By Michael Bryan
Here at BlogForArizona we generally don't do endorsements. We believe in presenting readers with good information and letting them make up their own minds. In addition, doing so can be problematic because of the diversity of views of our bloggers. Finally, there is something ineffably subjective and human about choosing another person to represent you that mere analysis of positions or policies or biographies cannot really capture.
But when it comes to ballot questions, we're on firmer ground. The language of the ballot question is what it is. Sometimes a good deal of legal or institutional knowledge is required to understand the likely effect of the new law, which not every voter has. So, to help voters fully participate in this aspect of Arizona's Progressive heritage, BlogForArizona presents a recommended list of positions on the ballot questions this year.
There is a diversity of opinion on a few of the citizen inititiative Props here on the blog. Some members feel that the permanent sales tax must be passed, and our BlueMeanie feels the top two primary would be a disaster. Both Democrats and Republicans feel that Open Primaries will be problematic, which is a point in favor of the reform, in my view. In fairness, I should note that my recomendations for these two citizen initiatives go against the majority opinion in the Democratic establishment. So be it. There will be links to alternative views on these Props as they become available.
Update 10/21/12: I've been convinced by colleagues, friends, and analysts that the unintended consequences of Prop 121 would outweight any benefits. I have changed by recommendation to NO.
Though not a perfect guide, if the State Legislature has referred the question to the ballot, you should vote NO, unless very strong evidence convinces you otherwise. If it is a citizen petition, give it due consideration before voting NO. You can see the approved ballot language for all the measures here.
|Prop 114: Crime Victim Protection From Liability||NO|
|Prop 115: Judicial Selection||NO|
|Prop 116: Personal Business Property Tax Exemption Amount||NO|
|Prop 117: Property Tax Assesed Value Limit||NO|
|Prop 118: Pemanent State Land Endowment Fund, Distribution||NO|
|Prop 119: State Land Trust Exchanges||YES|
|Prop 120: State Sovereignty||NO|
|Prop 204: Sales Tax Extension||NO|
|Prop 121: Top Two Primaries||NO|
|Prop [Not Yet Numbered]: Right to Reject Federal Laws||NO|
Read on for full explanations of recommended votes...
- Prop 114: Crime Victim Protection From Liability. Vote NO.
Full text (PDF) of SCR1020. Constitutional amendment referred to the ballot by the legislature.
The Arizona Constitution's declaration of rights, Section 31, states, "No law shall be enacted in this state limiting the amount of damages to be recovered for causing the death or injury of any person." I get very uncomfortable when asked to abrogate that clear language for some special pleading by some group or another. It's all just 'tort reform'; i.e., giving away our constitutional rights because of some overblown, or even apocryphal, stories about an out-of-control court system. Some people just hate the idea that the Courts are there to provide for justice and equity for people who are harmed by negligence or intentional injury. Why? Generally, because some or all of their profits are based on escaping liability for the externalities their activities impose on others. Commercial interests have long sought to carve out exceptions to the Courts' jurisdiction the form of arbitrary caps on damages for medical malpractice, or special immunity for favored industries such as pharmaceuticals (or air transport, or energy, or mining, ad nauseum...), or through massive and unfair settlements for cigarettes or mortgage holders. This referred question strikes many as a solution in search of a problem; it merely blows another hole in our precious constitutional rights for no pressing reason. Protection against unjust awards can be, and is done capably by the courts without this meddling.
- Prop 115: Judicial Selection. Vote NO.
Full text (PDF) of SCR 1001. Constitutional amendment referred to the ballot by the legislature.
This measure would change the judicial merit selection process substantially, giving the executive much more control over the process. The judiciary is under assault in this country by right-wing populists who rail against the cultural norms of equality and the rule of law on the one hand, and by commercial interests seeking to dominate selection of justices to ensure a 'business friendly' bench at every level on the other hand, i.e. a consumer and citizen hostile judiciary. What good is it to buy the political process if the little guy can drag you into court and win there?
The esteem of one's peers in the profession and skill in the law should be the primary qualifications for the bench, not how lavishly one licks the hand of power.
- Prop 116: Personal Business Property Tax Exemption Amount. Vote NO.
Full text (PDF) of SCR 1012. Constitutional amendment referred to the ballot by the legislature.
This one may be controversial among Democrats: the entire Democratic caucus voted in favor of referring this question to the ballot. It was titled the "Small Business Job Creation Act" in the Lege. I suspect many did not look beyond that title in deciding to vote in favor. Many elected Dems will therefore support, and argue for, its adoption by the people. I would like to dissuade you.
First, this is a business tax exclusively, even though it is called 'personal' property. Personal property is property other than real estate, essentially. It is a tax on movable equipment used in trade and agriculture. Currently, the constitution provides an exemption from taxation on roughly the first $68K of such property. This referendum would increase the exemption to the equivalent of the 'annual earnings of 50 workers in this state', adjusted annually: about $2.4M. Many Dems in the Lege supported this as a small business tax relief measure, and some small businesses would benefit. But the vast majority of the benefit would be to large, capital-intensive industries, not small businesses. Many Dems also looked at the fairly modest economic impact forecasts that projected a cost of a mere $8.2 million to the general fund starting in 2013, and figured it would be low cost way to burnish their pro-business cred.
The problem is that the cost of the exemption is back-loaded to avoid Arizona's inadequate two year budget projections, and will never impact the general fund much, in any case. Any existing property over the $50k exemption is taxed, but new purchases during or after 2013 are only going to be taxed only if in excess of the $2.4M exemption. In a recession, those purchases will be few. The bill for the exemption will grow rapidly as the economy picks up, swiftly swallowing most of the current revenue from personal business property taxes. The budget analysis estimated the lost revenue: "The higher exemption amount under SCR 1012 would reduce statewide new locally assessed personal property by 85%, resulting in an estimated NAV loss of $(170) million in TY 2014." Catch that? $170 million in lost revenue. 85% of local personal business property tax revenues. POOF!
A second problem is who bears the cost of this ever-growing hole in property taxes. The State does not levy any significant property taxes; the counties do, and it is a major source of revenue for the services provided by our county governments. The budget projection on this bill was cast as having "a minimal impact on local governments." because it "reduces the statewide property tax base by less than 0.4%". Reconciling the phrase 'minimal impact' with $170M in lost revenue is an impressive feat of bureaucratic double-speak.
Make no mistake, this is a major tax beak for big business. It hits county governments hard, and very little of its effect will accrue to small business or to job creation. It's yet another corrupt tax expenditure boondoggle by the mad tax cutters in the GOP caucus. Don't be fooled, as our asleep-at-the-switch Democratic state legislators apparently were.
- Prop 117: Property Tax Assessed Value Limit. Vote NO.
Full text (PDF) of SCR1025. Constitutional amendment referred to the ballot by the legislature.
This measure attempts to addresses a problem that no longer exists. It caps the rate of increase of property valuation for property tax assessment to 5% over the previous year. It would prevent rapid valuation rises as properties are repeatedly flipped in hot market, potentially leaving the actual resident owners in the area with an inflated valuation based on comparable nearby properties. We are 4 years past the bubble, folks. This proposal is so aughtie, one wonders why was referred. Oh, that's right it was a compromise with the nut jobs that wanted a California-style Prop 13 for Arizona on the ballot. Send those wackos a message by voting FUCK NO. Would be nice if that were an option, wouldn't it?
- Prop 118: Permanent State Land Endowment Fund, Distribution. Vote NO.
Full text (PDF) of SCR2056. Constitutional amendment referred to the ballot by the legislature.
The Permanent State Land Endowment Fund was established by our state constitution to produce revenue for various state institutions, such as schools, colleges, hospitals, prisons, etc. The Fund's assets are considerable: about $3.5B. The profits from the Funds investments (about $84M last year) are distributed according to a very conservative calculation designed to ensure against depletion of the fund - hence the 'Permanent' in the name of the fund. This referral would increase the distribution to a simple 2.5% of the average market values of the fund over the last 5 years.
You may be aware that the state government over the past three years has been beating every bush looking for loot to back-fill the deficit. They've raided dedicated funds, stolen revenue from local governments, and played all sorts of budgetary hanky-panky to shake every nickel out of any pockets they can mug in order to plug the hole in the general fund. So perhaps it won't come as a surprise that upon seeing a fat gaggle of golden geese that has remained unmolested, they sought to get more of its eggs - and maybe just a few legs, or one or two tasty goslings... There's just that pesky Constitution standing in the way.
How nice it would be to squeeze a little 'excess' from the fat Permanent Fund for few years. It would make paying for those pesky public schools much easier and allow the Lege to devote more of the general fund to really important things... like tax cuts for our wealthy owners... err, donors. Once they are done draining some 'excess' from the fund, say in 2020, the distribution can go back to normal.
Keep their grubby hands off our nest eggs and vote NO.
- Prop 119: State Land Trust Exchanges. Vote YES.
Full text (PDF) of SCR1001. Constitutional amendment referred to the ballot by the legislature.
It is a long tale of woe. Many times we have tried and failed to reform state land exchange policies, and voters keep rejecting the results. And rightly so. Prior efforts were often vague, laden with ambiguous or nefarious motives, and failed to create an open and accountable mechanism. But the efforts have been getting better each time; more honest, more accountable, and cabined to clearly beneficial public purposes. This latest referral looks a lot like that shot down by voters in 2010. The Democratic Party and the Sierra Club both supported the 2010 version, and both are supporting this one. It may finally be time for Arizona voters to finally approve a land exchange mechanism for the Land Trust.
- Prop 120: State Sovereignty. Vote NO.
Full text (PDF) of HCR2004. Constitutional amendment referred to the ballot by the legislature.
OK. This is just crazy-talking, tin-foil-hat-wearing, black-helicopter-fearing nonsense. This idiocy would amend our constitution to assert the state's sovereignty over all air, water, public lands, minerals and natural resources within the state boundaries, and revoke our State's consent to provisions of our Enabling Act. Now, in cloud coo-koo land, I'm guessing the sponsors think this means that we don't have to follow Federal laws about land use, environmental regulation, mining, grazing, and so forth here in 'sovereign' Arizona. The Feds can just go hang, if we don't just arrest them for tryin' to meddle in our bidness! In reality, it doesn't mean shit. We're part of the United States, and since the Civil War, at least, that means no backsies. Those who voted for this embarrassing non-sense should go live in some other country. The Arizona Republic editorialized that this referendum was "an ideological embarrassment that's gone too far." I couldn't agree more. Here's a list of the idiots who voted for this stupidity in the House and the Senate. Every one of those with a "Y" after their names (and no, not every Republican voted for this shit...) should be branded a damn rebel and hounded out of public office, starting with the bill's sponsors: Chester Crandall, Nancy Barton, and Sylvia Allen.
All of the following ballot initiatives were referred to the ballot by petiton of Arizona's voters. Because of legal challenges, they have not yet received proposition numbers.
- Prop 204: Permanent Sales Tax Extension. Vote NO.
Full text (PDF) of initiative statute referred to the ballot by petition of Arizona voters.
The Arizona Supreme Court swatted down Secretary of State Bennett's objections. This Prop will be on the ballot.
This is a hard, and controversial, call. I broadly support the goals of this initiative, but deplore the method. I have serious reservations about the wisdom of budgeting by initiative. Let me explain why I think you should vote against this, even if you support providing more money to education.
First, and perhaps most importantly, I think that if one is to raise taxes to support education, one should use a more progressive and less volatile source of revenue. It is a terrible idea to tie funding the education of our children to the business cycle. This is exactly what has empowered the legislature to slash funding for education by billions over the last few years by claiming that they had no choice in order to balance the budget. This initiative further exacerbates our state's over-reliance on sales tax, and under-reliance on income and property taxes. Our state has one of the highest sales tax rates, and gets among the largest percentage of state general revenues generated from the sales tax. Deepening this trend is just bad policy.
Second, this initiative does MUCH MORE than merely raise the sales tax permanently by a penny on the dollar - as if that weren't problematic enough... To ensure that the legislature doesn't try to circumvent the new rate, this statute makes it impossible for the legislature to reduce the sales tax base in any way that results in less revenue than the prior year plus six percent. Now, you might think that is a good idea, but it is disastrous to a representative system of government to put such shackles on the taxing and spending authority. When combined with the Voter Protect Act, it effectively makes tax cuts require a 3/4 super-majority. Currently, we need a 3/4 super-majority to raise taxes. That's terrible idea. I don't see how making it so that any cuts also requires a super-majority is any better an idea.
Finally, the initiative contains a number of funding restrictions and mechanisms that I think seriously trespass upon the proper budgetary authority of any popularly elected legislature - even one run by yahoos I disagree with. The initiative contains language that:
- restricts the ability of the legislature to sweep or reprogram vehicle tax revenue and HURF funds;
- establishes a number of administrated funds outside of legislative control, including a Quality Education and Performance Fund and the Education Accountability and Improvement Fund (both of which are allowed to fund charter schools and run by the Education Department), the University Scholarship, Operations and Infrastructure Fund (run by the Board of Reagents), the State Infrastructure Fund (run by the Transportation Department), and the Human Services Self-Sufficiency Fund (run by the Governor's Office);
- provides a detailed distribution of the additional revenues collected, specifying exact percentages to be distributed to various agencies and institutions.
These sorts of administrative oversight allocation and revenue distributions strike me as quintessentially legislative functions. How were these amounts decided? Did the stake-holders have any input? I sincerely doubt it. And that's the problem with budgeting by initiative: lack of transparency and responsiveness to changing conditions and constituent and institutional needs.
All of this is going to be essentially written into law in an inflexible manner that the legislature has very limited ability to tinker with. Every time a change is made to these decisions made by the authors of this initiative we are going to end up in court or asking the voters for more input. I don't like what many of the people running our government do these days, but I shudder at the prospect of making our state ungovernable by handcuffing the ability of our government to carry out its central mission with budgeting restrictions that are too inflexible to respond to the needs of our communities. This is why we elect representatives and empower them to make such decisions: it's more efficient and responsive than doing everything by plebiscite. You don't always get the results you want, but that's the nature of the beast.
If this initiative merely created more revenue for education, I would support it despite my misgivings about over-reliance on sales taxes. But it does much, much more. It is yet another step down the road to making Arizona ungovernable with well-meaning but inflexible restrictions on the central power of a legislature to tax and spend.
- Prop 121: Top Two Primaries. Vote YES. Actually, NO
Full text (PDF) of initiative constitutional amendment referred to the ballot by petition of Arizona voters.
Currently OFF / ON the ballot. Struck from the ballot by the Appeals Court for violation of the single subject rule. Likely to be appealed to Arizona Supreme Court prior to election. Updated 8/17/12: You could get whiplash following the court rulings on this Prop! The Arizona Supreme Court has overturned the Appeals Court, clearing the way for this Prop to appear on the ballot. No explanation has yet been given for the reversal. However, the petitions are still being verified, and based on some sample data, it is possible it will fall short of the required valid signature requirement. More details as they become available. Updated 8/21/12: It is very likely that this Prop will be deemed to have insufficient valid signatories to be approved for the ballot. Backers of the Prop indicate they are going back to court over the shortfall. Updated 9/1/12: And it's back! A Maricopa County Superior Court ruled that the initiative indeed DOES have enough valid signatures. Expect further appeals... Updated 9/7/12: The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the lower court. Prop 121 will be on the ballot.
UPDATE 10/21/12: I have been convinced by colleagues that the possible unintended consequences of this change will outwiegh any benefit. I'm changing my recommendation to NO.
I certainly can understand why voters would want to do anything they possibly could to reduce the polarization, negativity, and gridlock that characterizes our government in these times. It seems like a reasonable proposal to force candidates for office to compete for votes among all voters, not just their own Party's most partisan base.
I wholly support the idea of experimenting with the rules of our electoral system to change the incentives that candidates respond to. Just electing different people doesn't change our politics. Smart people quickly learn that they must behave in certain ways because that is what the system demands. Unless you change those systemic incentives, you will get the same shit with different butts in the seats.
Unfortunately, jungle primaries have not proven to have a significant impact on the incentives candidates actually face. There is just no good evidence that open primaries of this sort actually moderate candidate or party positions. This sort of system has been in use in Louisianna since 1975, and Washington state since 2004, with no major effects on candidate behavior. We are essentially running a series of parallel experiments in the states to see the effects of this reform, and there is still no compelling data supporting the idea that it has much effect at all. For these and other reasons, BfAZ's own AZBlueMeanie strongly opposes Prop 121.
I'm open to the possibility that open primaries might have some positive impact, however, I think this one reform is weak tea for a serious illness in our political system. Our political parties seem robust and creative enough to overcome this reform and still tightly control their nomination processes. There are several reasons for this.. First and foremost is that primaries remain a very low-participation affair: you might have an open primary, but it is still the die-hard partisans who turn out. If you really wanted to force parties and candidates to appeal to the center you must find ways to significantly increase turnout in all elections, especially primaries. Second, parties have proven quite adept at controlling the nomination process elsewhere in the system - for instance through redistricting, finance, endorsement, and institutional support. The redistricting option is not available here in Arizona any longer, so perhaps open primaries have a better chance at moderating party and candidate positions here in Arizona.
I will be voting for it for one simple reason only, really: it may piss off the Tea Party. UPDATE 10/21/12: Upon listening to concerns of people whose opinions I respect, the ability to possibly piss off the Tea Party is not suffient to counter-balance the possible side effect. In fact, it really pisses off insiders and powerbrokers in both parties, which is a point in its favor, IMHO. Norm Ornstein, whose work and insight I have a great deal of respect for, believes that open primaries have the potential to seriously reduce the influence of the Tea Party, and to reduce Republican extremism. If there is a possibility for such a result in Arizona, I'm for it. Nor do I think any of the nightmare perverse outcomes such as the top two emerging from an open primary being from the minority party are at all likely to actually occur. UPDATE 10/21/12: Though not likely, the possibilities for side-effects and manipulation are too potentially harmful.
Ornstein points out,rightly, that open primaries are only a small part of a number of stronger reforms that might reduce polarization: instant runoff voting, expanding the voter pool by easing voting restrictions, automating registration, shifting elections to Saturdays, and even fining voters who don’t go to the polls, should also be tried. This one reform is no magic bullet, but if it is part of the solution, why not try it? But this should not be where we stop in reforming our electoral system. Next Instead, we should try instant runoff voting.
- Prop [Not Yet Numbered]: Arizona Voters' Right to Reject Federal Law. Vote NO.
Updated 9/10/12: This nuttery failed to make the ballot due to lack of valid signatures.
Full text (PDF) of initiative constitutional amendment referred to the ballot by petition of Arizona voters.
Look, if you are stupid enough to think this is either constitutional or good idea, there is nothing I'm going to be able to say to dissuade you. If you are not that stupid, you were already going to vote NO on this ideological tantrum. Already this insipidity is garnering exactly the sort of attention Arizona does not need at this time.