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#RedForEd supporters were stunned by the Supreme Court kicking an initiative to fund schools off the November ballot.EXPAND
#RedForEd supporters were stunned by the Supreme Court kicking an initiative to fund schools off the November ballot.
Zee Peralta

The Invest in Ed Ballot Measure Is Dead and Teachers Want Revenge

Arizona teachers, fired up by their statewide strike, were hellbent on passing a tax increase designed to fund schools during the November election.

Now, the Invest in Education Act is no more. Arizona's Supreme Court kicked the initiative off the ballot on Wednesday.

Teachers behind the #RedForEd strike who have championed the ballot measure are outraged. A protest at the Supreme Court was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

"To basically take away the voice of the 270,000 voters that signed the petitions, I think it's a real shame," said David Lujan, an author of the ballot measure and the leader of the liberal Arizona Center for Economic Progress.

As written, the measure was supposed to raise $680 million annually in education funding by raising taxes on individuals earning over $250,000 per year and households earning over half a million dollars per year.

At issue in the Supreme Court's decision was a 100-word summary of the initiative, known as Proposition 207. The court ruled that the language of the initiative risked confusing voters.

The summary described a 3.46 and 4.46 percent increase on two of Arizona's top tax brackets. Strictly speaking, the increase should have read percentage points – the two top tax rates were set to increase to 8 and 9 percent – an increase of 76 and 98 percent, respectively – from the current rate of 4.54 percent.

Plus, opponents argued, the language glossed over another consequence of the initiative: the unintentional erasure of inflationary tax bracket indexing, resulting in higher taxes for lots of middle-class Arizonans.

When asked if he feels responsible for the court jettisoning the measure, Lujan defended the initiative's language. Even in retrospect, they would've written the measure in the same manner.

Lawyers signed off on the text, he said, and their opponents were mistaken that the measure would end inflationary indexing. "We think the way we wrote it was the best possible way to write it," Lujan said.

The goals of the Invest in Ed campaign were hardly misleading, he said. He never ran into anyone who was confused about what the measure would accomplish.

"I think everybody knew exactly what our proposal was proposing, and I think this was just a tactic that our opponents used to kick it off the ballot because they have no other solutions to fund our schools," Lujan said.

He argued that the court should've examined the initiative language at a later date in order to let voters have their say on the measure in November.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce spent $900,000 to fund a committee to oppose the measure, which then sued to remove the measure from the ballot.

After news broke of the ruling, the chamber and its supporters were euphoric.

"Not only was the initiative poorly crafted, it was the wrong plan," Jaime Molera, the chair of the opposition campaign, said in a statement. "It would have harmed all taxpayers, small businesses, and would not have delivered on its promises for teachers, while weakening education reforms that were achieved in a bipartisan fashion under Prop. 301."

Filled with glee, a representative of the conservative action group Americans for Prosperity cartwheeled down his hallway in a video posted to Twitter.

In the aftermath of the court's bombshell ruling, Arizona's teacher-activists vowed to "remember in November."

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas addressed thousands of #RedForEd teachers in a live video on their Facebook group, along with strike organizer Noah Karvelis.

Calling it a "dirty, low blow," Thomas said that the ruling "sealed the fate of the governor."

Voters will turn away from Governor Doug Ducey because he lacks a plan to restore hundreds of millions of dollars cut from the education budget after the 2008 recession, Thomas explained. He added, "Don't mourn, organize."

David Garcia, a strong supporter of Invest in Ed who won the Democratic nomination for governor on Tuesday, blasted the decision.

"The stakes for the race for Governor in Arizona just changed utterly and irrevocably. We must elect pro-public education candidates up and down the ballot to prevent this kind of corruption in the future," Garcia wrote on Twitter.

Garcia has endorsed raising taxes on the top 1 percent of earners and closing corporate loopholes as a source of sustainable education funding.

Invest in Ed supporters say that the legal battle and court ruling is highly political, pointing to the makeup of the Arizona Supreme Court.

Legislation signed by Ducey in 2016 expanded the number of Supreme Court justices from five to seven. At the time, Ducey argued that more justices would allow the court to handle more cases. Since he took office in 2015, the governor has appointed three justices to the court, including the two new appointees.

Garcia claimed in his statement that the Supreme Court, stacked by Ducey, ignored "the will of the voters & the needs of our public schools."

The court, however, has yet to release a full-length decision on the Invest in Ed case, so it's unclear how each Ducey-appointed justice voted. That didn't stop Invest in Ed supporters from decrying what they saw as corruption on Arizona's high court.

"It just seems sometimes like the deck is stacked against you when you're trying to get more money for schools in this state," Lujan said.

The Invest in Ed campaign previously scored a win in Maricopa County Superior Court, where a judge ruled in favor of the measure, only to have the Supreme Court reverse the decision.

Suggesting that opponents argued their case in bad faith, Lujan said that opponents did everything they could to kill the Invest in Ed measure.

"They were looking for whatever technicalities they could find to try and get it thrown off the ballot," Lujan said. "And unfortunately, they were successful."

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