budget, a proposed flat 2.5% income tax for all Arizona residents would now keep higher-earning taxpayers from having to pay the Prop. 208 tax, but would also cut $1.5 billion a year in state revenue, according to the Associated Press.
The tax cuts would amount to less than $40 for most taxpayers in the state, while the wealthiest earners in the state would see tax cuts between $3,000 to $7,000, according to 12 News.
Supporters of Ducey’s budget have said the low tax rates would attract more residents and businesses to the state, while education advocates have argued the tax cuts will affect the base level of general fund money for Arizona schools.
Sen. Livingston said the public was lied to about who would be taxed under Prop. 208, and described the nearly 52% of Arizona voters who voted for the measure as “mob rule.”
“Mob rule doesn’t work. It never has, it never will,” Livingston said Tuesday. “When you deceive the public about who is actually paying the tax, and it barely gets passed, no one wants to talk about that anymore. We are happy to talk about that.”
Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, pushed back against Livingston’s assertion.
“Calling mob rule to the passing of Prop. 208, I hate to inform you … that’s called democracy,” Otondo said. “Those who supported Prop. 208 informed themselves. Simply because you don’t like it…does not mean the voters of Arizona are ignorant and don’t know what they’re voting for.”
But Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, pointed out Tuesday that the budget carves out more than $800 million to ensure that the Prop. 208 money will still go to schools.
City leaders, including Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, have also criticized the proposed budget, with Gallego saying earlier this week that Phoenix stands to lose $80 million in funding for services like public safety.
Ducey said Friday that he would not sign any more bills into law during the current legislative session until a budget was passed, citing a commitment to investing in education and infrastructure, while also delivering historic tax relief to working families and small businesses.
On Tuesday, Amber Gould, a teacher at Greenway High School, asked lawmakers to use the state’s current financial position and budget surplus to invest in schools, rather than undermine Prop. 208.
“Our students are watching,” she said. “What message are we sending when voters use their voice, use their constitutional right to put forward a proposition to vote and pass a bill to fund our schools, only to have their voice silenced? Our students deserve better.”