Dope and taxes: Two ballot initiatives facing Arizonans in November

Come November, Arizonans will have the opportunity to cast their ballots for a wide variety of local, county, and statewide offices. They will also be able to give Propositions 207 and 208 a simple “Yes” or “No”.

Officeholders will have two to four years to prove their worth before facing Arizona voters again. Ballot initiatives, once voted into law, will likely never see another vote. Constitutionally binding, the Progressive Era remnant remains one of the most effective ways in which special interest groups with lots of cash-on-hand can bypass the deliberations of the legislature and the courts.

Prop 207: Marijuana legalization

Failing by a razor thin margin in 2016, recreational marijuana legalization is looking for redemption in the Grand Canyon state. Prop 207 would legalize use of marijuana for Arizonans over the age of 21, taxing all sales of the substance at 16%.

Further, the initiative would create a new fund that would be used to pay, first, for the expenses that the initiative generates. These include implementation of the laws established in the initiative, tax collection, and more.

After these expenses are covered, the remaining funds — which may be few — would be ordered towards the following ends:

  • 33% – community college districts and provisional community college districts
  • 31.4% – municipal fire, police departments; fire districts; and Sheriff’s departments
  • 25.4% – Arizona Highway User Revenue Fund
  • 10% – Justice Reinvestment Fund
  • .2% – Attorney General’s Office

Opposition to Prop 207

Despite the assurances of marijuana proponents, more harm than good will result from legalization. The potential consequences of legalization are severe, ranging from an uptick in workplace accidents and lower overall workplace productivity, to jeopardizing our workforce development efforts, to costs that come with drug treatment and rehabilitation. We’re already navigating a global pandemic; we don’t need to put even more stress on the public health system

Garrick Taylor, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry

We have seen the toll marijuana and other drugs take on individuals and their families. Legalizing marijuana with this misleading proposition will lead to more families suffering heartbreak. Ignore what Big Marijuana says about the proposition they wrote. The fine print in their 17 pages of new laws reveals the truth. The industry has only one interest, and it’s not yours.

Lisa James, Arizonans for Health and Public Safety
Todd Griffith, former director of the Arizona State Crime Lab

Support

As the name says, smart and safe. It’s put together in a responsible way to sell this product to adults only and it will generate revenue, much needed revenue, for the state which is a win for everybody.

Chad Campbell, Smart and Safe Arizona

It does the right thing by providing an option for folks who were previously convicted of low-level marijuana charges to have their criminal records sealed so they have fair access to jobs and housing. It frees up police to focus on real crime and hard drugs and unclogs the justice system which is currently backlogged with minor offenses.

Stacy Pearson, Smart and Safe Arizona

Prop 208: Income tax hike

Education has been a hot-button in issue in Arizona for a long time. In 2018, Governor Ducey pledged to raise teacher salaries across the state by 20%. In 2020, it’s clear that he lived up to that promise, and teacher pay in the state is well above what it was two years ago.

As expenditures on education rise and the full Republican state government defies expectations, teacher’s unions and special interest groups aim to bolster education funds further.

Prop 208 would increase state income taxes on Arizonans making over $250,000 per year by 77.77% — from 4.5% to 8% — in order to put more funds towards education. Further, these taxes would be applied to pass-through entities such as limited liability corporations, breaking tax law tradition.

Opposition includes concerned small business owners, representatives of pro-economic growth groups throughout the state, and workers worried about its impacts on job and wage growth.

Proponents claim that the initiative is necessary to expand education spending and that the impacts on economic prosperity would be minimal, or irrelevant.

The proposition, titled “Invest in Education,” faced an uphill battle in the courts prior to being placed on the ballot. The Maricopa County Superior Court ruled that the ballot summary — the summary which voters read prior to casting their ballots — was “misleading” and neglected to include “principal provisions” of the measure. Arizona’s Supreme Court overruled this judgement.

Opposition to Prop 208

This will put downward pressure on economic growth and make investing in schools and teacher salaries more difficult going forward.

Garrick Taylor, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry

We believe a well-educated workforce is essential to the livelihood of Arizona. However, implementing a funding mechanism that singles out a small sliver of taxpayers will have a negative, long-lasting effect on small businesses. Reinforcing the economic recovery post-COVID-19, will benefit our public education systems in the long run.

Suzanne Kinney, Commercial Real Estate Development Association

Support

For the past few years, Arizona’s business leaders have consistently said that increased funding for Arizona’s public schools is critical to produce the skilled workforce Arizona needs for a strong economic future. The Invest in Ed ballot initiative will provide the strategic investments Arizona needs in it’s public schools to attract new businesses and jobs to our state and boost long-term economic growth, and that is a pro-business strategy.

David Lujan, Arizona Center for Economic Progress

The initiative process

In 2018, California billionaire Tom Steyer poured $28 million into Arizona’s electoral system to promote Prop 127, an initiative aiming to overhaul the state’s energy policies and set lofty carbon reduction goals. If passed, it would have partially usurped the Corporation Commission’s (Arizona’s corporate & business regulatory body) autonomy in setting environmental benchmarks.

As it became clearer that Steyer and other supporters of the initiative were spending big, opposition groups amassed. In total, over $65 million was spent in the electoral theater of Prop 127.

Many legislators and leaders in the public and private sector feel that the current structure leaves a lot of room open for unpredictable and irrational shifts in state policies. Matthew Benson, the spokesman in 2018 for the campaign opposing Prop 127, said, “This campaign isn’t about clean energy — everyone supports clean energy… The question is whether Arizona voters are willing to double their electricity bills in order to approve Prop 127.”

For opponents of Prop 127, the issue was not promoting clean energy. The issue was implementing pro-environment and pro-Arizona policy deliberately without outside special interests with explicit conflicts of interest interfering.

Others worry that the initiative system, at present, fails to empower Arizona voters. While it does allow for concerned citizens to make their voice heard, what is often never mentioned is that the amount of capital and manpower it takes to get a measure on the ballot necessitates big money and vast connections. Tom Steyer lost the hard-fought battle in ’18: over 68% of voters checked “No” next to Prop 127 on their ballots.

While changes to the system seem unlikely as partisan gridlock persists as a feature of American politicking, some hope that reforms will be taken seriously in the next decade.

Published by Joe Pitts

Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of The Western Tribune, Joe is a first-generation Arizonan attending Arizona State University's Barrett, the Honors College.

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