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Push a sympathetic message. Drum up a bunch of misguided support. And then aim for a ridiculous tax increase. That was the strategy from Red4ED after it launched a little over four years ago.
In that spring of 2018, the color red was popping up all over the place—from Facebook profile pictures to protests at the state Capitol. And it was supposedly all about increasing teacher salaries and funding for K-12 education. It was a movement that had great momentum, a sycophant media, and a political class that was terrified to stand up to them. Yet they figured out how to, in four short years, go from a political juggernaut to one of the largest and most expensive failures in Arizona political history.
Of course, defeating this multiyear assault on Arizona by Invest in Ed was a huge win for taxpayers, job creators, and the future prosperity of our state. And it would not have been possible without a combination of political miscalculations and blunders by the Red4ED decision makers and a consistent, sustained opposition from key organizations and elected officials willing to stand up to the bullies behind the movement
A Massive Legal Blunder
While the story of Red4ED began with a protest at the Capitol and demands for higher teacher pay, the movement was quickly hijacked by the teachers’ unions and other out-of-state special interest groups. It didn’t take long for the mission to morph from one about helping teachers into a singular quest to double the state income tax through a ballot initiative.
Soon after the first protests, a consortium of liberal organizations launched Invest in Ed version one, a poorly drafted initiative that proposed to double Arizona’s income tax. After receiving over $2 million from the National Teachers Union, Red4ED was successful in submitting enough signatures for their tax increase initiative to qualify for the 2018 ballot. But there was a problem. The organization’s 100-word summary of its ballot measure was grossly misleading. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce sued, and the Arizona Supreme Court ruled against it, saying that the description “did not accurately represent the increased tax burden on the affected classes of taxpayers.”
Whether it was an intentional effort to mislead the public or just a complete drafting blunder on their part, Red4ED’s tax increase initiative was removed from the ballot. And a $2 million lesson was learned. Or was it?
Their Litigation Woes Continue
Red4ED regrouped after its embarrassing court loss and put all its effort—along with more than $23 million—toward passing Invest in Ed version 2.0, also known as Prop 208. After an ugly campaign that involved deceiving voters once again, the initiative barely passed with 51% of the vote.
Yet just like the first initiative, Prop 208 was taken back to court, this time by the Arizona Free Enterprise Club and Goldwater Institute. And once again, the measure was struck down by the Arizona Supreme Court.
The court determined that the initiative violated the constitutional expenditure limitation. Here is the craziest part of the story—the drafters of the initiative knew that it violated the constitutional expenditure limitation. That’s right, the people that put Prop 208 on the ballot were fully aware that their measure had a constitutional defect. Yet their lawyers thought they could address the problem by including language that would “exempt” their statutory measure from the constitutional spending cap. As you would expect, this didn’t work, and the court struck down the measure in its entirety. But instead of cutting their losses and figuring out how to stop burning money that they said teachers desperately needed, Red4ED found a new way to target Arizona taxpayers.
A Futile Effort
In the midst of a brutal year for many, the Arizona legislature delivered historic tax cuts in June 2021. You would think this would be a cause for celebration for everyone, but Red4ED refused to join the party. Instead, the group spent over $5 millionto hire an army of paid circulators to put a referendum on the ballot to block the tax cuts from going into effect.
They thought they finally scored a big win, but it turns out the only thing they scored was more legal headaches. Immediately after the referendum was submitted, the Arizona Free Enterprise Club filed a lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of ballot referral. It was our belief that the measure did not comply with the “support and maintenance” clause in the constitution, and therefore the tax cuts were not referrable.
Nine months after our lawsuit was filed, the Arizona Supreme Court agreed with our position and ruled against the referendum, issuing a big win for taxpayers throughout the state.
If you’re doing the math, that’s more than $30 million spent in just over four years, and what does Red4ED have to show for it? Two legally flawed initiatives and a legally flawed referendum that all failed miserably. Plus, they took a movement that had sympathetic support for increased teacher salaries and turned it into a radical left/teacher union effort that destroyed any credibility they had with voters.
Adding insult to injury, they also had to endure watching the Arizona legislature and Governor Ducey implement the anti-Red4ED plan by slashing income tax rates in half to a flat 2.5%. In other words, a plan hatched by Invest in ED seeking to double the state income tax resulted in income tax rates that were slashed in half. What a disaster for them! But maybe they can at least celebrate the possibility that Red4ED may be the largest, most expensive failure in Arizona political history.
This article is published by Arizona Free Enterprise Club and is reproduced with permission.