by David Safier
I've never heard any progressives say they're against increasing the amount of money spent per student in Arizona. Everyone knows our per student spending is at rock bottom among the states, thousands of dollars below average. But some progressives oppose the Quality Education and Jobs Initiative which would increase education spending by close to $600 per student -- we'd still be at or near the bottom in national per student spending, even with the increase -- because it's a sales tax, and sales taxes are regressive, period. End of discussion.
But the discussion shouldn't end there. Our children deserve a closer look at the issue before supporters of education reject our best chance for improving our young people's educational prospects.
Agreed, sales tax is regressive, placing the burden on everyone who buys taxable items regardless of income. Agreed, if it were possible in this state, tax loopholes should be closed and income taxes, which are a third lower now than they were a few decades ago, should be raised -- the emphasis should be on raising them on the rich -- and a considerable portion of the increased revenue should go toward education. But it ain't gonna happen in the near future, folks, and meanwhile our children are getting cheated out of educational opportunities because our spending on their educations is shamefully low.
So let's see what the one cent sales tax renewal will mean for low income Arizonans, who are the ones progressives are rightly concerned about.
No one in Arizona will pay a penny more in sales tax than they're paying now if the initiative passes since it will kick in when the current one cent sales tax ends. It's a renewal, not a new tax. The only difference is, about 80% of the sales tax revenues will be added to the current spending on education.
So the question is, how much does a one cent sales tax cost people with low incomes? The answer is, if someone makes between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, it will cost about $6.50 to $8 a month. That amount is lower for people with lower incomes. I understand, any amount of money is significant when your income is low, and low income people shouldn't be shouldering the burden which higher income people can and should carry. But we're talking less than $10 a month to add close to $600 per year to each child's education. It may make purists feel righteous to proclaim, "No! Not a penny more in sales tax!" But my feeling is, you shouldn't make children bear the burden of an ideological battle when the stakes are so high for the children and comparatively low for the taxpayers you're trying to protect.
HOW I CAME UP WITH MY SALES TAX FIGURE: A substantial portion of our incomes is spent on nontaxable items like rent/mortgage payments, utilities, food, car payments, loan payments, etc. How much does that leave in items where we pay sales tax? I used the IRS Sales Tax Deduction calculator as a reasonable approximation. I plugged in a Tucson family of 4 with a $30,000-40,000 income. The result was $862 spent in sales tax per year at a 9.1% rate, or $94 per 1%. That's $7.83 per month. Plugging in different family sizes gave me the $6.50-$8 range.
While the IRS figure may not be absolutely accurate, it's a reasonable figure which helps puts the sales tax argument in perspective.