Editorial: Five Propositions to consider before Nov. 6

By Robin Barker

We can’t turn on the television or the radio or even Facebook without being barraged by election ads. But, have faith, the mail-in ballots are out this week, and we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. The ads and the signs will disappear, and jolly old St. Nick will take over.

Along with way too many candidates, there are five propositions for us to consider. The first, Proposition 125, would amend the State Constitution, which currently says that public retirement benefits can’t be “diminished or impaired.” In other words, they can’t be messed with.

If Proposition 125 is passed, two retirement plans, retired correction officers and their survivors who were hired before July 1, 2018, and retired elected officials and their survivors, would have their constitutionally mandated benefit increases replaced by a new COLA (cost of living adjustment). The COLA would be based on the average annual percentage change in the Phoenix-Mesa consumer price index.

A “Yes” vote will allow for the COLA adjustment.

A “No” vote will maintain the current constitutional rules to stay in place.

Proposition 126 would amend the State Constitution to prohibit the state, county and any city or town from increasing a sales tax or passing a new one on any service performed in the state. This amendment would not repeal any tax in effect before January 1, 2018.

Services can include various types of economic activities that don’t involve tangible goods, from salon services, pet grooming, amusement, and fitness activities, financial-oriented activities, including real estate transactions, banking, and investment management, to healthcare-oriented activities, such as doctor visits (Ballotpedia).

A “Yes” vote would prohibit State and local governments from raising or passing new sales taxes on services.

A “No” vote would allow the imposition of a tax on services in the future.

Proposition 127 is perhaps the most hard fought proposition on the ballot and certainly has the most supporters and opponents. This proposition would amend the constitution to require electricity providers to generate at least 50% of their annual sales of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. These sources are limited to solar, water, wind, geothermal and biomass/organic matter resources and do not include nuclear, natural gas, coal, or municipal solid waste. Currently, the utilities have until 2025 to generate 15% of their annual sales from renewables under Arizona Corporation Commission rules.

Proponents of 127 argue that the measure would reduce pollution, creating cleaner air and water, reduce health problems and create more jobs (Arizona Department of Health Services and Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona) and that APS is pushing against the proposition for its own interests (Technicians For Sustainability Tucson).

Those against the proposition cite California as being the culprit behind it and assert its passage could cause an increase of between $1000 and $1250 —$9 and $10 a month—in annual electricity costs to Arizona citizens (various television ads).

Even if the proposition is approved, it is not guaranteed that utilities will comply. The Legislature approved a measure that says utilities that violate the standard would pay a penalty of no more than $5000 and as little as $100 (a day), perhaps making it less expensive to ignore the mandate and simply pay the fine. Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, who sponsored the measure, said during hearings that the intent of the law, which was signed by Governor Doug Ducey, was to ensure that it would not matter if voters side with initiative organizers. He said it is the responsibility of lawmakers to protect Arizona residents from out-of-state interests, specifically referring to Steyer of California (Capitol Media Services August 31, 2018).

A “Yes” vote would replace the current Arizona Corporation Commission plan and mandate that 50% of the retail energy sales come from renewable energy by 2030.

A “No” vote would maintain the current rules.

Proposition 305 would amend the Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) relating to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA). The original program allowed parents or guardians of students with disabilities to sign a contract to opt out of the public school system and receive an ESA from the Arizona Department of Education (DOE) that could be spent on private education, homeschooling, or other non-public education. An ESA is funded at 90 percent of what the state would have paid for the student in a public or charter school. Currently, the 5,091 students in the program receive $11,614 a year (Ballotpedia).

The proposed changes would phase an expansion of the current ESA eligibility requirements, beginning in 2020-2021, to include any student who is eligible to attend kindergarten or who is attending kindergarten through grade 12 in an Arizona public school. The number of ESAs would increase by one-half of one percent through the 2021-2022 school year. From that point onward, the number of ESAs could the number of ESAs could not exceed the number approved for the 2021-2022 school year (Legislative Council Analysis).

Proponents of the proposition argue that it “will build on Arizona’s school choice tradition” (The Bishops of Arizona Catholic Conference) and “provide critical aid to children whose needs are best met in a nontraditional public school environment” (Michael Clark, VP & General Counsel Center for Arizona Policy).

Opponents maintain the proposition will expand the ESA voucher system “by a whopping 500% … poking holes in the education funding bucket” (Save Our Schools, Chandler and Tempe) and that “almost all private/religious school tuition is significantly higher” than the amount ESA contributes, so that they “have been used almost exclusively by wealthy families to subsidize the cost of private education” (League of Women Voters, Clarkdale).

A “Yes” vote would allow the gradual increase of the percentage of students eligible to receive ESAs and require a policy handbook to be published.

A “No” vote would preserve the current law regarding ESAs.

Proposition 306 would amend the Citizens Clean Elections Act, a voluntary system of public funding of election campaigns of candidates for statewide and state legislative offices. The proposition would prohibit a participating candidate from making a direct or indirect payment from his/her campaign account to a political party or a private tax-exempt organization that is eligible to engage in activities to influence the outcome of a candidate election. It would also require the Citizens Clean Elections Commission (CCEC) to propose and adopt rules in a public meeting with the opportunity for public comment as well as approval from the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council or the Attorney General before the rule(s) become final.

Proponents for the amendment appear to agree that passage of this proposition will stop tax dollars from being given to political parties and will create more transparency around the clean elections process.

Opponents appear to feel the proposition would weaken the Commission’s ability to oversee the enforcement of campaign finance laws and take away the Commission’s independence. One opponent, Ken Clark, State Representative District 24, Phoenix, maintains that the CCEC “already prohibits candidates from giving money to political parties or ‘pool’ money with other candidates through existing rules.”

A “Yes” vote would prohibit candidates who receive public money from contributing that money to political parties or private tax-exempt organizations that attempt to influence elections and would mandate public meetings to change or make new rules by repealing the Commission’s exemption from the Administrative Procedures Act.

A “No”” vote would allow the CCEC to determine whether publicly funded candidates can transfer campaign funds to political parties or private tax-exempt organizations and would leave the current law regarding their exemption from the Administrative Procedures Act unchanged.

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