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Arizona voters deciding fate of sales tax increase

Arizona voters on Tuesday were to decide the fate of a proposed temporary sales tax increase, with possible budget cuts for schools and other programs at stake if the measure fails.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the statewide special election — Arizona’s first in nearly 30 years.

If approved by voters, Proposition 100 would raise the state’s current sales tax of 5.6 cents on the dollar to 6.6 cents for three years, starting June 1.

Approval would keep the approved $8.5 billion state budget for the next fiscal year on track by providing a projected $918 million of additional revenue that the budget already plans to spend.

Rejection would trigger $862 million of contingency spending cuts beyond those already included in the budget due to the state’s loss of 30 percent of its revenue.

Most of the contingency cuts were aimed at education. Those include $428.6 million for K-12 schools, $107.1 million for universities and $15.2 million for community colleges and $4.7 million for other programs.

Budget and school officials said rejection of the tax increase would produce larger class sizes, reductions in specialized instruction and layoffs and furloughs for teachers and other school workers.

Elsewhere in government, predicted cutbacks tied to rejection of Proposition 100 included layoffs of Highway Patrol officers, transfers of 3,000 to 5,000 prison inmates to county jails, new reductions of payments to hospitals and other health care providers, and reduced services for developmentally disabled adults and disabled children.

Lawmakers used anticipated revenue from the sales tax increase to help close a $2.6 billion shortfall in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The approved $8.5 billion budget also included raids on special-purpose funds, borrowing and spending cuts. Those cuts included saving $218 million by halving state funding for full-day kindergarten.

Proposition 100 opponents argued that the state hadn’t cut spending deep enough and that passage of the measure would keep spending at levels that the state cannot afford. They also said a tax increase would throttle the state’s ailing economy by stifling retail trade.

Supporters of Proposition 100 pointed to the contingency cuts and said it’d be worth a tax increase to avoid them.

Brewer first proposed the sales tax increase back in March 2009, and lawmakers only agreed in February to put it on a special election ballot. They later approved the budget that includes the contingency budget cuts that take affect if voters reject the sales tax increase.

Proposition 100 supporters spent heavily on a campaign that included television advertising and glossy mailers. Fundraising included donations from business and education groups and health care companies.

Opponents had little money, instead relying on homemade signs and e-mail chains to spread their message.

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