A series of voter-approved initiatives passed since 1998 could be sent back to voters for re-authorization under a proposal making its way through the Arizona Legislature that the Republican bill sponsor says will ensure taxpayers have a say in whether spending they authorized is doing what they intended.
Opponents, however, contend the proposal is a way to weaken the state Constitution’s citizen-initiative process. They argue that if any one measure deserves extra scrutiny, the Legislature already has the ability to send it to voters with simply a majority vote.
An Arizona Senate panel approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 1003 by Sen. Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, on a party-line vote after a hour of debate Tuesday. An identical bill was approved by a House panel two weeks ago.
Crandell’s bill would affect voter-passed laws such as the state’s Citizens Clean Elections Act, the state’s early childhood education program that uses tobacco tax money, and many other voter-adopted laws. It would be referred to voters in November if it passes both the House and Senate.
If enacted, initiatives and referendums using state money or setting up a program that spends money go back to the ballot every eight years, starting in 2016. A performance and financial audit of the program would be done first.
Crandell argues SCR1003 just lets voters do what lawmakers do with other spending: review it periodically to ensure it is doing what the law intended.
“There’s a lot of money that’s being collected and being spent on referendums and initiatives that are voted on by the people and never looked at again,” Crandell said in an interview. “We don’t know as a state Legislature whether they’re doing their job or not doing their job, and certainly the people out there don’t know.”
But the Sierra Club of Arizona’s director, Sandy Bahr, said Crandell’s proposal is a dangerous and unneeded attack on the will of the people. She said getting initiatives on the ballot is time-consuming and expensive, and usually done because the Legislature refuses to take up an issue that’s important to the public.
“So you get something on the ballot, the public supports it overwhelmingly and then you basically have to start another campaign to keep it in place,” Bahr said of the proposal. “It’s ridiculous, it’s a way to weaken citizen initiatives, and we strongly oppose it. If they want to refer something to the ballot, all they need is a majority vote, a majority in the House and a majority in the Senate. They don’t have to talk to the governor. It goes to the ballot.
“So if there’s a particular initiative they have a problem with, they should simply refer it.”
Crandell said Tuesday that the Legislature would take the blame for making such a move.
“You all know and I know that if the Legislature wants to put something back on the ballot, it’s the bad legislature at work,” he told the committee.
Democrats on the Senate Elections Committee opposed the measure, with Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, saying putting the measures before voters all at once would result in voter fatigue.
All four Republicans on the Senate Elections Committee backed Crandell’s proposal, although Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, said he had some concerns but wanted the measure moved forward.
Driggs noted that some voter initiatives have unintended consequences that are very hard to change because of a voter-approved law that protects voter-approved laws. He also said he was not sure voters would buy the Legislature’s plan.
“I’m not so sure than 50-plus percent of the voters of Arizona would go along with this plan,” Driggs said. “In fact, if I had to put odds on it right now, I’m not so sure they would.”
Still, Driggs voted to advance the bill “because I think the debate needs to be heard.”