Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker said a committee he is chairing to oppose a proposed sales tax increase will be separate from his gubernatorial exploratory committee.
Parker filed an independent expenditure committee with the Secretary of State’s Office on Dec. 2 called “Save Our Jobs: Stop the Tax Hike,” which the mayor said will be used to both urge lawmakers not to send a proposed one-cent sales tax increase to the ballot and to urge Arizonans to vote against the measure if it gets to the ballot.
The temporary sales tax increase has been the signature issue for Gov. Jan Brewer, who said there is no way to balance the state’s deficit-wracked budget without additional tax revenue.
If the tax increase is passed, Parker said, it will cost Arizona thousands of jobs and slow the state’s economic recovery.
“This is a very serious issue that faces the state of Arizona, and I firmly believe that it’s all about leadership, and someone has to step up and stand up and say that raising taxes in times of economic peril is not the right thing to do,” said Parker, who is considering challenging Brewer for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010.
Brewer campaign consultant Doug Cole said Parker’s independent expenditure committee will essentially be a second front for his gubernatorial campaign that can be used to circumvent Clean Election laws. Parker said he will run as a publicly funded candidate if he seeks the governorship, but Cole said the Save Our Jobs committee will allow him to raise unlimited funds to campaign on an issue that will play a pivotal role in the gubernatorial campaign, while still collecting public fund for his official candidate committee.
“It’s a parallel campaign to his gubernatorial aspirations,” said Cole, who called the committee a “political stunt.”
Parker said the gubernatorial committee and Save Our Jobs will be two separate efforts. He is the chairman of the anti-tax committee, though he said he hasn’t decided whether he will be the public face of the committee if it campaigns against a ballot measure on the sales tax hike.
“Because of Clean Elections I would not mix the two. You cannot comingle the two,” Parker said.
Cole pointed out that the press release that announced the creation of the Save Our Jobs committee was paid for by Parker’s gubernatorial exploratory committee, which has raised the maximum $51,000 in seed money. But Todd Lang, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said that is not a violation of Clean Elections law.
Lang and other CCEC officials met with members of the Parker campaign and told them that Parker would not violate Clean Elections law simply by forming an issue advocacy committee, noting the precedent set in 2006 by then-Rep. Mark DeSimone, who chaired and ran a committee to oppose a proposed public smoking ban while running for re-election to the Legislature.
Parker can run both committees and stay in compliance with Clean Elections law, as long as Save Our Jobs is not used to promote his candidacy or attack other gubernatorial candidates, and his gubernatorial campaign is not used to promote the anti-tax committee. Violations could disqualify Parker from receiving public funds from CCEC.
“Candidates can engage in issue advocacy. The problem is when their political campaign and their issue advocacy become one and the same,” Lang said. “But I don’t think he’s violated Clean Elections statutes at this point.”
Cole, however, said Parker has already violated that provision by attacking Brewer his Dec. 2 announcement. The press release did not mention Brewer by name, but said, “We have a governor that wants to take more money from all Arizonans, yet refuses to cut her own Governor’s Office budget. This type of approach must be defeated.”
If Parker wants to form a committee to campaign against a ballot referral for the sales tax, Cole said he should create a committee that would at least be one step removed from him. Incidentally, a committee was formed earlier in the year by Brewer allies to promote her budget agenda. The committee is called Building a Better Arizona, which shares its name with the title of the March speech in which Brewer first publicly proposed a tax increase.
Cole said the two committees are completely different, most notably by the fact that Brewer is not part of the Building a Better Arizona committee.
“The Building a Better Arizona Committee is chaired by people who are not running for governor,” he said.
A source close to the Parker campaign disputed the notion that the mayor will gain an unfair advantage by simultaneously campaigning for his candidacy and against the tax hike, considering the fact that Brewer will do the same thing if the tax measure goes to the ballot.
“If Jan Brewer is successful in having her tax hike referred to the ballot, I assume that she would be out front as a spokesperson arguing why voters should approve a tax hike. I think it’s just a unique circumstance of events that has collided together,” the source said.
Parker is one of several challengers Brewer may face in the 2010 Republican primary. Former Arizona GOP Chairman John Munger has filed a candidate committee, and state Treasurer Dean Martin said he is considering a run as well. All are opposed to the governor’s sales tax proposal.
Cole said Parker has spent a lot of time “standing in front of microphones and enunciating feel-good political phrases,” but has yet to come forward with a comprehensive plan for erasing the $1.5 billion deficit facing the state.
“I think that Mayor Parker needs to step out of the plush confines of the manicured lawns in Paradise Valley and educate himself on the dire and drastic circumstances of the Arizona state budget. There are no easy, simplistic, feel-good quotes that are going to make this go away,” Cole said.
Parker said he is vetting a budget plan of his own.