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Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward pushes school sales tax hike

FILE - In this May 2, 2018 file photo, Arizona Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelli Ward speaks to the media at the state Capitol in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Bob Christie, File)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Republican Party’s leader on Wednesday pushed for state lawmakers to back a stalled proposal raising the state sales tax to provide additional funding for schools, a move she acknowledged has triggered anger among members of her own party.

State GOP Chair Kelli Ward appeared at a state Capitol news conference with several Republican lawmakers to boost support for plan in the Legislature. The proposal is needed to show voters that Republicans back more funding for the state’s public schools and universities, Ward said.

“Believe me, I’ve heard from many in my base, the conservative base, who are angry or disappointed or confused as to why I would even discuss this proposal,” she said. “I’m heard that some donors are upset that a chairman of a political party is taking a stance on policy. But I can tell you I’m standing before you because Republicans are the party of education solutions and of our future.”

The proposal to boost the current school sales tax from 6/10th of a cent to a penny per dollar would go on the 2020 ballot if enough lawmakers back it. So far, that hasn’t happened, Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen acknowledged. The Senate has debated the measure, but it hasn’t received a vote, and the House has given an identical proposal just one committee hearing.

“At this time we don’t have enough votes that we need, but that’s why we’re having the press conference,” Allen said. “We want to continue to educate. It took two, almost three years to finally get Prop. 301 to the ballot. So this is a big thing that we’re asking.”

The 2000 citizen’s initiative known as Proposition 301, which brings in about $700 million a year, was renewed by the Legislature last year. It levied an additional 6/10th of a cent on sales to fund education. More than $500 million of the revenue it brings in goes to K-12 schools and the rest goes to colleges and universities and school construction debt.

The new proposal would replace that tax, increase it to a full penny to collect more than $1.1 billion a year and tweak the distribution formula. The state’s K-12 schools would get 75% of the money, universities 20% and community colleges 5%.

School advocates put an income tax increase on high-earners on last year’s ballot. It was blocked by the state Supreme Court.

Minority Democrats aren’t supporting the measure, with Rep. Reginald Bolding saying Wednesday it is a half-measure that would not come close to boosting school funding by the $1 billion to $2 billion that is needed. Some Republicans, meanwhile, believe that a cash infusion to schools over the last several years has given them enough cash.

Rep. Anthony Kern, a Glendale Republican, cited that and overall Republican opposition to tax increases for his opposition. He also noted the state has a cash surplus and numerous unresolved revenue and spending issues for the budget year that begins July 1.

“It’s a tax increase, and I don’t support tax increases, and I don’t think the Republican Party platform supports tax increases,” Kern said. “The state right now is awash right now in money. One, the timing of this is horrible, and two it’s not a Republican platform item.”

Republicans who control the state Legislature cut corporate income and other business taxes in 2011 by nearly the same amount as the new tax would raise. Asked if the new sales tax just was shifting that burden to mainly lower-income Arizonans, Allen pushed back, saying those tax cuts helped fuel the state’s booming economy that had led to a budget surplus.

“They are the ones that pay numerous taxes and they buy things, they pay sales tax, and they also provide our jobs,” Allen said. “And it’s very important that we have a strong economy so that we can be able to generate the billions of dollars it takes to fund our state government.”

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