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Voters overwhelmingly approve Prop. 100

A crowd gathered in the multi-purpose room of Madison #1 Middle School cheers as Gov. Jan Brewer speaks from a podium. (Photo by Josh Coddington)

A pro-Proposition 100 crowd gathered in the multi-purpose room of Madison #1 Middle School in Phoenix cheers as Gov. Jan Brewer thanks supporters of the measure, which passed with a nearly 2-to-1 margin May 18. (Photo by Josh Coddington)

Arizonans will pay an extra penny per dollar in sales tax for the next three years after voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 100, infusing the state with much-needed cash and giving Gov. Jan Brewer a victory she’s spent 14 months fighting for.

The proposition passed 64-36, a margin no doubt helped by a $2.2 million effort by campaign committees. The vote preserves nearly $900 million in state spending on education, public safety, health care and other government sectors that would have been automatically cut if Prop. 100 had failed.

A broad coalition of education, business and other groups comprised the Yes on 100 effort, but the election results were likely sweetest for Brewer, who began pushing for a temporary sales tax increase in March 2009, less than two months after taking office amid the worst budget crisis in state history.

“Arizonans have spoken today. They told us they understood the depth of the financial crisis in Arizona. And they told us they understood doing the right thing almost always means doing the hard thing. And today, they did the hard thing,” a visibly emotional Brewer said at the Yes on 100 victory party in central Phoenix. “I never doubted that we had it in us.”

Opponents of Prop. 100 were wildly outmatched, raising just $1,200 and waging virtually no campaign against the tax hike. Nonetheless, opponents said they believed that voters would not be willing to raise their taxes during the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

“With a national mood against government spending and irresponsible government largess, Prop. 100 was a chance to strike a blow against bigger government,” said Farrell Quinlan, lobbyist for National Federation of Independent Business. “I’m surprised – the national mood and the trend against higher taxes, recession, job losses, so many home foreclosures – this proposition would have passed by such a large margin.”

Voters in 14 counties were in favor of the temporary tax increase. Only Mohave County voted against it.

Prop. 100 was Arizona’s first statewide special election since 1980, when the state held a June vote on property taxes and spending limitations for school districts.

Opponents of the sales tax increase said voters didn’t really have a chance to hear both sides of the argument over Prop. 100 because labor unions, business associations and other powerful groups drowned out the opposition by spending more than $2 million on an advertising blitz and direct mail campaign.

“Voters never heard our message,” said Tom Jenney, Arizona director of Americans for Prosperity. “I think the sad reality of modern politics is that you need to have a certain amount of money to get your message out.”

Jenney was one of the few people at the opposition rally at an English pub in downtown Phoenix who said he wasn’t surprised by the lopsided results. He said he hadn’t seen any recent polling and, therefore, had no expectations.

“One of the problems with having no money is you can’t do any polling,” he said.

Thayer Verschoor, who organized the “Ax the Tax” committee, said he thinks voters were misled to believe that passing Prop. 100 would solve the state’s budget problems, and that rejecting it would devastate schools. Neither message was completely true, he said.

“Enrollment is still declining, teachers are still going to have to be laid off,” he said. “The people who voted for this don’t realize there’s still a $2 billion problem. I think voters believe they were fixing all that.”

Brewer, too, acknowledged the Legislature may have to cut the budget even further, despite the passage of her signature issue, the temporary sales tax increase.

“It’s not a cure-all,” she said.

Click here to read “Prop. 100: Brewer’s knockout punch?”

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