The fight over whether Arizonans get to vote on a renewable energy measure has turned into the clash of the financial titans.
New reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office shows that Clean Energy for Healthy Arizona has collected nearly $8.3 million. And with the exception of $4.88 put in by a Phoenix educator, every penny of that has come from NextGen Climate Action, the political action committee set up by California billionaire Tom Steyer.
The report drew the expected criticism from Matthew Benson, spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, the group that is fighting the measure.
“Steyer will spare no expense in his shameless bid to buy this election and force his costly, California-style energy regulations down the throats of Arizona families,” he said in a prepared statement. By contrast, Benson said the measure is opposed by a “coalition of community leaders, business groups, taxpayer advocates and champions of the working poor.”
But what Benson did not say is that has group has amassed more than $11 million for the fight. And all that money comes from Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of Arizona Public Service which would have to live with the new regulations should voters adopt them in November.
That’s more than an academic exercise. Benson claims that if the measure is approved it could force the shutdown of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, managed by APS; that contention is disputed by initiative backers.
Current Arizona Corporation Commission regulations require most utilities to obtain 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.
The initiative, which will be Proposition 127 if legal challenges by Pinnacle West to keep if off the ballot fail, sets that goal at 50 percent by 2030. And it does not include nuclear in its definition of “renewable.”
Some of the other ballot measures also are drawing big dollars. But the funding is nowhere near as balanced as the renewable energy measure.
For example, the Arizona Association of Realtors and its national organization already have put $6.1 million into an extensive media campaign for Proposition 126. That measure would put a provision into the Arizona Constitution to forever forbid lawmakers from even considering sales taxes on services, even if it was part of a compromise to lower the overall sales tax rate from the current 5.6 percent.
Its commercials, however, suggest there are forces who are secretly conspiring to raise taxes, warning people that they could end up paying $1,500 a year or more on things like veterinary service for their pets and daycare for their children.
What it also would bar are taxes on many expenses that are less common for individuals, like financial advice, legal help, advertising and public relations.
There is no such effort underway at the Republican-controlled Legislature. But House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, while saying he opposes higher taxes, said he does not think it’s a good idea to hobble future lawmakers who may want to revamp the tax system.
There is no organized opposition to the measure.
Proposition 207 to raise income taxes on the state’s most wealthy has found supporters outraising foes.
The Invest in Ed committee lists $2.3 million in donations, including $1.4 million from the National Education Association. By contrast, the opposition organized under the banner of Arizonans for Great Schools and Strong Economy has raised $1.2 million, with $900,000 of that from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
That measure, if approved, would raise $690 million a year for education, all of it coming from individuals who earn more than $250,000 a year and couples with incomes greater than $500,000.
The campaign to ban anonymous political donations, which will be on the ballot as Proposition 128 if it survives legal challenges, has so far collected $1 million in its effort to put a “right-to-know” provision in the Arizona Constitution, forcing disclosure of all donations of at least $2,500.
Officials from several groups that have made “dark money” donations in the past have gone to court to keep the measure off the ballot. But the Secretary of State’s Office reports no actual campaign committee has been formed to fight the initiative.