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Voters put forth arguments on 2018 ballot measures

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Arizona voters will be inundated with nearly 500 arguments about why they should support or oppose the seven different measures that will be on the November ballot.

But the raw number of submissions to the Secretary of State’s Office for the pamphlet that will be mailed to the homes of 3.6 million registered voters may be a little misleading.

It is true that there were 133 separate comments urging voters to reject a proposal to require Arizona utilities to generate half their power from renewable sources by 2030.

But 91 of these, each of which cost $75, were paid for by the committee financed by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., parent company of Arizona Public Service, which is leading the charge.

This isn’t a one-way street.

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, financed by California billionaire Tom Steyer, picked up the tab for 33 of the 52 arguments in support.

The situation is even more pronounced on a ballot measure seeking to curb the authority of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

There, 31 of the 33 arguments in favor of it were financed by Stop Taxpayer Money for Political Parties Committee. That, in turn, is being run by Scott Mussi, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, an organization that seeks to keep anonymous who is financing its efforts to affect elections, one of the powers the commission says it has the ability to enforce.

Matt Benson, spokesman for the Pinnacle West-financed effort to quash the proposed renewable energy standard, said having his organization pay for so many arguments is not an effort to mislead the voters who will be reading them.

“They’re still their arguments,” he said of the individuals whose names are attached to each of them. “They’re standing behind their own words.”

And Benson dismissed questions about whether those who are making the arguments were not sufficiently motivated to pony up their own $75 to put them in the pamphlet.

Rod McLeod, spokesman for the initiative, echoed the sentiment.

“All these people have opinions and have shared them,” he said. “I don’t think the way democracy works is you have to have money to have a voice.”

Some of the arguments on the seven ballot measures were pointed in their comments, perhaps none more so than in opposition to a plan to impose an income tax surcharge on the highest wage earners to raise $690 million for public education.

“This Socialist so-called education funding scheme will do nothing to improve our already failing, broken, and bloated government schools who are almost exclusively focused on social justice education sprinkled with a little algebra,” wrote Scottsdale resident Kristen Williamson. And Eric Smaltz of Surprise described the measure as “pushed through by striking teachers holding parents and students hostage.”

Supporters like Dianne Post of the National Organization for Women Arizona, had a different take.

“Taxes are the dues you pay to live in a civilized society,” she wrote. “Taxes are an investment not an expense.”

The arguments on whether voters should approve expansion of who can get vouchers, while also relating to education, are a bit different — and, in some ways, a bit more confusing.

At issue is the 2017 decision by the Republican-controlled Legislature to remove any conditions from who is entitled to get taxpayer dollars to attend private or parochial schools. That overrode prior law which limited what are formally called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to those in certain groups, like students with special needs, foster children and youngsters attending schools rated D or F.

But Save Our Schools Arizona gathered enough signatures to block the law from taking effect until voters get the last word.

What’s important is that Save Our Schools, while having put the issue on the ballot as Proposition 305, wants people to vote “no” — rejecting the legislative change — to prevent opening up vouchers to all students, regardless of qualifications; it takes a “yes” vote to support what lawmakers have approved.

The statements in support include testimonials from parents who say that their children were floundering in traditional public schools. Gilbert mother Christine Accurso said the voucher dollars enabled her to pay for a private school.

“He has been thriving for the past four years thanks to the ESA scholarship,” she wrote. “As a parent, I know what is best for my child.”

There also was the broader argument of “school choice,” espoused by the state’s three Catholic bishops who operate their own parochial schools.

But Susan Edwards, who uses vouchers for her two children on the autism spectrum, said there is no reason to expand the program to all. She said the children who are getting voucher help — help that will not change if Proposition 305 is defeated — were “paraded around as the justification for voucher expansion for those seeking private religious education.”

A measure to constitutionally bar new sales taxes on services collected 18 statements in support, all but two of which paid for by the the Arizona Association of Realtors.

But among the four in opposition was one of particular interest: Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group founded by libertarian billionaire David Koch, the same organization that sued unsuccessfully last year to keep Proposition 305 off the November ballot. Andrew Clark, the organization’s state director, said exempting some business from taxes throws an impediment in the path of “a flat, low rate that treats every business the same way and allows us as consumers to be in charge.”

The campaign for a constitutional amendment to require disclosure of anonymous sources of money to influence campaigns also drew less than the energy and education measures, with 27 comments in support — none paid for by the campaign committee — and just four in opposition, all paid for by interests who have made such expenditures.

And way below the radar is a proposed constitutional amendment to allow lawmakers to change pension benefits for retired correctional officers and elected officials. Virtually every legislator signed a statement in support; only Eric Hahn, a retired Pima County county corrections officer, urged voters to reject it, calling it “unfair” to change the rules for those who were hired under old rules.

 

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