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Brewer, Arizona Chamber pan sales tax initiative

A ballot initiative to increase the state’s sales tax to fund education and construction jobs took two blows today when Gov. Jan Brewer and one of the state’s largest business groups came out against the measure.

Two years ago, Brewer championed a three-year temporary sales tax increase to protect education from budget cuts, and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry also supported the effort.

But both say they are opposed to the Quality Education and Jobs initiative, which would permanently raise the state’s sales tax by one cent, because it would take budgeting out of the hands of the Legislature, where it belongs.

“I really believe that, according to our Constitution, it’s the Legislature that does the appropriations. And I think that they come fully equipped with all the information and they have to make all the figures work together in order to get a balanced budget out. And by doing this, it doesn’t allow them to have all the working pieces together,” Brewer said.

The governor said she might campaign against the measure if it makes it to the ballot.

Whether voters get the chance to weigh in on the sales tax increase will be determined in the coming weeks, as the initiative was rejected by state elections officials over a technicality. The proponents have sued to force Secretary of State Ken Bennett to accept the 291,000 signatures they collected and certify the measure for the November ballot. The lawsuit goes to court July 18.

Brewer also said she wouldn’t be supportive of a tax hike without strings attached.

“I want us to be fiscally responsible. I want us to do things the right way. And I think that it needed more people involved in the arena where everybody could have had some input into it,” she said.

Arizona Chamber President and CEO Glenn Hamer said the initiative is lacking accountability and reforms such as performance incentives.

“I think reform works best when dollars are tied to performance, whether it’s student performance, teacher performance, things of that nature,” Hamer said. “In my understanding, there is no real distinction between high-performing schools and low-performing schools in this proposal.”

Hamer called the measure “ballot box budgeting,” and said it reads like a Washington, D.C., omnibus spending bill.

He said the chamber has yet to decide whether it will fund an opposing campaign if the measure is allowed to go to the ballot.

Ann-Eve Pedersen, who chairs the initiative campaign, said the measure has a whole host of incentives and has the support of several other business organizations such as Greater Phoenix Leadership and Southern Arizona Leadership Council.

“I think the chamber may be standing out there alone, frankly,” Pedersen said.

She said that when it comes to incentives the chamber seems to be overlooking a provision that would withhold $90 million in funding if the state doesn’t improve the number of third graders who read at grade level, improve graduation rates and improve scores on national tests.

Pedersen said reforms coming from the measure would include a new statewide education data base that would give more immediate feedback on student, teacher, school and district performance, and money to implement a more rigorous curriculum that the state has adopted.

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