While today’s special election on Proposition 100 seems to have garnered more attention than most, nobody is watching the results more closely than Gov. Jan Brewer, who has tied her political future to the temporary one-cent sales tax increase.
There’s no doubt Brewer has made the sales tax increase a cornerstone of her administration, and she will try to claim a political victory if it passes tonight. But in fact, she may be vulnerable to criticism whether the measure passes or fails. No matter what happens at the polls tonight, all three of Brewer’s main challengers in the GOP primary are expected to launch attacks on Brewer for supporting higher taxes while the state’s economy continues to struggle.
If the measure passes, look for Brewer to get a temporary boost in the polls, but expect her opponents to chip away at her support over the long run.
The passage of Prop. 100 would come over the objections of many Republican voters and to the glee of many Democrats, most of whom aren’t planning to vote for Brewer this fall anyway. Voters who oppose the measure generally are going to vote in the Republican primary, and those Republican voters may hold the tax increase against Brewer if Dean Martin, Buz Mills and John Munger launch effective campaigns slamming her for hindering economic recovery.
If voters shoot down the sales tax increase, Brewer may lose some of the momentum she gained by agreeing to sue the federal government over the health care law and by signing Senate Bill 1070. She appears to be the frontrunner right now, but she would likely take a hit in the polls if voters reject Prop. 100 because she may be seen as an ineffective leader who was unable to secure enough support for a proposal that was a top priority for her administration. On top of that, her GOP opponents still will attack her for advocating a tax increase, and they would have the added benefit of being able to remind voters that they rejected Brewer’s idea.
Candidate elections aside, the fate of the sales tax measure will obviously impact the state’s budget because it was a major part of the spending plan approved in March by lawmakers. If it fails, there will be a large hole in the budget. However, in anticipation of that, they crafted a series of contingency cuts that would be automatically enacted if Prop. 100 fails.
Those cuts total $862 million, and include large budget reductions for K-12 education ($429 million), AHCCCS ($114 million), universities ($107 million), the Department of Health Services ($40 million) and the Department of Public Safety ($11 million).
Although those cuts are triggered if the ballot measure fails, a special legislative session may be in the works if voters reject Prop. 100. Gov. Brewer has said a special session would be necessary to make sure the technical mechanisms are in place for the cuts, but most Capitol observers believe it’s because lawmakers don’t really want to make those deep cuts – especially to education – in an election year that has already seen more than $1 billion in cuts.