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Signatures are filed, but fight is far from over for Invest in Ed supporters

(KTAR.com Photo/Kathy Cline)

PHOENIX — A big fight could be brewing over the Invest in Ed initiative.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said during a press conference Thursday that raising taxes on Arizona’s wealthy to fund education seems only fair. What’s more, he said, many Arizona voters are behind it.

“What’s not fair is, we have the lowest-paid teachers in the nation. What’s not fair is, we have underfunded and understaffed schools,” he said. “Voters said: This revenue stream, and put it in a classroom setting.”

The revenue stream is a proposed increase in the state income tax on high earners. The initiative would raise rate on individuals making more than $250,000 by 3.46 percent and on those making more than $500,000 by 4.46 percent. There would be similar increases for families earning more than $500,000 and $1 million.

No other tax brackets would be affected.

Thomas said the planned 20 percent raise teachers got earlier this year isn’t enough.

“Educators got a little bit of what they need to stop seeing teachers flee from our state,” he said, “but our problem is systemic funding of education.”

Not everyone agrees with the Invest in Ed solution.

Cynthia Morton, a middle school science teacher, said taxing the top 1 percent of wage earners is not fair. Instead, everyone should sit down and agree on something. She said she’s also worried a tax increase is not sustainable.

In a prepared statement, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, “We know that the 20-year extension of Proposition 301 and the passage of the plan to raise teacher pay 20 percent by 2020 were not only necessary, but that more needs to be done. But dramatically raising the income tax on small businesses won’t help teachers. Weakening our economy will mean fewer dollars for schools, not more.”

Thomas said he knew opposition would come, and he’s not worried about it.

“(The opposition) will attempt to discredit us. They will say awful things because they want to keep the status quo,” he said. “They believe if we have a handful of really good schools, that’s all we need so some kids can achieve — but not all kids.”

Invest in Ed supporters turned in 270,000 petition signatures Thursday morning. To get on the November ballot, at least 150,642 of those must be verified as valid.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.

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