The Coconino County Democratic Party recommends a “yes” vote on each of the following three statutory initiatives. All three are currently under court challenge, but if cleared to appear on the ballot, they are expected to have the proposition numbers indicated in parentheses.
STOP SURPRISE BILLING AND PROTECT PATIENTS ACT (Prop. 208)
Arizonans Fed Up with Failing Healthcare (Healthcare Rising AZ), a political action committee (PAC) consisting of healthcare workers, consumers, and patients dedicated to better healthcare for Arizonans, is the proponent of this initiative. Supporters include the Arizona Democratic Party, various labor unions, and progressive and faith organizations.
Opponents include Governor Doug Ducey, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, Arizonans for Better Healthcare PAC, and Arizona State Senator Vincent Leach (R-LD11). Their opposition centers on the proposed wage increases, speculation that federal legislation might eventually cover some of the same subjects, and the fact that the proponents received substantial financial support from SEIU-United Healthcare Workers, a California labor union.
The initiative has four main goals:
- Stop Surprise Billing. The proposed legislation seeks to protect insured patients from “surprise medical bills” incurred in connection with ambulance services and emergency medical care, and with receiving services from an out-of-network provider while receiving care at an in-network facility. According to Healthcare Rising AZ, this measure would save Arizona patients over $200 million each year.
- Protect People with Pre-Existing Conditions. The legislation would prohibit insurance companies from denying people with pre-existing medical conditions coverage. It would also prevent insurers from charging people with pre-existing conditions exorbitant premiums and/or co-payments by specifying the factors that insurers would have to use in determining rates. These provisions would act as a safeguard at the state level in the event that the federal courts strike down the entire Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), as sought by several Republican-led states and the Trump Administration.
- Get Hospital Infections Under Control. The legislation would require hospitals to comply with national infection control standards, and empower the Arizona Department of Health Services to fine hospitals with rates of hospital-acquired infections above the national average. In 2019, fifteen hospitals in Arizona faced Medicare penalties due to their poor patient safety ratings, including ratings relating to dangerous infections. Funding for state oversight would come from new hospital fees.
- Raise Hospital Worker Wages. The legislation seeks to ensure an experienced and skilled healthcare workforce through pay increases for non-managerial hospital workers providing or supporting direct patient care, including nurses, aides, technicians, food service workers, janitorial and housekeeping staff, social workers, and staff. The proposed increase does not extend to physicians. Pay would go up 5% immediately upon the legislation taking effect, followed by 5% on January 1 for each of the next three years. When compounded over four years, the legislation would result in a 22% pay increase.
SECOND CHANCES, REHABILITATION, AND PUBLIC SAFETY ACT (Prop. 209)
The proponent is Arizonans for Second Chances, Rehabilitation, and Public Safety, sponsored by the Alliance for Safety and Justice Action Fund, a Tides Foundation project. The organization has as its steering committee bipartisan experts in criminal justice and public safety. This initiative enjoys support from both liberal and conservative organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and American Conservatives Union, along with other prison reform, social justice, and peace organizations.
Opponents include the Pima County Attorney and several victims advocates who argue that the term “non-dangerous offences,” central to proposed changes relating to judicial sentencing discretion and earned release credits, could be construed as ambiguous because the term covers a category of offenses and not specific crimes.
This initiative aims “to safely reduce the prison population, expand rehabilitative programs, reduce recidivism, address the root cause of crime [including mental health and substance abuse problems], create a more just sentencing system, and save taxpayers money.” Supporters point out that Arizona has the fourth highest prison population in America and spends more than $1 billion each year on incarceration, more than on higher education.
The proposed legislation would:
- Define the term “non-dangerous offenses” as offenses that are not (a) “dangerous offenses” as defined in statute (offenses involving dangerous or deadly weapons or serious physical harm to another person); (b) child molestation or dangerous crimes against a child; (c) murder; or (d) sexual assault;
- Increase earned release credits to one day for each day served for good behavior and participation in rehabilitation and educational programs for prisoners serving time for non-dangerous offenses. Under current law, a prisoner can earn one day for every six days served, or for certain drug offenses, one day for every three served;
- Remove the requirement of functional literacy at an 8th grade level for eligibility for the earned release program;
- Give judges discretion to impose lesser sentences for non-dangerous offenses after taking into account victim and stakeholder input, individual circumstances, and rehabilitative options;
- Establish a Victim and First Responder Support Services Fund to provide trauma recovery and related services for victims of violent crimes, as well as for first responders incurring trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in the line of duty; and
- Clarify the term “historical prior felony conviction” for purposes of sentencing repeat offenders to mean that an offender must have been convicted of and sentenced for the prior felony before committing the present offense for which he or she is being sentenced.
INVEST IN EDUCATION ACT (Prop. 210)
The proponent is the Invest in Ed PAC, sponsored by the Arizona Education Association and Stand for Children. Supporters include the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, Arizona Interfaith Network, and Children’s Action Alliance.
The initiative seeks to address Arizona’s chronic education funding shortfall by creating a new income tax revenue source to provide money to tackle teacher shortages; reduce class sizes; hire classroom aides, school nurses, and counselors; and expand career and technical education. According to Invest in Ed, Arizona classrooms are now the most overcrowded in the nation. Teachers in Arizona rank 49th among the states in pay, and work second and third jobs to make ends meet.
Opponents include Governor Doug Ducey and the Arizona Chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association. The Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy PAC is leading the campaign to keep the initiative off the ballot. Opponents have challenged the legal sufficiency of the initiative’s 100-word summary in court, and also argue that increasing income taxes on the top one-percent earners in Arizona, “small sliver of taxpayers,” would harm small businesses.
For tax years beginning after December 31, 2020, the proposed legislation would enact a 3.50% income tax surcharge to the existing income tax on taxable income above $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing). The surcharge would generate an estimated $940 million in annual, permanent funding for Arizona’s public schools.
As of 2020, the highest income tax rate in Arizona was 4.50%, levied on taxable income above $159,000 (single filing) or $318,000 (joint filing). Based on existing income tax rates, the 3.50% surcharge would have the effect of increasing the tax rate on that portion of taxable income above $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing) to 8.0%.
However, since taxable income earned below $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing) would remain taxed according to Arizona’s current tax brackets (the fourth lowest in the nation), if the initiative passes, the overall effective tax rate for the top one-percent earners would actually be 4.4%. This proposed overall effective tax rate is lower than in 25 other states, and lower than the 4.6% average effective tax rate for top one-percent earners nationally.
The proposed legislation would:
- Enact a 3.5% income tax surcharge on taxable income over $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing);
- Establish a Student Support and Safety Fund for receipt of the new tax revenues, private donations, and interest earned on the Fund;
- Distribute money from the Fund to:
- School districts, charter schools, and state schools for the deaf and blind in proportion to weighted student count as follows:
- 50% to hire teachers, school nurses, and counselors, and increase their base compensation;
- 25% to hire student support services personnel, including classroom aides and school safety and student transportation personnel, and increase their base compensation; and
- 10% to provide mentoring and retention programs for new classroom teachers.
- The Career Training and Workforce Fund, 12%, to provide multi-year grants to school districts, charter schools, and career technical districts, for grades 9 – 12 career and technical programs, college-level educational opportunities, academic acceleration programs, tutoring, mentoring, counseling, student mental health services, and school counselors; and
- The Arizona Teachers Academy Fund, 3%, to provide incentives and mentoring for students to become teachers and teach within the public school system.