Arizona Republicans Sue to Block Voter-Approved Education Funding Measure

"Invest in Education Act" supporters in July 2018, before the Arizona Supreme Court kicked the measure off the ballot.
"Invest in Education Act" supporters in July 2018, before the Arizona Supreme Court kicked the measure off the ballot. Joseph Flaherty
Top Arizona Republicans lawmakers, including Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers and Senate President Leader Karen Fann, are suing to block Proposition 208, the newly voter-approved ballot measure that will tax wealthy residents to pay for public education. They argue that the measure is unconstitutional.

Proposition 208, which cleared the November general election with a hefty 113,171-vote margin, will levy a 3.5 percent tax on Arizonans earning over $250,000 and on married couples earning over $500,000. The bulk of the revenue will be invested in teacher and support staff salaries at public schools. Analysts with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee have estimated that the new tax will raise over $800 million in its first year.

But that won't happen if the lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court on November 30 by a host of Republican state lawmakers and conservative groups is successful.

The filing argues that Proposition 208 is unconstitutional because it "seeks to exempt itself from the expenditure limitations for school districts" spelled out in the state constitution. It also argues that the tax flies in the face of the state constitution's requirement that taxes levied via statute only be imposed by a two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature. Finally, the lawsuit argues that the measure restricts the Legislature's ability to "exercise its constitutional authority" to control general funds and that the new tax revenue does not cover all of the mandated spending.

"This action seeks a declaratory judgment that Proposition 208 violates the Arizona Constitution, and therefore may not be implemented or enforced," the lawsuit reads.

In addition to Bowers and Fann, plaintiffs in the case include Republican lawmakers David Gowan and Regina Cobb, plus the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a conservative advocacy group. The Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank that advocated against the ballot measure prior to the election, is helping represent the plaintiffs in the case.

In response to the lawsuit, the campaign behind Prop 208 blasted the after-the-fact effort to keep the measure fro going into effect in a statement.

"Arizona voters passed Proposition 208 to restore the funding that these special interests have worked so hard to cut. Opponents of Prop 208 lost the election and as soon as the law was adopted, they are challenging with absurd and unconvincing claims. This is just another effort to circumvent the will of the voters and deny the results of the election," the campaign said. "Proposition 208 restores hundreds of millions of dollars in K-12 education funding to solve the teacher shortage crisis, lower class sizes, hire aides and counselors, and expand career and technical education. Instead of working to benefit our students and teachers, these groups are spending valuable resources on preventing Prop 208 funding from getting to the classrooms."
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Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety