by Matt Beienburg
August 3, 2020

The Arizona Education Association (AEA) can breathe a sigh of relief — not because state courts just threw the union’s “InvestinEd” near-$1 billion tax hike plan off the ballot for the second time in a row, but because the court’s scathing rebuke dealt only with this one instance of the union’s misinformation playbook.

Just two years after the Arizona Supreme Court threw out the first iteration of InvestinEd — for failing to disclose to voters that its provisions would have increased taxes on virtually all state taxpayers — the AEA resurrected the initiative this year and managed to gather roughly 400,000 signatures to place it on November’s ballot. But as the court made embarrassingly clear to the union in its recent ruling, those signatures once again sprang up amid flagrant violations of state law and the union’s failure to properly disclose to voters what they had actually snuck into the initiative.

As the court explained, “Instead of identifying all principal provisions in the Initiative’s description, Defendant Invest in Education circulated an opaque ‘Trojan horse’ of a 100-word description, concealing principal provisions of the Initiative” from voters.

Unfortunately for the union, this Trojan horse ran afoul of existing legal standards which require the 100-word voter summaries but frown on those that “creat[e] a significant danger of confusion or unfairness for a reasonable Arizona voter.”

Yet that’s exactly what the union’s official summary did when it left out five separate significant components of what the ballot initiative would have actually done, like 1) hiking up rates not just on individuals (as suggested in the summary) but also on small businesses, and 2) implementing not just what was euphemized to voters as a minor “surcharge,” but rather a permanent and near doubling of the state’s top tax rate.

It’s important to keep in mind exactly what InvestinEd’s plan would have cost Arizonans. All told, it would increase the costs of, and spending on, the state’s K-12 system to the tune of nearly $1 billion. Lest you forget, that’s on top of the annual $650 million that Arizona lawmakers recently authorized for 20% teacher pay raises, plus an additional $370 million a year in K-12 funding restorations. You can read more about the cynical InvestInEd math here.

But far more embarrassing for the union than the violations themselves was the fact that, as the court wrote, the Arizona Supreme Court had already explicitly told the union in 2018 how it could properly reintroduce and describe its measure the next time around, but that “Instead of using the phrasing that had been blessed by the Arizona Supreme Court, [InvestinEd] chose to use different language.”

As the court continued in stark terms:

“The disappointing aspect of this case is that [InvestinEd] ignored the lessons provided by the Arizona Supreme Court in…2018. When a teacher specifically instructs a student exactly how to complete a math problem, and when the student disregards the instruction and does the math problem incorrectly on a future test, should the student receive a passing grade? The simple answer is no….[InvestinEd] can be described much like the student in this example.”

The immediate result of all this appears to be the demise, yet again, of the union’s InvestinEd plan. But there is a larger lesson the unions ought—though I fear likely won’t—take from the court’s vigilance: that systematically misleading voters at every turn is unacceptable practice.

Consider, for example, if the union’s broader talking points were held up to the same light of truth and impartiality as those studied here: the incessant falsehoods and half-truths about K-12 funding in the U.S. Indeed, imagine if the union had to similarly square with voters about the enormous inflation-adjusted increases in American K-12 spending over the past 30 years, or the fact that U.S. K-12 spending already far outpaces that of most other developed countries, or the fact that school choice options have routinely rescued students whom the unions have failed.

This might all be a bit more than the unions will ever be legally forced to admit, and for that reason, they can surely breathe a sigh of relief. But at least in the case at hand, Arizona’s teachers union and its InvestinEd plan have been held to the standard of truthfulness that voters deserve.

Arizonans can breathe a sigh of relief, as well, knowing that at least for now, InvestinEd’s deceptive scheme will not be put before the voters, saving the state from the massive near-$1 billion tax hike the proposal would have delivered—and the devastating consequences for individuals, businesses, and the state’s economy. But be forewarned: should the court’s decision be overturned, InvestinEd’s could gain new life at a significant cost to our state.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute. He also serves as director of the institute’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy. 

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