The old adage that politics makes strange bedfellows was certainly true of the coalition opposing Tucson’s Proposition 204, which aimed to increase the city sales tax by a half-penny to pay for preschool vouchers.
The proposition, dubbed Strong Start Tucson, was trailing in Tuesday’s election by a margin of 33 to 66 percent after the vast majority of ballots were counted as of 7:20 p.m. There is still an unknown number of provisional and uncounted ballots that will not be calculated until at least Wednesday, but there are not enough uncounted ballots for the proposition to rebound.
The measure’s apparent defeat was due in no small part to the vociferous campaign against the measure that united local Democrats, Republicans and groups like Americans for Prosperity, a right wing political advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers.
Strong Start Tucson would have increased the city’s sales tax by a half-cent on the dollar, to 9.1 cents, generating an estimated $50 million per year to pay for preschool subsidies for low income families.
The initiative was backed by a small cadre of early childhood education providers, and some state and federal Democratic politicians and family advocacy groups.
Supporters argued high-quality early childhood education is the most strategic investment Tucson can make to help students succeed throughout life, and the initiative would support struggling low-income families.
But opponents, including many traditional allies of public education, successfully argued the measure lacked oversight and detail.
Many Democrats, including the Tucson mayor and four out of five city council members, opposed the measure. Local business groups, including the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, also fought against the initiative, noting Tucson’s sales tax is already higher than most major cities.
The campaign heated up as the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a “dark money” free market advocacy group, bought mailers urging voters to oppose the measure and sent volunteers knocking on doors around Tucson against it.
That drew sharp rebuke from the campaign and its supporters, who accused “out of state billionaires” of misleading and scaremongering the public.