By Associated Press
(AP) — Arizona voters will decide Tuesday whether to levy a big new tax on the wealthy to boost funding for K-12 schools and if the state will join the ranks of those that have made recreational marijuana legal.
If one or both pass, it will be a repudiation of Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and GOP conservatives who control the Legislature. They have refused to change the state’s tough marijuana laws and been unable to fully restore education funding cut after the Great Recession.
Proposition 207 would let people 21 and older possess up to an ounce of marijuana or a smaller quantity of “concentrates” such as hashish, allow for recreational marijuana sales at licensed retailers and for people to grow their own plants.
Prop 207, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, also levies a 16% excise tax on pot, on top of the standard sales tax that goes to state and local governments.
The new excise tax could bring in $166 million a year and would go to community colleges, local police and fire agencies, local and state transportation projects and public health and criminal justice programs. Including state and local sales taxes, the Legislature’s analysts estimate $255 million a year in new revenue.
The measure is backed by the legal cannabis industry. Supporters argue it’s time to rescind Arizona’s punitive penalties on marijuana, test marijuana being consumed and cut down on crime associated with smuggling and illicit sales.
Opponents argue that legalizing pot will make workplaces less safe, increase teen drug use and fill the state’s roads with stoned drivers. They include social conservative groups, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and many Republican elected officials, including Ducey.
If Proposition 207 passes, marijuana will become legal when the election results are certified in about a month. Retail sales could start in May.
The second measure, Proposition 208, is designed to boost pay for teachers and support staff, plus fund teacher training and education, and increase career and technical education.
The additional 3.5% tax would be levied on income above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples. Those taxpayers currently pay a 4.5% rate on money earned above those amounts. Analysts have said the new tax would cost the average taxpayer earning between $500,000 and $1 million an extra $5,459 yearly.
The Invest in Education Act is the latest outgrowth from a statewide teacher strike two years ago that highlighted low wages for educators and a slow rebound from budget cuts enacted after the Great Recession. The walkout secured higher wages for teachers, but many education interest groups said it fell short.
Opponents say Prop 208 will hurt the economy and bring only partial relief for cash-strapped schools.
Supporters have said it could raise about $940 million a year for schools, although the Legislature’s budget analysts estimated it would bring in $827 million a year.
Business groups leading the charge against the measure have spent millions to persuade voters to reject it, arguing that it will hurt the state’s economy and small businesses in particular. Most small business owners pay taxes at the individual level.
The Legislature has pumped significant cash into schools in recent years, including a 20% percent pay raise over three years that was prompted by the strike. But schools were never repaid billions they lost in cuts over the past decade, and teachers here remain among the lowest-paid in the nation.
AP Photo Marcio Jose Sanchez