- Associated Press - Friday, July 10, 2020

PHOENIX (AP) - Opponents of a voter initiative that would boost taxes on high-earning Arizonans to fund education sued Friday to block the proposal from the November ballot.

The proposed initiative backed by many educators and the state teachers union would impose a 3.5% tax surcharge on income above $250,000 for an individual or above $500,000 for couples. It aims to raise about $940 million a year for schools.

A group backed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry filed the lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court. It alleges the initiative backers misled the nearly 436,000 voters who signed petitions to get the measure on the ballot by not disclosing the full size and scope of the tax increase in a summary attached to petition sheets.

“It should have been disclosed to voters that this tax increase wallops small business,” Jaime Molera, who is leading the newly formed group opposing the initiative, said in a statement. “Small businesses pay their taxes on the individual portion of the tax code. If signers would have known that the backbone of the Arizona economy gets clobbered by this proposal, then they might have thought twice before signing.”

The lawsuit also alleges that advertisements seeking paid circulators promised to pay a per-signature fee, which the Legislature made illegal in 2017.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association union, said backers of the Invest in Education Act i anticipated the Chamber would go to court to keep the measure from the ballot and they are not worried.

“We knew lawsuits were coming and we have full confidence in what the voters were supporting,” Thomas said. “It will be on the November ballot.”

The initiative is the latest outgrowth from a teachers strike two years ago that highlighted low wages for educators and a slow rebound from budget cuts enacted during the Great Recession. The walkout secured higher wages for teachers, but many education interest groups said it fell short.

Half of the new tax that would be levied if voters approve the measure would be devoted to raises for credentialed teachers, 25% to boosting wages for cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other support staff, and the rest for teacher training, vocational education and other initiatives.

Separately Friday, Republican state Sen. Vince Leach and a group called Arizonans for Better Healthcare sued to keep another initiative off the ballot.

The Stop Surprise Billing and Protect Patients Act is backed by labor unions. It would bar insurers from charging people more if they have a pre-existing condition and ban higher charges if a patient uses an out-of-network provider. It requires insurers to reimburse providers at specific ranges. And it sets a new minimum wage for providers at private hospitals by requiring 5% raises a year for four years. It also sets hospital safety standards for infection control overseen by state regulators.

The lawsuit alleges the 100-word summary attached to petitions “paints a misleading picture of how the initiative will actually impact patients, healthcare workers and hospitals.” It also alleges initiative backers didn’t collect enough qualifying signatures.

The backers turned in more than 430,000 signatures on July 2, far more than the nearly 238,000 needed to qualify for the ballot.

The secretary of state’s office is currently reviewing petitions turned in to get both initiatives on the ballot to ensure they pass legal muster. County recorders will then review a sample of qualifying signatures to determine if there were enough turned it for the measure to make the ballot.

Court dates for the new lawsuits have yet to be set.

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