Lopsided campaigns await Prop. 100 vote
Published: May 13, 2010 at 4:53 pm
On one side of the Proposition 100 debate is a broad coalition with a seven-figure budget, organized rallies, signs on virtually every intersection and TV ads running statewide. On the other side is a group of vocal opponents with few resources, less than $100 in the bank and some “NO on 100” buttons.
Anyone who has watched television in the past month or even driven down the street has probably seen the Yes on 100 campaign’s handiwork as it prepares for the May 18 vote. But the opposition has been far less visible, relying largely on grassroots organizing, word-of-mouth and what they view as a pervasive anti-tax sentiment among the public.
Yes on 100 and the other campaigns supporting the ballot proposition have raised at least $1.6 million, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Groups as disparate as the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Arizona Education Association, the Professional Fire Fighters Association, the Gila River Indian Community and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona have all made sizeable contributions to Yes on 100 and have lent their names and support to the campaign.
The opposition, however, has raised practically nothing. Sen. Thayer Verschoor, who formed the anti-Prop. 100 Ax the Tax committee, said his campaign hasn’t raised more than $100. No big names have launched sustained efforts against Prop. 100, though the anti-tax campaigns have numerous officeholders and candidates on their side. The biggest splash Ax the Tax made in the press was at a March rally when the campaign brought in Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher as its keynote speaker.
But Verschoor said his campaign and other similar groups are relying mostly on grassroots activity, largely through the anti-tax Tea Party movement, to get their message across. The Gilbert Republican said he believes things like word-of-mouth and social networking are taking advantage of growing anti-tax and anti-government feelings among voters.
“It is preaching to the choir, but you’ve got to remember that that choir is a very vocal choir,” Verschoor said. “They’re out there talking to their friends and neighbors, so I think a lot of word of mouth is out there.”
There are plenty of organizations opposing Prop. 100, said Steve Voeller, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. The Free Enterprise Club, National Federation of Independent Business, Americans for Prosperity and the Goldwater Institute have all spoken out publicly against the tax hike, he said, but none have the money or resources to mount a full-fledged campaign against it.
“There’s been no coordinated or orchestrated campaign,” Voeller said. “The economy has taken its toll on everyone, and businesses and interests understandably aren’t looking forward to spending more valuable resources on political campaigns, and that’s totally understandable in this climate.”
Opponents of Prop. 100 say the sales tax increase will be a drag on Arizona’s economic recovery, often citing a Goldwater Institute report that said the state will lose about 14,000 jobs if the proposition passes.
NFIB lobbyist Farrell Quinlan acknowledged that the anti-Prop. 100 forces have been mostly inactive, and said foes of the tax hike have had an uphill climb, considering how well organized and deep-pocketed Prop. 100’s supporters have been. The large corporate interests that are backing Prop. 100, like Arizona Public Service and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, can afford to bankroll campaigns, Quinlan said, while the small businesses NFIB represents can’t.
Polling on Prop. 100 has been infrequent, with much of it coming from partisan organizations, and gives little indication of how willing voters are to raise their taxes. A Cronkite/Eight poll in September – six months before Prop. 100 was referred to the ballot – showed that support for a one-cent sales tax had dropped to 51 percent from 60. Partisan groups and campaigns have released polls showing results favorable to their sides as well.
Quinlan said it may be a bad sign for Yes on 100 that the campaign has raised $1.6 million while going up against virtually no opposition, but still can’t move public support much beyond 50 percent. He compared it to the 2008 payday loan ballot measure, in which the industry spent $15 million – drastically outspending its opponents – but still lost overwhelmingly at the polls.
“There’s an old advertising story about a slick Madison Avenue advertising campaign on a new brand of dog food. And it did great with focus groups. The dogs just wouldn’t eat the food,” Quinlan said. “If they don’t have a product that the voters want to vote ‘yes’ on, if the dogs won’t eat the food, then they’re wasting their money.”
Prop. 100 backers, however, say their message is resonating with the public. If the proposition fails, about $450 million in K-12 spending will be automatically cut, and Yes on 100 has aggressively pushed that message.
AEA President John Wright said Prop. 100 isn’t a perfect solution for maintaining education funding, but voters are supporting it because it’s the best choice available right now.
“I think that the efforts are lopsided because the majority of Arizona citizens … realized that this is really important. In fact, it’s necessary,” Wright said. “What you’re really talking about is maintaining the quality of life while we look for some structural improvements to the overall revenue generation in our state.”
Pat Quinn, co-chairman of Yes on 100, said the support Prop. 100 has received from across the political spectrum, combined with the extent of the grassroots effort for the tax hike, is nearly unprecedented.
“I’ve been involved in propositions before, and this is the first one where you’ve had such a wide breadth of people supporting it. This should be a model for how you get things done,” said Quinn, the former president of Qwest Communications.
Both sides, at least in part, are pinning their hopes on early voters. Election Day turnout in special elections is generally low, but early voting can reach people who otherwise might not get out to the polls.
Early in the campaign, Yes on 100 spokesman David Leibowitz said the campaign was developing a strategy to target early voters, and its television advertising blitz was going strong when early voting started in late April. The anti-Prop. 100 forces are looking to early voters to push them over the top as well.
Maricopa County mailed about 703,000 early ballots, and with a week to go before the vote it had received about 413,000. The Pima County Recorder’s Office said it had received about 106,000 of the 169,000 early ballots it mailed out.
Verschoor said the prevalence of early voting in the special election means that people are paying attention to the issue, which he said will favor the “no” vote.
“I believe that most people are opposed to the tax, and I think it bodes well for the No on 100.”
In the final week before the election, Prop. 100 got a few boosts from prominent officeholders who touted their support for the tax hike.
Gov. Jan Brewer, who has championed the temporary tax hike for more than a year, held a press conference when she cast her ballot on May 11. Later in the day, Attorney General Terry Goddard, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, stood with nearly a dozen schoolteachers at Madison #1 Middle School to voice his support, saying he’d cast his ballot the week before.
• If voters approve Prop. 100, the state sales tax would rise one penny, from 5.6 cents on the dollar to 6.6 cents. The tax is expected to generate about $1 billion annually and would go into effect on June 1. It would last three years.
• The Legislature also approved a contingency budget plan that would automatically cut nearly $900 million from the budget if Prop. 100 fails.
• The Legislature in February narrowly sent the Prop. 100 to the ballot. The Senate passed SCR1001 by a 16-12 vote, while the House approved it 34-25.