Ballot proposition would make approval of taxes, spending measures more difficult
PHOENIX - Arizonans are going to have to decide in November whether they want to put new hurdles in their own path to enact future initiatives.
Proposition 105 would raise the bar so that any ballot measure which could raise taxes or impose new spending requirements would have to get the votes of a majority of those people actually eligible to cast ballots, whether they came to the polls or not. Now, a simple majority of those who vote on each specific measure determines its outcome.
Business owner Jason LeVecke, who is financing most of the campaign, said it is too easy for individuals or special interest groups to push through new spending plans.
"You cannot have our state held hostage by some group that wants to write a $500,000 or $700,000 check, put their thing on the ballot and give it a sexy name, and do it in a year when they know there's going to be low voter turnout just to get it across,'' he said. "You will bankrupt this state.''
But LeVecke, who owns the Carl's Jr. and Pizza Patron franchises in Arizona has more than an academic interest in the constitutional amendment. He has complained repeatedly about the 2006 ballot measure which raised the minimum wage in this state - a measure that would not have been approved had the higher standard his measure proposes been in place.
LeVecke said he fits his own definition of someone with money to put a measure on the ballot and "give it a sexy name:'' He has already spent $780,000 on the measure which he dubbed "Majority Rules.''
"That's why Arizonans support this one,'' he said.
An analysis of election results since 1980 by Capitol Media Services shows that if LeVecke's measure had been in place it would have taken at least 62.4% of those going to the polls to approve tax or spending initiatives. Some years it would have required nearly 90 percent.
And in one year - 1998 - no initiative would have passed because fewer than half the registered voters actually turned out.
The opposition so far is being financed exclusively by groups who have a stake in retaining the current standard - groups who have or would benefit from voter-approved tax or spending increases: the Arizona School Boards Association, the Arizona Education Association, the Professional Firefighters of Arizona and the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.
At a press conference Wednesday, Jack Lunsford president of Westmarc, a coalition of western Maricopa County businesses, governments and educators, said if Proposition 105 had been in place, several measures approved in prior years by voters would not have passed. He said these include funding health programs through higher tobacco taxes, another tobacco tax increase to fund early childhood development programs, preserving open space, as well as various measures to increase the number of police officers and firefighters.
Lunsford said it is unclear if local measures in that last category would be affected. Proposition 105 is worded to apply only to initiatives - those measures put on the ballot by petition. And LeVecke claims it applies only to statewide proposals.
But Lunsford also said if Proposition 105 is approved it likely would doom any future tax hikes to build new roads and transit projects, one of his organization's priorities. That measure was knocked off the ballot this year due to insufficient signatures; preliminary plans are underway to put it before voters in 2010.
The foes have gathered other allies, including Barbara Klein, vice president of the League of Women Voters. She said Proposition 105 would kill the initiative process in Arizona - and not just for new taxes.
"All initiatives need some type of spending for reinforcement or implementation even if they don't impose any kind of tax,'' she said.
LeVecke said requiring this kind of super-majority vote for measures that impose spending requirements on business - like the minimum wage hike - is justified.
"Regulation and mandatory spending is what makes more businesses leave,'' he said. "That's the economic engine that pays for everything we need in our state: education, roads and health care.''
Lunsford said there are technical problems with the measure.
"Our voter rolls are never perfectly up to date,'' he said, saying they include people who have moved out of Arizona as well as those who have died. "If Proposition 105 passed it would give an automatic 'no' vote to those who are deceased and those who no longer live in our great state.''