Panel kills Prop 400 plan – but resurrection seems likely

Panel kills Prop 400 plan – but resurrection seems likely

Prop 400, senators, committee, Farnsworth
This June 20, 2019, photo provided by the Arizona Department of Transportation shows crews set a final bridge girder for Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway in Phoenix. The 22-mile freeway around much of the southern perimeter of metro Phoenix opened on December 21, 2019, and was funded by a half-cent sales tax that is set to expire in 2024. After much deliberation on Feb. 13, 2023, state senators could not agree on a half-cent sales tax extension proposal to send to the voters, and killed the version proposed to a transportation committee. (Photo by Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

After much deliberation, senators could not agree on a half-cent sales tax extension proposal to send to the voters, and killed the version proposed to a transportation committee. 

Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, proposed a version of the tax extension – known as Prop 400 – for Maricopa County earlier this session, and has held several stakeholder meetings on the issue. 

As the sunset date for the tax is coming up in 2024, there’s a lot of pressure on the Legislature to come to a resolution this year. 

The Maricopa Association of Governments is pushing Prop 400 hard. MAG includes mayors from 27 cities and towns and representatives from three tribal communities. The group had an extensive stakeholder process over four years, which was unanimously approved and not adopted in Farnsworth’s bill.  

The bill went to a vote in the Senate Transportation and Technology committee for the first time today and failed 3-4 with Democrats on the committee and Sen. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West voting it down. 

Democrats said they didn’t support the bill because it didn’t include MAG’s asks. The MAG plan, according to chair Kenneth Weise, is the result of more than 400 public meetings and 10,000 participants, which was unanimously approved by MAG.  

Marsh, Prop 400, transportation, Senate
Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix

Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, said while explaining her ‘no’ vote that she is perplexed as to why members of the committee think they can “do better” than the transportation experts who have been working this out for years. 

Though Farnsworth’s bill is dead, there are several versions of the tax extension floating around the Legislature, and any one of them can be resurrected.  

Carroll ran another version of the tax extension earlier this year, but it died in the same committee. In the House, Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, and Rep. Leezah Elsa Sun, D-Phoenix, also proposed versions of Prop 400 this session. 

Since 1985, the Legislature has sent a version of this tax extension forward to Maricopa County voters for a vote. Every 20 years, the tax must be renewed this way, and it has always passed so far.  

The biggest issue on the bill that’s dividing the members is how much of the tax money should go into transit projects like bus lines. Democrats on the committee want a larger allocation for transit, in line with what MAG has requested.  

Republicans in the committee want to cut down on transit and put a huge chunk of the tax money into roads. 

Farnsworth’s first version of the bill would have put 10% of the revenue in transit. Farnsworth, Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, and Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, all suggested amendments to the bill on Monday that would have reallocated the money in the three main buckets: roads, arterial projects and transit.  

Farnsworth suggested putting 20% into transit, Hoffman suggested 15% and Kern suggested 10%. Hoffman and Kern’s amendments died, but Farnsworth’s was added to the bill before the bill itself was killed. 

Farnsworth declined to comment. 

Last session, then-Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, got a version of the transportation tax extension proposal through the Legislature, only for then-Gov. Doug Ducey to veto it. In Pace’s version of the bill, 40.4% of the revenues were dedicated to public transit – as per MAG’s request. 

MAG Transportation Economic and Finance Program Manager John Bullen indicated that the organization still wants to move Prop 400 out this year. “There’s certainly a consequence to waiting,” he said. Getting a proposal to the ballot means other transportation projects reliant on Prop 400 money can go forward as planned. 

The conservative Arizona Free Enterprise Club is one of a few groups who lobbied heavily for the bill that died. They put out attack ads against Carroll and some other lawmakers, including Livingston, during the election season for their support of last session’s bill. A fact that Carroll brought up in committee.  

Things also took a turn when Hoffman accused Marsh of wanting to further the federal government’s interests. Hoffman said the “left” is “making a concerted effort to drive up the cost of gas,” and warned that Arizona should be wary of accepting any federal dollars because the Biden administration will attach “woke garbage” to the money that Arizona doesn’t want to implement. 

Representatives from AARP, PHX East Valley Partnership and Valley Metro also spoke in opposition to the bill.  

PHX East Valley Partnership Executive Vice President Mike Hutchinson worked with Mesa for 28 years and spoke on the importance of supporting MAG’s plan – as a MAG member himself. Hoffman asked Hutchinson whether people in his district encompassing Queen Creek and a bit of Mesa would support the MAG plan. Hutchinson said, “yes” and Hoffman told him that was an “absurd response.” Hutchinson said he is going off polling from 18 months ago for his answer. “The bottom line is somebody’s got to go sell this to the voters,” Hutchinson said.  

Highground consultant Chuck Coughlin said in a text that Farnsworth’s proposal would have been shot down by Arzona voters. “It failed to address the transportation needs of Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa voters.” 

Farnsworth reiterated several times that this bill is a work in progress, and right now, something just needs to go forward and be edited along the way. 

After voting ‘no,’ Carroll said the bill needs a lot of work but wasn’t more specific about what he needs to come back on board. He said it’s up to Farnsworth going forward.