Agreement on school funding ends at whether more is needed

Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona’s public education system could use more money– a point few argue against. The disagreement comes when elected officials and education advocates start talking about how to get there.

Arizona School Boards Association lobbyist Chris Kotterman made that observation as he reflected on a proposal to increase personal income taxes for the wealthiest Arizonans.

He recalled a roomful of the education community’s representatives discussing the idea and his own trepidation about it..

An income tax hike would draw too much well-funded opposition to be successful, he said, but don’t expect ASBA to lobby against the proposal.

The proposal now billed as the Invest in Education Act may not be a perfect solution, but he said it’s a response from voters who look at the political establishment as not funding what’s important to them.

Chris Kotterman (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Chris Kotterman (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“For a long time, we’ve been on the ‘lower taxes are always better’ train, and the last 20 years have borne out that we haven’t been able to keep pace with the voters and what they say they want,” Kotterman said.

He said the state’s revenue structure does not match its priorities.

Education may be at the top of that list, but politics cloud the discussion around a workable policy solution.

Kotterman pointed to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry as an example– both the chamber and ASBA are in favor of a strong public education system, he said.

But the chamber likes Empowerment Scholarship Accounts; ASBA thinks they are “harmful.”

“It’s not as simple as being able to set aside your differences and come to the table,” Kotterman said. “It’s that, literally, these organizations see things completely differently.”

The chamber swiftly came out in opposition to the Invest in Education Act, arguing it would harm small businesses, tie teacher pay to a volatile funding source and damage the state’s competitiveness.

But spokesman Garrick Taylor said the chamber is right there with the education community in that business leaders want to see more funding for schools.

He said that need is recognized on all sides, including the chamber and Republicans at the Capitol. He pointed specifically to their support for the extension of the sales tax under Proposition 301, which was accomplished this year even after the effort appeared dead, and the chamber’s backing of the budget that included Gov. Doug Ducey’s teacher pay raise plan.

Kotterman praised  the recently passed budget and additional dollars given to education, but he said that wasn’t enough to solve the problem entirely.

And the people are tired of promises of more to come.

“Red for Ed demonstrates that the hunger for vast improvement in a short period of time is very strong,” Kotterman said. “Incrementalism is not an approach that’s going to satisfy education supporters at this point.”

At the heart of the Red for Ed movement was the idea that there has not been leadership at the Capitol intent on improving education in Arizona.

“I don’t want to dismiss the frustration, but the idea that there are leaders at the Capitol who are just whistling past the graveyard is one that we would reject,” Taylor said.

Garrick Taylor
Garrick Taylor

Taylor said public education walked away with significant wins this session, and he believes more will come–perhaps not in 2018 with a ballot initiative to tax the rich, but perhaps sooner than we think.

“There is evidence that Arizonans of all stripes can coalesce around a policy solution,” he said.

That’s the problem as some education advocates see it, though. Not only is there disagreement about how Arizona achieves a more stable, well-funded public education system but also about what that system should look like in the first place.

“I have no idea what the right number is because we don’t even know what the right system is,” said Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials. “How can you say what it’s going to cost to build a house when you don’t even know what the house should look like?”

He referred to an oft cited number in the argument for more education funding: about $1 billion to bring the state back to 2008 levels.

But will that produce the public education system the people want? Essigs doesn’t know.

What about if the state returned to 1990s levels of funding? He said that would likely double the amount. And would that be enough? Maybe.

To know how much something is going to cost, he said, you have to know what you want it to look like.

He proposed an adequacy study to find out, to bring together the business and education communities to specifically describe what they want public education to accomplish. With common goals, perhaps the state could settle on a common price tag.

Stacey Morley
Stacey Morley

Stand for Children’s Stacey Morley added another layer to Essigs’ argument.

She pointed out that the state’s formula to disburse funds is grossly out of date compared to the education system now focused on choice.

She said the current school finance system was designed more than three decades ago for a system that only accounted for traditional district schools.

The public education system has since evolved around school choice, but the underlying school finance model has not.

And that, Morley said, has limited the state’s flexibility to adequately fund education while exacerbating tensions between charter and district schools.

Everyone has a “little kingdom” they’re trying to protect, she said. Everyone is afraid of losing what they have.

And no one is winning.

“Until we’re willing to put everything aside and really look at it holistically, I don’t know that we’ll ever solve it,” Morley said. “Even if we have enough for a few years, it’ll come back.”

So, too, may the hordes of angry educators.

Like ASBA, the grassroots group Save Our Schools Arizona was not excited by the Invest in Education Act. And like ASBA, SOS Arizona is content to let the Arizona Center for Economic Progress-led coalition behind the initiative lead the charge on income taxes.

But spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker said there’s something to be learned from the proposal and the conversation it evolved from.

Save Our Schools Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker joined thousands of public education advocates who rallied at the Capitol on March 28, 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Save Our Schools Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker joined thousands of public education advocates who rallied at the Capitol on March 28, 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

She said the political establishment is between a rock and a hard place: Donors and the party playbook want one thing, and voters want something else entirely.

Lawmakers on both sides have told her about that struggle, she said, but the fact that they see a choice other than representing their constituents is the problem.

“I don’t think that anyone feels that’s how democracy is supposed to function,” she said. “You’re elected, but you don’t know whether you should do what your voters want or what your donors want? … Those two entities are at odds.”

And the people have shown they are ready to take matters into their own hands.

“If you’re not going to look at options that the rest of us normal people, regular people see as being on the table, then I guess we’ll just do it,” Penich-Thacker said. “Regular voters and regular people don’t care about the party playbook.”

Another round of voter-approved minimum wage boosts to take effect

Pizza delivery girl with bundles of money and a pizza box isolated on white background (www.ljsphotographyonline.com)

What would you buy with an extra $6 a week?

Two gallons of milk? A Big Mac Meal?

An overpriced venti half-caf, sugar-free latte?

That’s how much more those at the bottom of the pay scale will be making come Jan. 1 when the minimum wage in Arizona rises 15 cents an hour to $12.15.

Before taxes.

Arizona voters mandated in 2006 that the state have its own minimum wage not tied to the federal figure. That set the bottom of the pay scale here at $6.75 an hour, $1.60 higher than what federal law mandated at the time.

Plus there were inflation adjustments.

A decade later, voters decided to turbocharge the raises, imposing a $10 minimum with automatic increases up to $12 as of 2020.

Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage remains at $7.25 an hour.

With the last of the pre-approved boosts now done, that puts Arizona back into the inflation-adjusted annual increases.

The state Industrial Commission figures that the Consumer Price Index, measured in August as required by law, is 1.3 percent higher than a year earlier. Add that to the current $12 figure, round to the nearest nickel and you come up with $12.15.

How many Arizonans that might affect remains unclear.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has data about the number of workers who are earning at or below the federal minimum wage, the latter category including those who are in industries exempt from federal law. As of 2019, the agency figures that 1.9 percent of workers were at or below $7.25 an hour, or about 31,000 employees.

At $12 an hour the indications are the numbers get bigger. A lot bigger.

The same federal agency reports that, as of last year, the median wage for just home health and personal care aides in Arizona was just $12.02 an hour. That half of the nearly 67,000 workers in that category were making less than that.

Another more than 89,000 workers in retail sales had a median wage of $12.09 an hour. And among the 268,000 people in food preparation and serving, the median wage was $12.26.

Under Arizona law, employees who earn tips can be paid $3 an hour less — but only as long as the tips boost their wages to the minimum.

The same 2016 voter-approved law also requires nearly all employers to provide paid sick leave. Depending on the employer’s size, every worker can earn up to 24 or 40 hours of leave a year.

The whole concept of a state-set minimum wage continues to grate on the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which waged unsuccessful efforts to kill both the 2006 and 2016 plans.

Chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor acknowledged this year’s increase of just 15 cents an hour is far less than when the floor went up by a dollar between 2019 and 2020. But he said even these inflationary year-over-year changes are problematic.

“What concerns us going forward, though, is we are now putting these automatic escalators to the test amid a wobbly economy due to an economic downturn brought on by the pandemic,” Taylor said.

He sidestepped a question of whether those at the bottom of the pay scale are entitled to have wages adjusted to account for higher costs, instead turning the question to overall employment.

“We are concerned with the downward pressure this puts on hiring because hiring becomes a more expensive proposition each year,” Taylor said.

He acknowledged the difference is $312 a year for affected employees. But it all adds up, with the difference between the federal minimum and what Arizona employers will now be required to pay now exceeding $10,000 a year.

History of Arizona and federal minimum wage

Year / State / Federal
2006 / $5.15 / $5.15
2007 / $6.75 / $5.85
2008 / $6.90 / $6.55
2009 / $7.25 / $7.25
2010 / $7.25 / $7.25
2011 / $7.35 / $7.25
2012 / $7.65 / $7.25
2013 / $7.80 / $7.25
2014 / $7.90 / $7.25

2015 / $8.05 / $7.25
2016 / $8.05 / $7.25

2017 / $10.00 / $7.25

2018 / $10.50 / $7.25

2019 / $11.00 / $7.25

2020 / $12.00 / $7.25

2021 / $12.15 / $7.25

Arizona businesses like Trump tax plan, not its chances in Congress


Arizona business leaders are cautiously optimistic about the tax reforms outlined in President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, but not so optimistic about its chances of passage as currently drafted.

The plan calls for cutting the number of income tax brackets to three from seven with 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent tax rates, respectively, compared to the current rates that range from 10 to 39.6 percent. The plan also proposes cutting the corporate tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent.

“Reduction in (tax) rate and a simplicity of the code is something Arizona employers have long sought,” said Garrick Taylor, a spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

But experts cautioned against banking too much on the president’s proposal, which faces a tough road through Congress, and pointed to Arizona Sen. John McCain’s comment that the plan is “dead on arrival.”

The tax reform “looks good on paper,” said Jack Lunsford, president and CEO of the Arizona Small Business Association, but there is still a “long way to go” and there is “a lot of work to be done.”

That sentiment was echoed by Dennis Hoffman, director of the Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

“I don’t know of anyone in Congress who is working right now to make the president’s plan a reality,” Hoffman said in an email. “So the pace of reform may be slower than what many hope it to be.”

The proposed budget could cut government revenues sharply, which critics fear will only end up adding to the federal deficit. But the White House argues that the cuts will spark economic growth at a rate of 3 percent a year, which would fuel job creation and offset revenue reductions.

But Dean Baker, co-director for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, believes that Trump’s budget plan will likely have “zero impact on growth.” Baker said a 3 percent economic growth shouldn’t be ruled out, but it won’t be because of Trump’s budget plan, adding it is “just not plausible” that the proposal could spark that level of growth.

Alan Cole, an economist with the Tax Foundation, said the greatest potential in the tax reform plan comes from the proposed reduction to the corporate tax rate. But he said that will work best if it is permanent, and he acknowledged that winning congressional approval will be “tricky.”

“It is a very ambitious corporate rate and due to that, they probably won’t be able to pass it (permanently),” Cole said. “And it does need to be permanent.”

Taylor, the chamber spokesman, welcomed a lowering of the corporate tax rate, saying that the current rate is “not a good look for the U.S.”

Lunsford expressed concern over how tax reform may affect the deficit, noting that if not enough revenue comes in, the federal government may have to resort to cutting programs.

Last week, Democrats pounced on the president’s proposed budget, which they said would severely impact domestic programs dealing with health, nutrition and welfare.

And while House Republicans were generally supportive, some in the Senate expressed wariness, including McCain, who said the proposed increases in defense spending are “inadequate” to handle the military challenges the U.S. is facing.

Hoffman said it’s still too early to predict exactly what impact the plan will have on Arizona taxpayers.

“Tax reform will benefit (Arizona) if it results in faster growth in the overall economy,” he said. But that depends on the form the reform takes, he wrote. He noted that, while taxpayers might face lower tax rates, that could be offset by the loss of deductions for state income, property and other taxes.

Lunsford is taking a wait-and-see attitude for now.

“If I were a business in Arizona, specifically a small business, I would continue to do business as usual,” he said.

Arizona Chamber seeks to lower tuition for ‘Dreamers’

Arizona Chamber of Commerce President Glenn Hamer outside the Rayburn House Office Building. Hamer and other business officials from the state were in Washington to lobby the Arizona congressinoal delegation on immigration reform. (Cronkite News Service photo by Pei Li)
Arizona Chamber of Commerce President Glenn Hamer outside the Rayburn House Office Building. Hamer and other business officials from the state were in Washington to lobby the Arizona congressinoal delegation on immigration reform. (Cronkite News Service photo by Pei Li)

The head of a major business organization is looking for legal ways to make education more affordable for “dreamers” who attend state universities and community colleges in Arizona.

And while Glenn Hamer hopes for some state or federal legislative action, that goal ultimately could mean asking voters to rethink a law on who gets – and does not get – in-state tuition they approved in 2006.

The president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry said Thursday he thinks there may be some wiggle room in enforcing that law which says those not in the country legally have to pay more than the tuition available to other Arizona residents.

Hamer said that law is based on the idea that Arizona taxpayers should not be subsidizing those who have entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas. But he believes there is a way to legislatively determine that there is some rate – less than full out-of-state tuition – that complies with the law.

There is already some precedent for that. The Arizona Board of Regents has a policy saying those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program can attend at a tuition of 150 percent of what is charged to residents.

But that rate can still add $6,000 a year on to a student’s bill. And Hamer said he believes that legally can be driven lower.

Ideally, Hamer said, the whole problem would be resolved if Congress were to deal with the issue and formally declare that DACA recipients are in this country legally.

At this point, DACA exists only because of an executive order signed by Barack Obama when he was president.

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled unanimously last year that does not make those in the program eligible for in-state tuition, no matter their residency status. If Congress acts, then the court ruling becomes legally moot.

But Hamer also has a back-up plan of sorts if the tuition for DACA recipients cannot be legally tweaked and Congress fails to act: Take the issue back to Arizona voters.

The idea of restricting access to in-state tuition was approved in 2006 by a margin of more than 70 percent in favor. But Hamer said things are far different now.

“I could certainly make the argument that, way back when, we were not thinking about dreamers,” he said.

In fact, DACA did not even exist at that time. It was only in 2012 when Obama decided that those who came here as children and met other qualifications could not only remain without fear of deportation but also be allowed to work.

“I believe the average age of a dreamer in terms of the entrance into the United States was 6 years old,” he said, meaning they were not making a conscious decision to violate federal immigration law. “They’re going where their parents are taking them.”

Hamer said multiple polls have shown popular support for providing a permanent solution, including possibly a path to citizenship, for the more than 800,000 who have been accepted into the program nationally, including more than 23,000 in Arizona.

And he said that there already is a basis for resolving the issue: a grand compromise that would give President Trump the $5 billion he wants for a border wall in exchange for legalizing not only DACA recipients but also others who are in this country illegally.

But, failing federal resolution, Hamer said it’s in the interest of the state – and the business community he represents – to create the maximum opportunity for DACA recipients in Arizona to have a higher education, and one that is affordable. And that, he said, cold ultimately require revisiting that 2006 law.

That raises problems of its own.

The most immediate is that the 2006 law, having been approved on the ballot, is subject to the Voter Protection Act. That constitutional provision bars lawmakers from repealing or making major changes to anything that voters have approved. Instead, these have to go back to voters.

“The Voter Protection Act is certainly a challenge,” Hamer said.

Then there’s the fact that any alteration or repeal would go on the 2020 ballot at the same time that Trump is up for reelection. That raises the possibility that border security could be a major campaign issue.

That’s why a frustrated Hamer said his organization is hoping to get it resolved in Washington.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask Congress to do its job once every 30 years,” he said.

But Hamer said the issue is far too important to Arizona to have it live or die based on what Congress does or does not do. If nothing else, he said, it’s good for business.

“We’re now in an economy where there’s more jobs open than human beings to fill them,” Hamer said. “We need workers of all skill levels.

And Hamer figures that if college graduates earn an average of $1 million more over a lifetime versus those with just a high school diploma, that’s money they’re going to be spending.

“That’s good for everyone,” he said.

Hamer also pointed out Arizona has a goal of having 60 percent of its students get some sort of postsecondary certificate or degree by 2030

“Starting with increasing opportunities for the DACA population seems like a pretty good way to make some progress,” Hamer said.

Arizona-Mexico work to improve rapport while nations collide

Sonoran Gov. Claudia Pavlovich and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sonoran Gov. Claudia Pavlovich and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

On a December day in 2015, presidential candidate Donald Trump rallied his supporters in Mesa amid cheers for building a giant wall on the southern border and kicking out undocumented immigrants.

The day before, Gov. Doug Ducey held a holiday reception and joint press conference with his Sonoran counterpart, Claudia Pavlovich. The joint event speaks to the strong relationship budding between Arizona and Sonora, and perhaps Mexico at large, as the relationships between the two federal governments fracture.

But it also underscores the difficulty of building relationships as a border state. No matter how much local officials work to find opportunities with Mexico, their actions could be undermined by Trump’s language or actions.

There are obviously big limitations to locals’ abilities. For example, they can’t write or vote on federal laws, so they can’t change a broken immigration system or keep trade agreements intact.

Still, knowing the limitations, Ducey started broadcasting his interest in Mexico before he even took office. In December 2014, he tweeted a photo with Mexican General Consul Roberto Rodriguez Hernández, saying he looked forward to working with the Mexican official.

The tweets didn’t stop once he took office. Ducey frequently sends out photos of his meetings with Mexican officials, usually with notes of gratitude or hospitality.

It’s a far cry from the tense relationship between the two states in the aftermath of SB1070, a law passed in 2010 that targeted illegal immigration as anti-immigrant sentiment took hold in Arizona.

Ducey sees Arizona’s position as a border state as a benefit, not a liability, and his perspective is largely informed by economic realities. For instance, if the North American Free Trade Agreement were dismantled, as President Trump has suggested, Arizona could lose 236,000 jobs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated.

“I come from the business community. I knew who my customer was. The customer can either make you very, very successful or the customer can put you out of business,” Ducey said.

Changing relationship

Ducey isn’t alone in his quest to improve relations between the two border states. He’s joined by dozens of business leaders and lawmakers at all levels, from mayors to U.S. senators. Groups routinely travel to Mexico to discuss economic and social issues, and Mexican dignitaries now frequently make stops in Arizona to glad-hand with elected officials here.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (Submitted Photo)
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (Submitted Photo)

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat who started as mayor soon after SB1070 passed, said it seemed like “our state government really turned our back on Mexico.”

Stanton has gone to Mexico 18 times since then. The city has opened two trade offices in Mexico, and Mexico opened a trade office in Phoenix, a sign of how far the relationship has come since then, the mayor said.

The governor himself has traveled to Mexico five times since taking office, according to the Arizona-Mexico Commission, including his first international trip as governor to Mexico City, something that hadn’t happened in a decade. He has also hosted Pavlovich in Arizona six times.

Angel Bours, vice president of the Sonora-Arizona Commission, said it’s clear the two governors have a strong relationship based on trust and a mutual understanding the states need to get along for the sake of the region’s economic health.

He said leaders on both sides of the border have been working on issues all over the spectrum, from trade to border wait times to water to education to social services.

“The relationship between the states goes beyond what the president does or says,” Bours said in Spanish.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry has focused intently on growing the business relationships between the two states and came out against ending NAFTA and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

These days, Arizona delegations are received “very, very warmly” in Mexico, chamber President Glenn Hamer said. National rhetoric hasn’t played heavily into talks between business leaders because the local folks are “operating in a different airspace,” he said.

Jessica Pacheco, president of the Arizona-Mexico Commission’s board and an Arizona Public Service executive, said the national rhetoric hasn’t popped up in meetings she has had with her Mexican counterparts. Instead, the binational meetings have swelled in attendance, and the groups have focused on their day-to-day realities, she said.

“The relationship between Arizona and Sonora, I don’t think it’s ever been better than it is right now,” Pacheco said.

Roots of discontent

Most sources for this story pointed to a common low point in the Arizona-Sonora relationship: SB1070, known colloquially as the “show me your papers” law.

The most controversial provision of SB1070 required law enforcement to check the legal status of people they suspected were in the country illegally, a provision critics said led to racial profiling.

The backlash from SB1070 was almost immediate, and the effort to repair the reputational damage to the state’s image is still in progress. Groups from around the country announced bans on travel to Arizona for conferences, some of which still remain intact.

In 2010, the year SB1070 passed, the governors of Arizona and Sonora held no joint meetings, according to the Arizona-Mexico Commission.

Couple the backlash from SB1070 with the notoriety of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s slogan as “America’s toughest sheriff” and his roundups of immigrants, and there’s a lot for the two sides of the border to overcome.

Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, said the pendulum has largely swung back in Arizona’s favor since SB1070 because of efforts that began at the state level before Trump took office.

But there’s a strong lesson to be learned from the SB1070 backlash, Wilson said.

“Tone matters. Business relationships are hard to form when the perception is totally negative,” he said.

After SB1070 became law, Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, anchored in Nogales, Arizona, said Arizonans became “persona non grata” in Mexico quickly.

“And we’ve been fighting it ever since,” he added.

The tide started turning in 2014, as pointed out by a National Public Radio story at the time, when Republicans, including then-Gov. Jan Brewer, who had signed SB1070 into law, sought to work with Mexican officials, and aggressive anti-immigration legislation at the state level had mostly dried up. The change of direction came after many dozens of CEOs of financial giants impressed upon the state’s leaders that they were squandering an opportunity.

Ducey didn’t want to discuss SB1070’s impact on the ability for the two states’ to communicate. He said he came into office and moved forward instead of focusing on the past.

“That’s the beauty of being an outsider and a newcomer to politics. I was able to go to Mexico City and pull out my business card and say, ‘Let me introduce myself, I’m the new governor, and I’m looking forward to a fresh start.’ And we erased and moved forward from that day,” Ducey said.

Trump’s comments

It’s a stark reversal from the recent past. During the Obama administration, Mexico and the U.S shared a congenial relationship while Arizona and Sonora were at odds.

Now, as the Arizona-Sonora relationship bloomed in recent years, the U.S.-Mexico relationship has eroded. Trump ran for office on a wave of border security fever, economic protectionism and isolationism. During the campaign, he said Mexican immigrants were rapists. As president, he floated the idea of adding a 20 percent tariff to goods coming to the U.S. from Mexico. He said the U.S. would build a “big, beautiful” border wall and Mexico would pay for it (Mexico disagrees with this idea).

For longstanding, trust-filled relationships, the president’s words don’t have a big impact, Jungmeyer said. But his words do sometimes require a response.

“Whoever you’ve been interacting with in Mexico, you kind of have to show them that I’m still the same person, our relationship is still the same. That may be a theme going on in American politics, but that doesn’t reflect what you and I have built together,” Jungmeyer said.

So much of the U.S-Mexico cooperation comes from local relationships, where the heart of the ties that bind the two nations are most obvious, said Shannon O’Neil, an immigration and trade expert at the foreign policy think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations.

Only in the past three decades has Mexico come to view the United States as a partner rather than an imperialist threat, O’Neil said. And the harsher, more nationalistic rhetoric coming from the White House could affect the way our southern neighbor views us and spark a nationalist response from Mexico, she said.

But local officials can counteract the national noise by making their voices heard in discussions with people in Mexico and with leaders in the U.S., O’Neil said.

“Stand up for Mexico. They will notice that, and that will go a long way to help build that relationship,” she said.

As for Ducey, he doesn’t think he should get involved in Mexican politics, and he appreciates that the people he works with in Sonora don’t try to get involved in American politics. And he recognizes big issues like comprehensive immigration reform and NAFTA renegotiation are out of his hands, though he can make it known to his federal friends what Arizona wants to see.

Still, the resiliency of the Arizona-Sonora relationship stood the test of a tumultuous election, and it became a true friendship, Ducey said.

“I do think that our relationship has grown stronger and more trusting because we never blinked during the entire campaign. We never cancelled or delayed a meeting,” he said.

Limits to the relationship

Rep. Diego Espinoza (D-Tolleson)
Rep. Diego Espinoza (D-Tolleson)

Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, who traveled with a bipartisan group of state lawmakers to Mexico in August, said Ducey has done well at improving the relationship with Mexico. But at the state level, the powers-that-be should be looking at ways to help Dreamers with tuition and licenses, something Ducey has largely avoided, Espinoza said.

While the governor has publicly said he wants Congress to pass legislation to allow Dreamers to stay in the U.S. permanently, he hasn’t taken steps to address the in-state tuition or driver’s license issues and has instead shied away from state policy related to the group of young immigrants.

“I just think he should include a bit more of the Latino caucus and the Democrats in general,” Espinoza said.

Stanton said improving conditions for Latinos in Arizona through policies that help Dreamers, for instance, can assist the state’s reputation south of the border.

For something like NAFTA, Bours, of the Sonora-Arizona Commission, said Sonoran and Arizonan officials may not be able to directly vote, but they can impress upon federal lawmakers the importance of trade and its financial impacts on states.

It’s up to those working in the field to show why investing in and collaborating with Mexico is wise, he said, and that’s where the local groups choose to focus.

The economic arguments only comprise part of the picture of the Arizona-Sonora relationship, though, O’Neil said. There are so many cultural and personal ties between the states that create a much deeper connection, she said.

“This is the future of your state. What is Arizona going to be 20 or 30 years from now? That will depend on the education and integration of many of these families that can make Arizona a much stronger place,” she said.

Bad blood, ineffective legislating threaten Mosley in LD5 primary

Rep. Paul Mosley (R-Lake Havasu City) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Paul Mosley (R-Lake Havasu City) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

A crowded Republican primary race in Legislative District 5 and friction among the candidates could pose a threat to Rep. Paul Mosley’s run for a second term in the House.

The Lake Havasu City Republican is facing off against seatmate Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, political newcomer Leo Biasiucci and Jennifer Jones-Esposito, who is making a third attempt for a seat in the Arizona House, in the August 28 primary.

Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin said while it’s hard to knock out an incumbent in a primary, the LD5 GOP primary is a competitive race.

He said Mosley is a freshman lawmaker, which is generally when incumbents are most vulnerable, and he hasn’t made many friends at the Capitol.

Laurence Schiff, chairman of the Mohave County Republican Party, said that while incumbents tend to win because they have name recognition, an established voting record and financial support from lobbyists and political action committees, Mosley could face an uphill battle.

Schiff said Mosley is the most conservative of the four candidates, a plus in one of the reddest districts statewide, but he has been criticized for being hard to work with at the Legislature. That reputation has made it difficult for Mosley to get bills onto the governor’s desk, Schiff said.

Just a few of Mosley’s bills were signed into law this year. One of his measures, HB2459, which would establish a $250 individual income tax credit for each qualifying child a taxpayer claims as a dependent, was defeated in the House, 18-39, on reconsideration, faring worse than it did the first time around when it failed 20-38. He had tried all that week but failed to garner enough support for the bill, he told colleagues on the floor the day of the vote.

Mosley has also been slammed with allegations of financial impropriety during his time at a brokerage firm, Schiff said, and challenger Biasiucci accused Mosley earlier this year of stealing his nominating petitions from a Lake Havasu City gun shop. Mosley has denied both allegations.

Schiff said while those claims have mostly blown over, there are people in Lake Havasu City who don’t support Mosley and who could give an edge to Biasiucci or Jones-Esposito.

When Jones-Esposito ran in 2012, Schiff said, she lived on the southern end of LD5 in Quartzite and was relatively unknown in Mohave County. Since moving to Kingman, he said, she has gained name recognition and now she also has more experience running a political campaign.

Schiff said Biasiucci has also positioned himself as a serious candidate this year. He described Biasiucci as “a very attractive candidate,” adding that he is young, charismatic, and well-spoken. And he said the Lake Havasu City resident is getting help from Rep. Cobb and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who have “taken him under their wing.”

Cobb told the Arizona Capitol Times that she urged Biasiucci to run for the House. Though she said she isn’t running on a slate with him, she has held meet-and-greet and fundraising events with him and Borrelli throughout the district.

However, Schiff said Biasiucci ran as a Green Party candidate for the House in 2014 and only recently became a Republican, also at Cobb’s urging, and that could hurt his chances in the extremely conservative district.

“He talks about taking conservative positions but he doesn’t have a voting record, so you never know,” he said.

Former state Sen. Ron Gould, a Lake Havasu City Republican, is less convinced that the crowded field will impact Mosley’s re-election chances.

He said any allegations that have been leveled against Mosley are most likely only known among political insiders, and he said people who are attending events put on by the other candidates were likely already supporters.

He said the race will come down to who has the most money and how effective the candidates are at getting their message out to voters.

“The real battle is in the mailbox and in the media,” he said.

Mosley said he’s unfazed by the competition or by Cobb’s and Borrelli’s apparent support for Biasiucci in the LD5 House race. He said his relationship with Cobb has never been great and he isn’t surprised she urged Biasiucci to run.

He said he is far more conservative than the other candidates and said his voting record speaks for itself. He pointed to his A+ rating with the Center for Arizona Policy, Arizona Free Enterprise Club and the National Rifle Association as examples of his conservative record.

Still, he was snubbed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which only endorsed Cobb for LD5 House, and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Cobb and Biasiucci. Neither group endorsed Mosley in 2016.

“I don’t see them as a threat,” Mosley said. “I’m on the right side of all of the issues. As long as the voters know my ratings and where I stand on the issues, I’m not threatened at all.”

Ballot measure groups file fundraising, spending reports – weed leads


Backers of an effort to legalize adult-use marijuana have raised abundantly more funds than their opposition, and are burning money faster than a skinny joint. 

Smart and Safe Arizona took in roughly $1.1 million this quarter, bringing its total to $2.7 million, though it has only $80,000 left after spending heavily on consultants and signature gathering. 

The weed campaign is leaning heavily on the dispensaries for contributions, with most of its money coming from the two biggest chains – Harvest and CuraLeaf. Harvest kicked in $245,000 in cash or in-kind contributions, and CuraLeaf contributed $200,000. Cresco Labs, another dispensary, gave the PAC $300,000 as well. 

Harvest has now outspent all other contributors, and has pumped more than $1 million into the legalization campaign. Of course, dispensaries stand to see a massive financial benefit if legalization passes, as they will have first-dibs on recreational licenses. And although Smart and Safe has burned through most of its income, it still has more cash on hand than the opposition group that formed last month. 

Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, which opposes legalizing recreational use of marijuana and previously refused to disclose who its backers are, has brought in only $50,025. 

It has two backers – one from an individual contributor who gave $25 and the rest from the Center for Arizona Policy, which contributed $50,000. 

Smart and Safe spent $100,000 on signature gathering in March – more than its opposition PAC was able to raise overall.

The competition still has months to gain traction, and once the ballot is set donors will know how many initiatives will be around to try to defeat, but the 2020 marijuana legalization effort has taken a much different shape than the last attempt in 2016.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, or on the ballot known as Proposition 205 raised $6.5 million during its campaign, barely outraising the opposition with $6.4 million. The opposition in 2016 was spearheaded in part by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, Gov. Doug Ducey, who Polk thanked after defeating the proposition, and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, among others. 

The chamber won’t take an official stance on Smart & Safe even after pouring $1.5 million into the opposition in 2016, and some of the other big contributors of the anti campaign are either dead or in jail.

Bruce Halle, the former owner of Discount Tire, contributed roughly $1 million in opposition in 2016, but he has since passed away. Insys Therapeutics contributed $500,000 and its founder is now serving five years in prison for his role in contributing to the national opioid crisis.

Smart and Safe has been dubbed the likely only initiative to make it onto the ballot given the COVID-19 crisis, but several other campaigns, including marijuana, are tied up in twin battles in state and federal court to be able to collect signatures online like candidates do. 

Three of those initiatives raised more than $1 million in the first quarter. 

Arizonans for Second Chances, Rehabilitation, and Public Safety, the criminal justice initiative, brought in $1.2 million, though it burned through more than half of that. 

The Second Chances initiative, which aims to increase public safety and reduce recidivism, received all of its cash contributions from the same group, a liberal dark-money group from San Francisco called Tides, which has ties to billionaire George Soros.  

Arizonans for Fair Elections, which aims to overhaul the state’s election laws – making it easier to vote and limit spending from corporations – brought in nearly $2 million, almost all of it coming from the Arizona Advocacy Network. 

The PAC spent nearly all of that money, however, leaving it with just more than $50,000 at the end of March. 

Arizonans Fed Up with Failing Healthcare already had half-a-million dollars to start, and brought in another $1.2 million this quarter. But it spent nearly every penny it had. 

All of its money came from a California group: Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West. SEIU’s former president, Andy Stern, has strong ties to Soros as well. Both the health care and election initiatives are caught up in a federal legal battle over collecting signatures online. The judge dismissed the case on April 17, but the groups pushing the initiatives are appealing to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Then there’s Outlaw Dirty Money, which raised roughly $500,000 in the first quarter, but recently “suspended” the campaign as courts consider challenges to initiative signature-gathering laws

The two education initiatives are trailing the pack in terms of raising money. 

Invest in Education raised $230,000 this quarter, and has $170,000 remaining as of the end of March, and the Save Our Schools Act has raised a mere $1,500.

Ballot measures could hamper cash flow in crowded election year

Vote concept; handdrawn ballot box on a green chalkboard
Vote concept; handdrawn ballot box on a green chalkboard

With multiple high-profile ballot initiatives in Arizona this year and a slew of other high-priority statewide and legislative races, donors could be asked repeatedly to open their wallets this election cycle.

Among the ballot measures are proposals to boost renewable energy sources, hike income taxes on Arizona’s top earners and shine sunlight on dark money, the term given to campaign dollars spent by groups that don’t have to disclose the source of their money. Pundits already expect key players will spend millions to fight and defend these contentious initiatives.

But will that leave major donors cash-strapped when statewide and legislative candidates come calling?

It could be too soon to tell.

Ballot measure campaigns turned in their signatures last week. Now, the initiatives are trapped in procedural limbo as the Secretary of State’s Office scans the thousands of petition sheets into its electronic system. Some, if not all, of the ballot initiatives will likely face legal challenges in the coming weeks.

Among the more contentious ballot initiatives are the Invest in Education Act, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, Stop Political Dirty Money Amendment and Save Our Schools Arizona.

The number of ballot initiatives vying for the ballot this year is more than Arizona saw in the past two election cycles.

Garrick Taylor
Garrick Taylor

Packed ballots mean advocacy organizations have to strategize on how they want to deploy their resources, said Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Crowded ballots make for tough decisions,” he said. The chamber is leading the charge against the Invest in Education Act — a ballot measure to boost income taxes on wealthy Arizonans to pay for the state’s public education.

In 2016, and facing two major ballot measures — one to boost minimum wage and another to legalize recreational marijuana — the chamber focused its efforts on defeating the marijuana proposition despite opposing both measures.

Looking back, Taylor said the business community bet correctly in fighting the marijuana measure. But voters approved the minimum wage increase. If the chamber regrets anything now, it’s that it didn’t have more resources so it could fight both proposals, he said.

“There’s not an endless supply of money, especially when you’re in a political season with very high profile candidate races alongside ballot measures,” he said. “So you have to be judicious in the way you spend those resources.”

Taylor said it’s too soon to tell if the ballot measures and the decisive U.S. Senate race, which is sure to attract millions of out-of-state dollars to Arizona, will crowd out candidate spending.

Jim Barton, an attorney at the Torres Consulting and Law Group, said he’s sure advocacy groups like the chamber, Arizona Public Service and others will have to expend money and resources to fight the clean energy, dark money and education ballot initiatives.

Barton represents the clean energy and Invest in Education campaigns, but was not speaking on behalf of those groups. He characterized the fight as an uphill battle for conservative-leaning groups because they’re going against public sentiment.

More than 90 percent of Tempe voters called for increased transparency in political spending, and education funding is the issue of the year after “Red for Ed,” Barton said.

But on Election Day, it’s not about the money. Voters will cast their votes based on what they believe in, Barton said.

“Sometimes, we get so cynical and think ‘Oh, it just matters who has the most money.’ Well, who has the most money matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters,” he said.

Of course, money does play its part, and financing could be more of a challenge for Democrats than Republicans, according to Zachary Smith, a regents professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University.

“Generally speaking, … they’re going to be stretched a little thin,” Smith said. He later added, “to the extent that liberals with money are watered down, that’s going to happen, because there’s just more to do.”

But the types of donors that finance big ticket items like ballot initiatives are traditionally different from donations fueling legislative races and the state’s top two political parties, said Kory Langhofer, an attorney at Statecraft.

Ballot measures will be relying on wealthy, often out-of-state donors — the clean energy initiative, for instance, is backed by billionaire mega-donor Tom Steyer — while down ballot races will rely on smaller, more local donors, he said.

“It’s kind of like IE financing — big checks from a few very interested parties, and not the sort of ma and pop contributions that parties and candidates live on,” Langhofer said. “They’re just different buckets of money.”

Given that one ballot measure wants to ban dark money, Smith predicted a wave of dark money from sources that want to protect their anonymity.

In 2012, there was an effort to replace Arizona’s separate party primaries with a “top-two” model, meaning the two candidates who garner the most votes in the primary move on to the general election, regardless of their party affiliation. Smith attributed a surge of dark money spent against the ballot measure to aiding its defeat.

“When dark money came in, they did a big push and flooded the state to kill it, and of course they did,” Smith said. “These people that are benefitting from Republican legislative majorities are not going to risk it.”

Behind the Ballot: Spread thin


Stacks of voters' signatures were delivered to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office on Aug. 8 after Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures in three months. If it survives legal challenges, the referendum will appear on the 2018 general election ballot as Proposition 305. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Stacks of voters’ signatures were delivered to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 8, 2018, after Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures in three months. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona voters will be asked to decide the fate of multiple high-profile ballot initiatives on the November ballot.

At the same time, a slew of high-priority races for elected office are vying for their attention – and their money.

If donors are asked repeatedly to open their wallets for both the candidates and the causes they care most about, will the available dollars be spread too thin?

There may be one campaign that they can sit out, at least, as the debate over school choice takes an unexpected turn toward common ground.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.

Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Brandy Wells: The science of public policy and pugs

Brandy Wells (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Brandy Wells (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Brandy Wells has passion – for science, for public policy, even for pugs.

When she was a science teacher, she loved sharing her excitement with students. As a member of the state Cosmetology Board, she has thrown some bombs at regulations she believes get in the way of people’s lives.

“It’s really unfortunate that we want to hold people back. Honestly, I think it’s a matter of holding back the competition,” she said.

As the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s vice president of external affairs, she regularly talks to businesses about what kind of policies they need to succeed.

Before joining the chamber, she had a similar role at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, where she helped translate intense scientific discovery into real-life impacts.

Cap Times Q&AYou work for the Arizona Chamber, and the perception is that the chamber and state government pretty much always get along. Is that true? Why is that the case?

We don’t always get along. The chamber is representing the business community, and a lot of times those goals align with the Legislature. I mean, everybody wants a strong, successful economy, everybody wants jobs, everybody wants a high quality of living. A lot of times there is overlap between their mission and the mission and goals of our membership, but not all the time.

What’s the biggest misconception about the chamber?

I’m not sure that the authenticity of the chamber’s intent is always recognized in the larger community. When I have private conversations with my colleagues or with members of our board of directors, the things that we say publicly about what we want for Arizona are the things we say privately, too. … On occasion, you see malintent attributed to a group like the Arizona Chamber who is advocating on behalf of job creators.

You were a teacher in Washington, DC. How does your classroom experience relate to this job at the chamber?

Classroom experience relates to everything I’ve ever done in my professional life. In the classroom, I was dealing with science and trying to communicate the complexities of science to kids who may or may not care about science. Now, I’m learning about so many different types of industries and so many different types of policy issues and within those policy issues, so many individual issues, so I think my teaching skills give me the ability to take all types of complex information from disparate entities and translate that maybe to my colleagues. … Or when I am speaking with a prospective or current member who wants to understand why we are acting on a specific policy issue, I have those translation skills to say, you may work in this type of industry, so this language about policy may seem like jargon. Let me figure out a way to explain to you how this is going to impact you, even though it seems like this abstract, foreign concept right now. … And, jokingly but true, (my classroom experience helps with) remembering the names of our massive board. When you’re a teacher, you have to remember five different class periods of 30-to-40 kids, each name, first and last and their stories.

As a former teacher, I’m sure education comes up a lot when you’re talking to chamber members since education is a big issue in Arizona right now. Do you think teachers here should be paid more, and if so, how do you do that?

Well, when the chamber is considering policy issues like teacher pay or the formula for education funding, we have a pretty robust process for getting to what we think about those issues in terms of what our membership thinks about those issues. … Ultimately, the biggest decisions will come from the board of directors. The ultimate decision the chamber makes will be guided by the membership rather than just one person’s experience.

You recently were named to the Board of Cosmetology and immediately, it seemed, started throwing some bombs and criticizing the board on Twitter. Has that made it awkward to work with fellow board members?

I don’t know what the other board members may or may not feel about me. I don’t feel uncomfortable because I don’t ascribe ill intent to people with whom I disagree on policy. I don’t ascribe bad moral character. I don’t see it as a personal attack on them. As long as we’re all operating in good faith, there’s nothing awkward about a disagreement. I think that’s a healthy part of being an active citizen in your community.

Do you ever want to run for office?

I really, really enjoy civic involvement. I love it. I’m passionate about it, specifically in the state of Arizona. I love this state so much and it’s so important to me, that if there was an opportunity to get involved in that way, I think elected office might be something I want to pursue.

You’re a pug foster parent. Why pugs?

So I met a pug probably three or four years ago. Before that, I had no interest in pugs, they were just the character in Men in Black. I met a pug and it was the cutest, sweetest creature I had ever seen in my life, and I fell instantly in love. However, I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to one pug. … So I decided the best thing I could do would be to foster homeless pugs so I could impact the lives of many pugs.

Why pugs instead of other dogs?

I can’t imagine a cuter creature. They snore. You know how some people play rain CDs or white noise to soothe themselves to sleep? I think pug snores are the most soothing sounds. It’s like a lullaby. Pug snores are a lullaby.

Brnovich prefers Legislature, not voters, to legalize recreational marijuana

Deposit Photos/Syda Productions
Deposit Photos/Syda Productions

Attorney General Mark Brnovich wants state lawmakers to debate and enact a recreational marijuana program rather than risk an industry-crafted measure from becoming the law of the land at the ballot box.

And even Gov. Doug Ducey, who said he needs to see any legalization proposal before commenting, said he is concerned about the unchangeable nature of passing laws at the ballot box. But the governor said he remains personally opposed to adult use.

Brnovich told Capitol Media Services on Monday that the issues are far too complex to be left to a take-it-or-leave-it ballot measure. And he said those issues deserve more discussion than 30-second TV ads pushed by proponents and foes.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“Generally speaking, as a matter of public policy, the public policy makers, i.e., the Legislature, should step up and address issues so voters don’t have to do it via the initiative process,” he said.

But Brnovich said his key concern is that if marijuana for adults is legalized at the ballot it will be constitutionally protected against legislative fixes.

The idea is getting a skeptical response from the committee that is crafting what it hopes will be on the November 2020 ballot.

“I think this is more work than the Legislature has the capacity to tackle,” said Stacy Pearson, a consultant working with the group that is crafting the initiative. “This is complicated.”

More to the point, her organization does not intend to wait around until next year to see what state lawmakers craft, with petitions to get the necessary 237,645 valid signatures by July 2, 2020, likely on the streets as early as next month.

That potentially sets the stage for two competing measure on the 2020 ballot, one by initiative organizers and one adopted by lawmakers.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which helped defeat a recreational marijuana program in 2016, is open to the idea of having the issue tackled by the Legislature.

“In order to be able to fix errors or address unintended consequences, adopting new policies via the regular legislative process is almost always preferable to the ballot box,” said spokesman Garrick Taylor.

That’s also on the governor’s mind.

“I think in any law there are unintended consequences,” Ducey told Capitol Media Services.

“Voter protection doesn’t contemplate that” he said. “And, yes, that does concern me.”

Yavapai County Attorney Shiela Polk speaks at a debate on cannabis at Arizona State University in Phoenix on April 29, 2015. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Yavapai County Attorney Shiela Polk speaks at a debate on cannabis at Arizona State University in Phoenix on April 29, 2015. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

But Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said she will oppose any efforts to allow recreational use of the drug, whether at the ballot box or the Capitol.

“There is not a single successful model for legalization anywhere, whether by initiative or by legislative action,” she said.

“Once a state starts down the path of legalization, there is no turning back,” Polk said. “Good public policy should discourage, not encourage, drug use.”

Central to the debate is the Voter Protection Act.

In 1996 voters approved a law to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana and other drugs. The following year the Legislature effectively gutted the law to prevent it from taking effect.

So in 1998 the same group got voters to enact a constitutional measure which prohibits lawmakers from repealing or altering anything approved at the ballot box. It allows changes only with a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate, and only when those changes “further the purpose” of the original measure.

“Recent history has shown that there are all sorts of unintended consequences when it comes to legislating via the initiative process,” Brnovich said.

For example, state lawmakers tried in 2012 to amend the 2010 medical marijuana law to keep students from possessing the drug on campus. But Brnovich was rebuffed by the Arizona Supreme Court when he sought to defend the law, with the justices saying that wasn’t what voters approved and the Legislature had no authority to change it.

The same, Brnovich said, will be true with whatever initiative organizers present to voters. He said there will be complex questions ranging from location, packaging and advertising to how the state deals with edible forms of the drug.

And then there’s the issue of people operating motor vehicles while under the influence of marijuana.

“What do you do about testing for THC,” the psychoactive ingredient in the drug, Brnovich asked, a question that includes not only how to test but what is considered impaired.

“I think that there are a lot of really serious questions that are a part of this conversation,” he said.

“It’s hard to do that sometimes when you are doing that via the initiative process and 30-second TV ads,” Brnovich said. “These are complicated issues that deserve intellectual debate.”

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

Ducey, who opposed the 2016 measure, said his views of recreational use haven’t changed.

“I don’t think any state ever got stronger by being stoned,” he said. “And we have existing laws that support medical marijuana.”

But the governor also said he fears what might be approved at the ballot box.

“I think in any law there are unintended consequences,” he said.

Anything approved by the Legislature can be fixed.

The governor was careful to say he was not trying to undermine the ability of people to craft their own laws.

“Of course I want to protect the will of the voters,” he said. “But I also think we have a legislative process for a reason, and that’s to adjust and improve policy when we can.”

Ducey said he wants to “know the specifics” before committing to a legislative solution.

One issue likely weighing on those who will decide whether to support a legislative solution is the chance that a 2020 initiative would pass.

The 2016 measure lost by a margin of just 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent. And that was with opposition from some supporters of medical marijuana who claimed that measure was designed largely to benefit existing dispensary owners.

Since then several states have legalized the adult use of marijuana, either through legislative or voter action. And a telephone survey in Arizona earlier this year showed 52 percent of those questioned in support of recreational use.

Pearson told Capitol Media Services the cash will be there to mount the campaign.

“The funders have committed the resources to win,” she said.

Editor’s note: The second paragraph in this story and headline were revised to clarify that Gov. Doug Ducey is not taking a position on legalization, but that he is concerned about the ballot route. 

Campaign to tax rich for schools turns in signatures for ballot


The vast majority of Arizonans may get a chance to decide whether the top 4 percent of wage earners should be paying more to support education.

Petitions filed Thursday would add a 3.5 percent surcharge on taxes on income above more than $250,000 a year for individuals and $500,000 for married couples filing jointly. The measure, if it makes the ballot and is approved, would raise about $940 million for public education.

Of the 435,699 signatures backers said they submitted, 237,645 need to be found valid to put the issue on the November ballot.

As crafted, half of the funds would be spent both to hire teachers and classroom support personnel like nurses and counselors, and to increase compensation. Another 25 percent would be for classroom aides, school safety officers and transportation.

There’s also 12 percent for grants for career and technical education programs, 10 percent to help mentor new teachers, and 3 percent to increase funding for the Arizona Teachers Academy which provides free tuition at state universities for those who agree to go into the classroom.

David Lujan
David Lujan

“We’re doing it because Arizona is 48th in the country in per-pupil funding,” said David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, which helped craft the proposal. “It’s time to finally give our schools the money and the resources they need.”

He said state lawmakers cut funding for schools during the Great Recession.

“And we still aren’t back to those (pre-recession) levels,” Lujan said. “So this will give Arizona public schools the funding to make real change.”

An analysis of K-12 education by legislative budget staffers shows the state was providing $4,163 a year in 2001. That figure is now $5,762.

But that same analysis shows that, when adjusted for inflation, state aid now is actually 4.5 percent less than in 2001.

Lujan defended putting put the financial burden for improving education on the top wage earners.

“I think particularly during tough economic times like we’re in it makes sense,” he said.

“This will not raise taxes on families that are struggling to put food on the table or struggling small business owners,” Lujan said. “They will not pay one additional cent in taxes with this.”

As crafted, the surcharge applies only on incomes greater than the cut point.

Garrick Taylor
Garrick Taylor

So an individual earning $400,000 a year would pay taxes at existing rates on the first $250,000, with a surcharge on the $150,000 above that. And the same scheme works for married couples whose tax rates would remain the same for the first $500,000, with the higher rate only on whatever exceeds that amount.

“Those are people who have benefited from recent tax cuts,” Lujan said. “And so we think to make Arizona’s tax code fairer and to find a good revenue source that that makes sense to do it this way.”

Opposition is being led and financed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Spokesman Garrick Taylor said the change will harm small businesses.

The reason, he said, is many of these businesses are organized as “S Corporations,” named after Subchapter S of the Internal Revenue Code. These corporations pay no income taxes, with any earnings, losses, deductions and credits being attributed to their owners — and reported on their individual income tax forms.

Raising the taxes on these business owners, Taylor said, will delay the state’s economic recovery.

“We are depending on small businesses to begin creating jobs again to help us recover from this downturn,” he said.

But Lujan said the foes at the Chamber are not being honest about it.

“This is only on the profit of the small business owners,” Lujan said, not on the total revenues of their operations.

“So if a small business owner is making and taking home more than $500,000 in net profits, that’s most likely not going to be your typical small business,” he said. “The vast majority of small businesses fall way under the threshold of what this is going to impact.”

Taylor said his organization still believes the surcharge will be bad for the economy — and ultimately for education.

“This will put downward pressure on economic growth and make investing in schools and teacher salaries more difficult going forward,” he said.

Taylor acknowledged that the Chamber led the effort to quash a similar measure two years ago — before any sign of a recession — making the same arguments about economic harm. But he said that the message remains the same.

“This is a blunt-force instrument that has been designed without regard for small businesses,” he said.

Taylor said he is not saying that there is enough money in education.

“What we disagree with is the best way to put more resources into teacher pay is by this risky scheme,” Backers offered a similar proposal two years ago, only to have it challenged by the Chamber.

In a 5-2 ruling, the Arizona Supreme Court kicked it off the ballot after concluding that organizers failed to properly explain in the legally required 100-word description how much taxes rates would go up in the plan were approved.

This version, with its more simplified surcharge on existing tax rates, seeks to avoid that same challenge.



Chamber calls for killing remaining sanctuary-city bill

2013 AZ Chamber of Commerce logo

The head of a major business organization wants state lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey to quash a proposal to allow individuals to sue cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials.

“We don’t need it,” Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry told Capitol Media Services on Tuesday. And he said it has the potential of creating needless controversy and ill will.

“This is an area where there needs to be great sensitivity,” he said. And Hamer said that with strong laws against “sanctuary cities” on the books “we believe that attention would be better focused elsewhere.”

Glenn Hamer
Glenn Hamer

Hamer said he has sharing his views with lawmakers who will decide the future of the measure — and with Gov. Doug Ducey who will have to make the final decision whether to sign it if it clears the House and Senate.

That pressure could be the death knell for HB 2598.

It was opposition from the business community, including the state chamber, that forced the governor to pull the plug last month on his plan to ask voters to enshrine into the Arizona Constitution provisions of the 2010 law that outlaws sanctuary cities. That move came despite the fact that Ducey’s proposal was a keynote of his State of the State speech.

“The business community had concerns,” Ducey chief of staff Daniel Scarpinato conceded when explaining why his boss decided not to pursue that plan.

Strictly speaking, HB 2598, unlike the ballot proposal, is not part of the governor’s agenda. Instead, the measure crafted by Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, seeks to impose new financial liability on any community whose policies keep law enforcement from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In essence, the legislation says crime victims can sue cities and counties if the person who committed the offense had been released from custody without local officials contacting federal agencies to inquire whether the person was here legally. Lawsuits also would be allowed if local jurisdictions ignored a request by ICE to be notified about someone’s pending release.

In pushing the measure, Roberts said the issues are the same as the now-scrapped constitutional ban on sanctuary cities: the fear that some communities might adopt sanctuary-type policies. He said HB 2598 would provide a financial disincentive.

Roberts told Capitol Media Services he is undeterred — and a bit confused — by business opposition. He said all it does is provide civil restitution to any future victims who are injured due to sanctuary policies.

“Why would a business not want to protect victims?” he asked. “If any one of of these business owners were to become a victim this bill would protect them as well.”

Bret Roberts
Bret Roberts

And Roberts suggested that the opposition may be ill considered.

“There used to be a day where cities competed to be the safest in America,” he said. “Unfortunately today it’s more about political correctness and identity politics.”

Ducey refused to comment.

Hamer told Capitol Media Services he agrees with Roberts on two points.

“The chamber supports a strong, vibrant business community and safe communities and neighborhoods,” he said. It was for that reason, Hamer said, that his organization opposed the measure on the November ballot in Tucson to adopt sanctuary policies.

The second point, however, is the political parallel between the now-defunct ballot referral pushed by Ducey and HB 2598.

“We felt it was prudent to stop moving that through the process,” Hamer said of the governor’s plan. “And that same sentiment in terms of the desirability of moving anything in this area would hold for any other legislative activity for this session.”

In fact, Hamer said, what Roberts is proposing is in some ways even worse than Ducey’s proposed constitutional amendment because of its financial implications.

“We’re not necessarily the biggest fans of opening up our cities, our law enforcement officials to civil liability,” he said.

And then, Hamer said, there’s the publicity that such legislation would create, both nationally and internationally — and the potential ill will that could create.

“We recognize that there’s increased sensitivity to anything that this state does on immigration,” he said. That goes beyond SB 1070 but also other measures, like the Legal Arizona Workers Act, a measure that goes back to 2007 which prohibits businesses from knowingly or intentionally hiring an “unauthorized alien.”

“We’re a welcoming state,” he said, pointing out that Mexico “is far and away our largest trading partner” as well as the largest source for international visitors.

And Hamer said that, for some border communities, shopping by Mexican nationals accounts for upwards of 60 percent of their local sales tax collections.

“And we want to focus on the positive,” he said.

Roberts said such opposition is not merited.

“People and businesses, both currently and I predict in the future, will continue to move to Arizona because we provide a business friendly environment,” he said.

Chamber late on spending report in challenge to education tax

A business group waited until three days before the election to file a report disclosing it’s dumping more than $8.6 million into a last-ditch effort to defeat Proposition 208.

And the disclosure, filed electronically on Saturday by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is at least four days after the deadline. Plus it was not made until a complaint was filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

The report becomes evidence of a third separate pot of money designed to convince voters not to hike taxes on the state’s most wealthy to help fund K-12 education. It’s also the largest since source of cash.

Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy has listed $3.7 million in expenses in its last report which was filed on time. That includes $350,000 directly from the Arizona Chamber.

And a separate No on 208 committee, financed by different business interests, posted a report detailing $1.8 million in spending.

But even with the new infusion of dollars directly by the Chamber — far more than the $350,000 it listed as directly contributed to the Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy — the opposition is still being outspent by proponents.

The most recent reports of the Invest in Ed committee show $21.6 million in contributions, fueled largely by $7.75 million from the National Education Association and $5.1 million from Stand for Children.

That latter group does not, in turn, disclose its donors in its state campaign finance reports. And Rebecca Gau, executive director of the Arizona chapter, said she does not know as the dollars come through the national organization.

But the most recent financial report of Stand for Children Inc. list the major donors as The Michael R. Bloomberg Revocable Trust, The Ballmer Philanthropy Group and Stacy Schusterman, the last being a U.S. businesswoman, heiress and philanthropost.

The $16.9 million listed as spending by proponents, however, is not just on advertising and promotion.

It also includes what initiative organizer David Lujan said is about $4 million to hire paid circulators.

On top of that, he said, are the fees for attorneys — he had no figures — for the legal fight all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court to keep the measure on the ballot in the face of a challenge by the Arizona Chamber.

The Saturday disclosure by the Arizona Chamber actually is more than four days late.

It says that the money it has spent dates back as far as Sept. 15. And any expenditures through the end of September should have been disclosed in a report due on Oct. 15, a report the organization never filed at all.

The Oct. 26 deadline was supposed to cover all the other expenses between the beginning of Oct. and the 17th of the month, the period leading up to the general election, including funding already obligated for yet-to-run last-minute commercials.

Chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor told Capitol Media Services that waiting until Saturday before disclosing any of his organization’s spending was not a purposeful attempt to avoid public scrutiny.

“We inadvertently did not file on time, and once the issue was resolved, the Chamber took immediate action last week to resolve the filing,” he said. And Taylor said the organizations name was listed on advertising.

But Saturday’s filing did not come until a day after Lujan filed a complaint with state Elections Director Bo Dul, pointing out that the Arizona Chamber apparently was spending money and had yet to file any sort of campaign finance disclosure report.

The expenditures come as the most recent poll on Proposition 208, done by Monmouth University in New Jersey, show 60 percent of Arizonans questioned favor the measure that would impose a 3.5% surcharge on income above $250,000 a year for individuals and $500,000 for couples filing separately.

But there also are indications that backing for the proposal may be softening.

An identical survey of registered voters done by Monmouth found 66% support in September. And opposition has grown from 25% in September to 34% last month.

And the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, which opposes the measure, said early last month that its own survey found just 47% in support.

Supporters say the levy, which would affect only about 4% of filers, would generate about $940 million a year.

As described by backers, half of that would be for schools to hire teachers and classroom support personnel, a category that also includes librarians, nurses, counselors and coaches. Those dollars also could be used for raises.

Another quarter would be for support services personnel. That category covers classroom aides, security personnel, food service and transportation.

There’s 12% for grants for career and technical education program.

Another 10% is for mentoring and retaining new teachers in the classroom.

And the last 3% goes to the Arizona Teachers Academy to provide tuition grants for those who go into education.

Opponents contend that the money could end up in what they say are already bloated administrative expenses, citing a report by the state auditor general that just 55 cents of every dollar now raised goes to the classroom, and that the rest goes to administration and overhead.

But that auditor general’s report also says that Arizona schools, on average, spend less on administrative expenses than the rest of the country, an average of $903 per student here versus the most recent national average of $1,383. That accounts for 10 cents of every dollar.

And that 55-cent figure does not include other necessary instructional support like librarians and teacher training, nor guidance counselors, nurses, speech pathologists and social workers.

What’s left is everything from transportation costs to school maintenance.


DACA students to get special tuition rate under proposed Republican law

In this photo taken outside the Arizona State Supreme Court in Phoenix, Monday, April 2, 2018, immigrant students with deferred deportation status hold a banner in support asking the Supreme Court to rule in favor of continuing their access to in-state tuition costs. (AP Photo/Anita Snow)
In this photo taken outside the Arizona State Supreme Court in Phoenix, Monday, April 2, 2018, immigrant students with deferred deportation status hold a banner in support asking the Supreme Court to rule in favor of continuing their access to in-state tuition costs. (AP Photo/Anita Snow)

Barred from receiving in-state tuition at Arizona community colleges and universities, DACA recipients could still get a break on the cost of tuition under a Republican-backed bill.

Sen. Heather Carter’s SB1217 would direct the Arizona Board of Regents and community college governing boards to set a new tuition rate available to anyone who graduates from an Arizona high school.

The Cave Creek Republican envisions a rate higher than the cost of in-state tuition, but lower than tuition for out-of-state students.

That rate would affect not only immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but also undocumented students. Arizona residents who move out of state after graduating high school would also stand to benefit if they choose to return to Arizona to seek a higher degree.

“If a student has been educated in our Arizona K-12 system, it makes perfect sense for us to support and encourage them to continue their education,” Carter said. “…If you graduated from an Arizona high school, you are now eligible at this rate to continue your education in Arizona.”

As introduced, eligibility for the new tuition rate would expire after four years. But Carter told the Arizona Capitol Times she’ll offer an amendment to her bill that would eliminate the expiration date.

If approved, that would provide a discounted tuition rate to Arizona high school graduates who want to further their education in Arizona at any point in their lifetime.

Carter said the amendment aligns with Arizona State University President Michael Crow’s vision for “universal learning.”

“A lot of times we talk about it as being a lifelong learner. People will come in and out of an educational setting at different points in their life,” Carter said. “I think when we’re looking at your pursuit of your academic goals over your lifetime, it is perfectly appropriate to say, yes, 10 years, 15 years after graduation, I want to go back to where I graduated high school and go pursue a higher education goal.”

Carter’s bill aligns with an effort by some in the business community to find an affordable path to higher education for DACA recipients. Jaime Molera, a board member with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has also been in touch with the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and said the organizations are in support of Carter’s effort.

DACA students “are going to remain in Arizona,” he said, “with zero opportunity to get some kind of higher certificate or degree that would allow them to be more productive.”

The trick is to find a path that doesn’t violate Proposition 300, the voter-approved law that bars anyone “without lawful immigration status” from being classified as an in-state student, Molera said. Carter’s legislation skirts the issue by creating a new tuition rate separate from the rate for those who qualify as in-state residents.

Diversity and inclusion benefit all companies

Diverse Group People Working Together Concept

In corporate America, diversity has long been a buzzword. But in recent years, inclusion has been added to the mix.

“I would define diversity as having a lot of difference in the room. I would define inclusion as
having that same variety of diversity but also feeling included in the conversation and decisions that are made,” said Marion K. Kelly, co-founder of the Diversity Leadership Alliance in Phoenix and director of community affairs at the Mayo Clinic. “You can have all the diversity in the world, but if that diverse population that you have is not at the level to make an impact in policy and set the course direction for the organization, all you have is diversity in the room.

“When you have diverse and inclusive individuals in the room who have that
kind of impact, that’s what makes a real difference.”

Michael McQuarrie, director of the Center for Work and Democracy in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University, added that diversity first became an issue for
companies because of the historic exclusion of women and people of color from certain jobs and employment sectors.

“Inclusion is designed to rectify the effects of that institutional and historical exclusion,” he said.

But what of Arizona corporations? Are they dedicated to making diversity and inclusion a way of workplace life? McQuarrie and Kelly say that while no Arizona specifics have been gathered, the state mirrors the national picture, which is not great.

According to Fortune magazine, 27 women were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in 2020. In a 2018 report, the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility states that there were 10 Hispanic Fortune 500 CEOs. Meanwhile, Business Insider finds that currently there are only four Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies — and none of them are women.

“It’s a failing of Arizona, but it’s a prevailing failing across the country,” McQuarrie said.

Glen Hammer, CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, hopes to make Arizona an example for other states. Hamer is serving on a steering committee for a U.S. Chamber of Commerce initiative to address inequality of opportunity through education, employment, entrepreneurship and criminal justice reform.

“Glenn looks forward to joining his colleagues from across the business community not only in dialogue, but in the development of durable solutions to promote greater equity and inclusion,” said Garrick Taylor, senior vice president of Government Relations and Communications for the chamber. “The more our workplaces look like Arizona, the better off we are. This requires constant effort and a willingness to recognize we can always do more.”

As many professionals have heard, change comes from the top down. That’s why having racially and ethnically diverse leaders — or even white leaders ready to listen — can improve a company’s diversity and inclusion record.

“I think it depends on the leadership and what the appetite is of the leadership for diversity inclusion and that makes a major difference,” Kelly said.

That’s especially true if corporate CEOs — overwhelmingly male and white — are open to hearing truth to power.

“I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think that we need to be working toward that,” Kelly said. “You probably know of stories and I certainly know of stories where someone who spoke up in a meeting that was contrary to what the leadership was saying was all of a sudden no longer invited to meetings and in some cases was no longer there at the company. So yeah, that fear component is real. We work out of our experiences and so if the experiences don’t change,
it’s only going to quiet the dissenter.”

Kelly admits that his years of experience have made him bolder when it comes to speaking up, even if it makes fellow executives uncomfortable. He adds that it’s time to have uncomfortable discussions about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

“I speak up much more often than I did, you know, 10, 15, 20, years ago because you go along to get along,” he said. “Now I decided that if they wanted to hear the real truth of our [African-American] experiences, that I had to share that in a manner that was a little more raw than what we normally speak … because it would otherwise go over their heads and they won’t hear the impact.”

But as selfishness often leads to selflessness, some companies that have made diversity and inclusion a part of corporate culture are not doing it simply to be good citizens, although that is a byproduct, McQuarrie said.

“They’re usually not trying to rectify historical and institutional exclusion,” he said. “So, the question is, why do companies actually do this? Part of it is these companies are now often trying to market to different kinds of groups of people with a lot of different backgrounds and a lot of different characteristics.”

In a 2018 report, the Boston Consulting Group found that companies with diverse management teams saw a 19% boost in revenue compared to their less diverse counterparts. In another 2018 report, the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that 43% of companies with diverse boards noticed higher profits.

It’s also important to note that when speaking of diversity and inclusion, the conversation is no longer just about race, ethnicity and gender. Sexual preferences, backgrounds and worldviews should also be represented.

“I think that organizations need to get to the place where they’re allowing their employees to bring all of who they are to work and that we don’t expect them to be a homogenous group,” Kelly said. “As a matter of fact, when the group is homogeneous you get the same milk, you get the same outcome. But when there’s diversity among the staff it brings a different perspective.”

Ducey loses big with Trump, taxes, legal pot

President Donald Trump, left, pauses with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey during a campaign rally Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
President Donald Trump, left, pauses with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey during a campaign rally Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican Governor Doug Ducey was able to keep the Arizona Legislature red, but not everything worked out to his benefit, based on unofficial election results.

Though practically every race appears mathematically decided, Ducey, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich still have to certify the official canvassed results on November 30. When that’s complete, Ducey will sign proof of some devastating defeats.

Republican strategist Chuck Coughlin, who served under Gov. Fife Symington and Gov. Jan Brewer, acknowledged that keeping Republican-control of both the state House and Senate was a big deal, but seeing voters approve “one of the most progressive income tax rates in the country” is something Ducey was adamantly hoping to avoid.

Coughlin is referring to Proposition 208, or Invest in Education, which eked out a victory despite tens of millions of dollars spent to defeat it. It capped off a two-year battle between Ducey’s office and the Red for Ed movement that stormed the Capitol in 2018 demanding higher pay for teachers and other educators.

Coughlin said Ducey and Republican legislators knew there would be an attempt to get this measure on the ballot this year after it was disqualified in 2018, and they still managed to not accomplish something to render a potential ballot measure as moot. 

Chuck Coughlin
Chuck Coughlin

“It was an opportune time for the Republicans to offer an alternative education funding plan with the knowledge that if you didn’t do that the (Arizona Education Association) was going to come forward with a very progressive proposal that was likely to pass,” the Highground Public Affairs president and CEO said. 

Ducey strived under Arizona’s great economy that he helped build after a brutal recession and took pride in slashing taxes for Arizonans every year since he became governor in 2015. He still plans to do so, he told Arizona Capitol Times over the summer, but he just witnessed a large tax increase that targets the highest income earners in the state. Prop. 208 adds a 3.5% surcharge to taxable income for individual filers who make more than $250,000 or for couples who bring home more than $500,000. It is estimated to allocate almost $1 billion for public education. Results as of November 11 have the “yes” side winning by 3.5 percentage points, but the opposition already conceded. 

Ducey worked hard to defeat Prop. 208, but that he may have broken the law trying to convince people to vote no – the Attorney General’s Office is investigating the governor.

Coughlin said the same writing was on the wall for Prop. 207, Smart and Safe Arizona, which aimed to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana. Ducey opposed the effort in 2016 and again this year, but didn’t contribute funds to the opposition campaign. The Legislature did nothing, Coughlin noted, and the pot proposition passed overwhelmingly with roughly 60% of the votes cast. 

Both measures are now voter-protected and will need three-fourths vote in both chambers of the Legislature to alter, but only if it furthers the intent. 

Democratic consultant Julie Erfle said those were bad losses for the governor, but she thinks since the Legislature is still in GOP hands there will be more efforts to try to reform the initiative process. 

Erfle penned an op-ed for the Arizona Mirror claiming the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry suffered the biggest defeats with 207 and 208 winning, given how much money the group spent against them. The chamber is likely the organization that will try to push some initiative reform at the Capitol, already hinting that possibility.

But overall, Erfle thought Ducey’s biggest loss is President Donald Trump not only losing the election to President-elect Joe Biden, but Trump’s loss in Arizona, too. 

“I think the governor needs to understand how he’s likely being perceived by the voters much the same way [Republican Senator Martha] McSally has been perceived, because in the beginning when Trump was first running [in 2016], [Ducey] did try to distance himself and even after Trump was elected he really kind of tried to straddle that fence,” Erfle said, adding that, like McSally, Ducey then fully embraced Trump and began to receive heavy criticism. 

“If there’s one thing that voters really dislike, it’s somebody who they can’t trust, who they don’t think it’s genuine – and the reality is, I don’t see Trump Republicans embracing Doug Ducey, nor do I see moderates embracing him,” she said.

Ducey was lockstep with Trump for pretty much the entire campaign. For example, standing by the president’s side at nearly every rally over Trump’s seven trips to Arizona; flying to Washington, D.C. during the pandemic and forgoing his weekly press briefings; joining Trump at the White House to watch him accept the nomination for re-election, and following Trump’s lead with the handling of COVID-19.

Ducey did not publicly support Trump in 2016 and kept his distance while trying to win a second term as Arizona’s governor in 2018, but this year that distance disappeared.  

Coughlin, however, noted that Trump still got about 72 million votes – the most by any Republican running for president, the most by any sitting president and only the second most in history. Of course the record sits with Biden who defeated Trump, but he still did extremely well. He didn’t buy that Ducey would see much effect from Trump’s loss and speculated that without the pandemic and the economy tanking this year, Trump and McSally may have easily won. 

Kate Brophy McGee
Kate Brophy McGee

Trump was only losing Arizona by 11,635 votes, or less than a half percentage point as of November 12, and McSally trailed Mark Kelly by about 2.3 percentage points with a dwindling vote count. 

What does matter, Coughlin said, is where Ducey decides to go from here. 

“What are you doing now that the economy has taken a dump and the virus is still in play? What are you doing to bring Arizonans together to address the challenges ahead of us,” Coughlin said, adding that if he were advising Symington or Brewer on this he wouldn’t hold an apology tour, but rather just move forward.

Coughlin said he would identify policy issues like tax reform and strengthen personal relationships with legislators. 

One legislator Ducey likely will be losing is one of his closest allies in Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix. She is on her way to lose in the tightest legislative race this year against Democrat Christine Marsh in LD28. 

Brophy-McGee was the most moderate legislator who carried a lot of Ducey’s priorities to fruition either by sponsoring the legislation or being able to work across party lines. With her presence gone from the Capitol, it’s possible bipartisanship will be at an all-time low despite the margins being closer than ever before. 

“I’m not convinced that it will make that much of a difference,” Erfle said about Brophy McGee’s defeat. 

A lot of her votes where she sided with Democrats did not matter much, Erfle said, because unless Brophy McGee was able to convince another Republican the majority party still had enough votes. Brophy McGee was able to save some face with her moderate record without it killing GOP bills. 

“I think it may end up being more of a status quo legislative session that we’ve seen in the past because even though you’ve got one pick up in the Senate, the reality is you still have Republicans in the majority in both chambers,” Erfle said. 

Ducey signs bill to protect businesses from Covid-related lawsuits


Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that would shield businesses from Covid-related lawsuits – one of his top legislative priorities of the year that would also apply to hospitals, nursing homes and schools. 

The bill, SB1377, from Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, was more than a year in the making after the 2020 Arizona Legislature was not able to pass a similar bill due to the pandemic cutting the session short. This year, it passed along party lines in the House, and gained two Democrats supporting it in the Senate.  

Ducey said in his State of the State address in January that this is something he wanted to see completed – it was one of two priorities he actually listed in his speech. The other is to expand off-reservation gambling, which has stalled in the Senate for at least one month now.  

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

He said the bill would prevent a statewide emergency from lining “the pockets of trial attorneys with frivolous lawsuits.” 

Attorney Tom Ryan, who specializes in injury and wrongful death civil litigation, said the measure was unnecessary. 

“This is performative theater art for the uninformed masses that the governor is actually doing something to protect business for a problem that simply doesn’t exist,” he told Capitol Times 

But more than that, Ryan said he thinks the bill is unconstitutional based on a provision in the state constitution that states “the right of action to recover damages for injuries shall never be abrogated, and the amount recovered shall not be subject to any statutory limitation.” Ryan said he thinks that applies to Leach’s bill.  

Garrick Taylor, the interim president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said even though this is not necessarily been an Arizona problem yet, it doesn’t mean it’s unnecessary.  

“This is a common-sense piece of legislation that reflects the unusual times that we are living in,” he said. “It’s important because litigation is costly and a distraction from the mission of the business or entity that’s being sued, and that’s all the more the case when the litigation is of dubious variety.” 

Taylor said the American Tort Reform Association found that the Trial Lawyers Assocation, which opposed the bill, ran more than 175,000 TV advertisements costing roughly $35 million “to recruit Covid-19 plaintiffs” between March and December of 2020.  

“That is a sign that there is a segment of the trial bar that views Covid lawsuits as potentially lucrative,” Taylor said, adding that it sends a clear signal that “this is likely to be the next frontier of litigation.” 

Republicans overwhelmingly supported the liability measure because they said businesses struggled so much during the pandemic so this would provide them with protections from “frivolous lawsuits.” 

Democrats – outside of Senators Sean Bowie and Christine Marsh – opposed it because they deemed it as unnecessary given no lawsuits have existed of the nature the bill aims to avoid. The bill is also retroactive to the beginning of the Covid pandemic in March 2020, wiping out any would-be lawsuits that do not currently exist.  

“Arizona’s health care professionals and others on the front lines have worked day and night this last year to protect sick individuals and vulnerable populations,” Ducey said in a prepared written statement. “We have taken steps to protect both health care heroes and vulnerable Arizonans during the pandemic, and today’s legislation strengthens those protections.” 

Vince Leach
Vince Leach

“Small businesses need certainty under the law that if they act in good faith, they’ll be protected from frivolous lawsuits,” Leach said in a statement.  

Several consumer advocates also opposed the bill because they thought it would reward “bad actors” like the bars and clubs in Old Town Scottsdale or Mill Ave in Tempe that had a direct link to increased positive cases around Memorial Day Weekend last year. Some bars were packed every night due to a loophole in Ducey’s executive order allowing them to appear as if they were restaurants that offered dine-in services. 

Those bars included several owned by the family of Ducey’s senior health policy adviser that were eventually forced to close after severe public outcry, but now are open again after Ducey lifted all occupancy limitations and mask requirements.  

The bill now puts the onus on individuals to prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that they got Covid from that place of business.  

Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale, opposed the bill in the House because he said he thought “employers need to be held liable.”  

“This bill is stripping away their right to stay healthy and, most importantly, to work in a workplace with safety in mind and safe from getting COVID-19 during this pandemic,” he said.  

Businesses advocates were pleased with the bill signing, immediately thanking Ducey and Leach for getting this to happen.  

It’s not just an Arizona situation either. Leach cited “more than 2,000 coronavirus-related cases” across the country in his statement, but failed to list any examples locally. At least 25 other states now have a similar law.  

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a similar bill two weeks ago also hammering a similar message to Ducey about so-called “frivolous lawsuits.”  

Ryan said there’s a reason why Arizona has only seen very few, if any, of these suits so far – mostly because they tend to be difficult and also expensive.  

“They are self-limiting,” he said, adding that there is a lot of “risk management” involved from a legal perspective. “The reason you’re not seeing this tsunami of Covid cases in the state of Arizona is because the vast majority of plaintiff attorneys that handle these kinds of cases look at it and say, ‘what’s the likelihood of success?’ We understand how difficult it is, and contrary to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s idea that lawyers are just out there filing frivolous lawsuits everywhere … that’s a myth.”  

Taylor said it’s not a “blanket immunity bill.” 

“Our desire is to protect truly responsible actors who are doing their best under difficult circumstances,” he said. 


Garcia makes ‘dramatic tilt’ left in run for governor

In this April 12, 2017, file photo, Democrat David Garcia announces his run for Arizona governor at the state Capitol in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Bob Christie, File)
In this April 12, 2017, file photo, Democrat David Garcia announces his run for Arizona governor at the state Capitol in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Bob Christie, File)

You can’t eat David Garcia.

The curious saying stems from when the Democratic gubernatorial candidate served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army.

Garcia and his Army cohorts were told by a commanding officer that their military handbook included the phrase, “you cannot eat another soldier.”

Your fellow soldiers could get you killed, leave you in a foreign land or get you blown up, but they couldn’t cannibalize you, Garcia said at a June 7 fundraiser.

Garcia, who ran for state superintendent of public instruction in 2014 and lost by about 16,000 votes, is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor this cycle.


Well, because you can’t eat him – you can’t destroy him, you can’t get rid of him.

Garcia’s gubernatorial campaign shares some similarities to his previous campaign mostly because he is just as vocal about the fight for public education as he was four years ago.

But in his gubernatorial bid, Garcia is running to the left of where he was four years ago when, as the more mainstream candidate in the general election, he garnered some Republican support and a surprising endorsement from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Now, Garcia is occasionally compared to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — who lost to Hillary Clinton by double digits in Arizona — as he promises free college tuition, shuns big money and backs a ballot initiative that would boost taxes on Arizona’s top earners.

Garcia, who is in a three-way Democratic primary battle, claims he is the same candidate he’s always been: A strong supporter of public education, but this year, he’s running in a totally revamped political environment and he’s letting his progressive flag fly.

A professor at Arizona State University, Garcia was born and raised in Mesa. An Army veteran with his master’s and a doctorate degree in education policy, Garcia jumped into the governor’s race just after Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law expanding vouchers last year. Garcia has never held elected office before, but he has worked on the policy side of government, having served at the Arizona Department of Education and with the state Senate Education Committee.

Democratic candidate for governor David Garcia speaks with a voter June 10 as he canvassed a west Phoenix neighborhood. (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)
Democratic candidate for governor David Garcia speaks with a voter June 10 as he canvassed a west Phoenix neighborhood. (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)

Education governor

Much of Garcia’s previous campaign experience translates to his gubernatorial campaign because education is the top statewide issue this year.

Education funding makes up nearly half the state budget, and education translates to other issues like economic development, prison reform and mental health, he said.

“Arizona’s biggest stumbling block is education,” Garcia said. “We do not invest in our people. We do not invest in our schools.”

This coming from the candidate who rented a school bus as his primary mode of campaign transportation. The bus, which has been wrapped in purplish campaign signs, has been retrofitted with solar panels to help power the work stations and appliances located inside.

But on top of fighting for K-12 education, Garcia has promised free college tuition — an idea made popular by Sanders’ presidential bid — if he’s elected governor.

Garcia has also been extremely vocal in speaking out against dark money and contributions from special interest groups. In his bid for schools superintendent, Garcia was aided by hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent expenditures spent in favor of his campaign and against his opponent, a large chunk of which came from an education nonprofit partly funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He said his campaign did not solicit the outside funding, and had no idea it was coming. Ultimately, Garcia said he had no control over outside groups supporting his campaign.

“As a campaign, you want as much control over what you do as possible, and dark money is not in your control,” he said.

In his gubernatorial bid, Garcia has sworn off lobbyist and corporate PAC money in favor of a small-dollar fundraising strategy that has become increasingly popular among progressive candidates. Garcia has more campaign donors than his opponents, but he has trailed both Ducey and his main primary opponent state Sen. Steve Farley in fundraising.

Sanders revolutionized the small-dollar donation strategy in his presidential bid, creating a model for other candidates to follow, Garcia said.

“There was no meaningful small-dollar path until Bernie Sanders came along,” Garcia said.

A tale of two campaigns

Garcia proponents and opponents attribute his shift to the left as a necessity of running in a competitive primary and a factor of him running for a more partisan statewide office.

Julie Erfle
Julie Erfle

The governor’s race is far more political than the superintendent position, said Garcia’s former campaign spokeswoman Julie Erfle. She helped on Garcia’s campaign for superintendent.

In 2014, Garcia largely talked about education, which isn’t generally thought to be a partisan issue, she said. That race was about presenting a vision for the best education policy going forward, she said.

But far more contentious issues crop up in the governor’s race because there are other areas of policy the governor has to address, Erfle said.

“I think he definitely is coming off as a much more progressive candidate this go-round,” she said. “Though, again, I think that has more to do with the race, and the nature of what’s happening right now in the state.

It’s a different race and a different time, Erfle said.

The political world has been turned on its head in the past four years.

“The world has shifted,” Garcia said. “You’re asking a comparison between 2014 and 2018, but you’ve got to remember 2016 turned everything on its head in lots of ways. There are folks that are out there that are active, that are involved in ways in ‘18 that were not there in ‘14.”

Garcia and his staffer rattled off a list of grassroots movements that have galvanized Democratic support in recent years, including Red for Ed, Black Lives Matter, March for our Lives and annual women’s marches.

Progressive and minority candidates are also making waves, and winning across the country as the backlash against President Donald Trump steamrolls through the 2018 midterm election cycle.

But the political environment has also gotten significantly more polarized in the recent past.

Unfriendly Republican

As Garcia went door to door in a west Phoenix neighborhood — where nearly everyone answered the door in Spanish — on a recent Sunday, the candidate encountered a Republican voter who wasn’t interested in his pitch.

Garcia approached the burly man, who was working on a truck parked in the driveway of a modest, one-story home. Upon hearing Garcia is Democrat, the man exasperatedly waved the candidate and his posse away.

But the encounter didn’t end there.

The man hopped in the truck and circled the block, following Garcia and his staffers as they hit other, nearby homes. At one point, he rolled down a window to chastise Garcia for not knowing better than to solicit a home occupied by strong Republican voters. Later, he appeared to take down the license plate number of a Garcia staffer’s vehicle — the car the group piled into to get to the neighborhood.

And while Republicans typically aren’t as unfriendly, they won’t be keen on supporting Garcia this time around either.

For starters, Garcia is unlikely to get that coveted Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry endorsement this year.

The chamber is a big Ducey supporter, and while the incumbent governor clinching the endorsement is not a done deal, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion.

So, why did the chamber endorse Garcia for superintendent in 2014 — the first time the group supported a statewide Democratic candidate in nearly a decade.

Garrick Taylor
Garrick Taylor

In 2014, Garcia fashioned himself as a commonsense, reform-minded Democrat who was willing to listen to education ideas that were outside of the liberal viewpoint, said chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor. The chamber also liked that Garcia was a proponent of school choice and a supporter of Common Core, which his Republican opponent Diane Douglas vowed to rip apart.

But the Garcia of 2014 is not the one chamber members are seeing on the 2018 campaign trail, Taylor said.

“The David Garcia of 2018 does not appear to have made a slight tilt leftward, but a dramatic tilt to the left — more in line with the Bernie Sanders wing of the party,” Taylor said.

One issue that has really drawn the chamber’s ire this cycle is the Invest in Education Act — a proposed ballot measure to boost income taxes on wealthy Arizonans — a move that the chamber argues could hurt Arizona businesses. Garcia proudly supports the initiative.

But Garcia says his campaign message hasn’t changed. He still supports school choice and Common Core and he’s still railing against standardized tests.

“I ran in 2014 as a strong public education supporter. I’m running in 2018 as a strong public education supporter,” he said. “I’m running again on the idea that we need to get rid of standardized testing, and invest in public education.”

Farley, the state senator from Tucson, recently criticized Garcia for working with Arizona Republicans on education policy. He was specifically referring to former Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, who as a lawmaker in 1994 sponsored legislation to create charter schools in Arizona. Garcia worked at the Department of Education and then, as an associate superintendent of public instruction under Keegan.

Part of why Garcia was able to pick up some Republican support and the chamber’s endorsement in 2014 was because the business community was worried about Douglas and her positions on education, said former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera. But Molera, a Republican and a Ducey supporter, also pointed to the Invest in Education Act as an example that Garcia is endorsing more progressive policies this go-round.

Molera attributed Garcia’s shift to the left to the contested Democratic gubernatorial primary in which Garcia faces Farley and Kelly Fryer, CEO of the YWCA Southern Arizona.

Garcia is speaking almost exclusively to members of his party right now, he said. He’s trying to nail down support from progressives, the unions, and environmentalists — that’s why he’s tacking to the left, Molera said.

Molera endorsed Garcia’s 2014 bid for superintendent. Garcia would still make an excellent candidate for superintendent, but he’s not the best candidate for governor, he said.

Ducey’s political adviser J.P. Twist labeled Garcia as too “extreme” for Arizona.

“David Garcia very easily is the most extreme candidate of either party to seek the governorship in modern Arizona history,” he said. “As voters learn about the candidates, they are seeing the real Garcia, a big-spending liberal who would bankrupt the state many times over.”

Garcia has jumped headfirst into his campaign, but he’s also already imagining what it would be like to be governor of Arizona.

“When we win this, and we’re there in the Governor’s Office and you’re wondering what Garcia is going to do. … Know one thing, folks. They can’t eat me,” he said.

Governor has much to consider before restart of economy

Gov. Doug Ducey discusses COVID-19 and the state's response at a press conference last week. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey discusses COVID-19 and the state’s response at a press conference last week. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey has to decide this week whether his executive orders limiting activity due to COVID-19 are worth the continued harm to the Arizona economy.

The governor most immediately has to act on his month-old stay-at-home order telling people they cannot go out unless they are engaged in an essential activity. That edict self-destructs at midnight Thursday night unless renewed.

Given Ducey’s cautious approach to enacting the order in the first place — at least two dozen other governors had acted before Arizona’s March 31 implementation — it is unlikely he would allow it to simply expire. Instead the expectation is for a loosening, perhaps tied to some advisories about social distancing.

And it won’t matter much, at least to the Arizona economy, unless Ducey also alters his list of what are “essential” business and services — and the more important list of what are not and must remain shuttered. There is no deadline for Ducey to act as that order on essential businesses remains in effect until he alters or rescinds it.

The governor’s orders already permit people to go out to shop at essential businesses. So easing his order to let people go out won’t mean anything if there’s no new places for them to go, whether to shop,  dine, drink or even have a picnic in the park.

Arizona Chamber of Commerce CEO Glenn Hamer, left, earlier this year with Gov. Doug Ducey (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)
Arizona Chamber of Commerce CEO Glenn Hamer, left, earlier this year with Gov. Doug Ducey (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

But here, too, the governor was slow and deliberate about deciding what can remain open, even to the point of initially concluding that barber shops, hair salons, spas and tattoo parlors were essential until he finally acknowledged that there was no reasonable way to maintain social distance.

A similar loosening is likely to be in a stepped approach, providing additional opportunities for people to shop — with some controls.

That’s exactly the course being urged by Glenn Hamer, chief executive of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a close political ally.

“As we thaw out parts of the economy that have been frozen, we need to do that safely,” he said. That starts with opening up smaller retail operations with “appropriate social distancing” and other safety protocols.

But all that is too slow for some Arizonans who want Ducey to immediately scrap both his stay-at-home and essential services orders.

Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, said he does not dispute that the orders — fewer infections and “flattening the curve” to preserve hospital beds — appear to have worked.

“The question is, to what extent?” he told Capitol Media Services after a rally last week.

“How long do we wait to get our economy back?” Farnsworth continued. “I think the majority of the people down here feel like the time has come, that the main point of danger has passed, that it’s time to reopen.”

All this occurs against the backdrop of additional hits to the Arizona economy, with even more people applying last week for first-time unemployment benefits. That puts the number of Arizonans who have lost their jobs since the outbreak — and his executive orders — in the half-million range.

But it also comes as questions remain about how extensive is the virus in Arizona and whether, without comprehensive data, it is premature to reopen segments of the state economy.

The health department reported Monday another 1,732 people had been tested. That brings the overall tally in the state to 66,543.

That is just 0.9 percent of the total population. Kaiser Family Foundation finds only Virginia with a per capita testing rate as low.

There have been some moves to improve that, including an order from state Health Director Cara Christ last week allowing those who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 to get tested.

And on Monday, Ducey announced what he called the Arizona Testing Blitz, aiming to get anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 people tested every Saturday for three consecutive weeks, beginning this weekend.

“The testing is important,” said gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak, saying that’s why Ducey announced the blitz, though it won’t start before his boss has to make a decision on the stay-at-home order.

But Ptak said Ducey’s decision will be based on more than just test results.

“Other data is also important, like whether our hospitals are prepared,” he said. And Arizona got some good news, with the health department saying Monday was the first day in more than a month that no COVID-19 deaths were reported.

The governor separately has been promoting antibody testing to determine who already has had the virus — and may now be immune. And Ducey has made it clear that, too, will figure in the decisions he has to make.

“Antibody testing can be a game-changer in our fight against COVID-19,” he said in a prepared statement last week when Sonora Quest Laboratories announced it will offer such blood tests in addition to diagnostic tests to determine active infection. “This is another welcome expansion that will help provide certainty as Arizona looks to economic recovery at the appropriate time.”

Ducey also is touting a new program at the University of Arizona which is providing $3.5 million to test 250,000 health care workers and first responders to determine who has been exposed to the virus and developed antibodies. But the first testing won’t begin until later this week, and initially only in Pima County.

Hamer said the bottom line — and the message he wants the governor to have — is that businesses want to reopen.

“Arizonans want to work,” he said.

“We want to see people go back to work,” Hamer continued. “And we want to see our economy fully restored.”

Still, he said, it has to be done in a prudent and safe fashion.

“And it’s going to be done in phases,” Hamer said.

He said there are models out that that work.

“Protocols are going to have to be in place that limit traffic,” Hamer said.

That’s already being done in many grocery, home improvement and department stores, with a new customer being let in when one leaves. And he said that’s even more important as the rules for who can open are broadened.

“We can’t have a gazillion people in a small store when you have a pandemic without effective therapeutics and good treatment,” Hamer said. And he said there are likely to be other mandates and suggestions, ranging from sheets of plastic separating customers from cashiers to tape lines on the floor marking social distance for those waiting in line.

All this presumes that even if Ducey loosens the restrictions that Arizonans will be willing to foray out.

“Consumer confidence is the $64,000 question,” Hamer conceded. “It’s very important for the governor’s actions to continue to be consistent with the comfort level of the citizens.”

Groups challenge proposed ballot measures in court


Business groups are trying to keep Arizonans from voting on proposals to hike taxes on the most wealthy and give hospital workers a pay hike.

One challenge, filed by a group financed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, alleges that the legally required 100-word description given to initiative petition signers about the effects of the tax increase to generate nearly $1 billion a year for K-12 education fails to adequately describe how it works. Foes contend that those who were asked to put the measure on the November ballot were never told it was an entirely new tax and how it would result in “a near-doubling” of the marginal tax rates owed by many businesses.

If that claim sounds familiar, it should. The chamber used it successfully two years ago in its bid to keep a similar measure off the 2018 ballot.

The other from a group financed by the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association contends that the initiative process was flawed because it never identified as Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West as its sponsor and source of its funds.

Foes of this measure also claim that the 100-word description on petitions is “highly misleading.”

David Lujan, the director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress and the author of the tax plan, said the challenge by the chamber is “disappointing but not surprising.”

David Lujan
David Lujan

“The chamber has continually shown that they’re more interested in protecting well-paid CEOs rather than helping Arizona schools,” he said.

The proposal imposes what the initiative calls a 3.5 percent “surcharge” on incomes above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples. Put another way, it would only be the earnings above that point that would be affected.

Challengers say that obscures the fact that people in that tax bracket already are paying a 4.5 percent state income tax on earnings at that level.

“Yet by saying the initiative ‘establishes a 3.5 percent surcharge’ on this income, the summary gives signers the misimpression that the income is currently untaxed,” wrote the attorneys for Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy, the chamber-financed group formed to fight the initiative.

They said it should have been portrayed to petition signers as an 8% tax rate on incomes above the threshold.

“A voter might be willing to tax their fellow citizens 3.5% but not 8%,” the attorneys are telling the judge. They said that should be listed as an 80 percent increase.

Lujan, however, said there’s nothing misleading about it.

For example, Lujan said, a couple earning $501,000 would pay the same tax as now on the money they earn. Then, there would be an additional 3.5% levy on $1,000 — the amount at which the tax kicks in, or $35.

Challengers also contend there are other misleading statements in that 100-word description, like the claim that the money would be used to “hire and increase salaries for teachers.” But they said the actual texts reveals the cash could be spent on those who “support student academic achievement,” a definition they say could include custodians and bus drivers.

There also is a claim that the measure would have a harsh effect on small businesses whose income tax is reported on their owners’ individual tax forms.

But Lujan said that ignores the fact that the tax is imposed not on the gross income of a business but only on what the business owner brings home, after paying all expenses like employees salaries, rent and utilities.


The measure the hospitals are seeking to quash would guarantee 20% raises over four years to certain hospital personnel, impose new infection-control standards on hospitals and put a provision in Arizona law designed to ensure that individuals with pre-existing health conditions can purchase insurance at affordable prices if the federal Affordable Care Act ultimately is voided by the courts or repealed by Congress.

Attorneys for the hospitals, in attempting to keep this off the November ballot, are relying in part on what appear to be technical issues with wording and the failure to define some of the terms.

hospital-featuredBut the lawsuit also takes aim at the claim that the measure, if approved “sets new minimum wages for direct care workers at private hospitals.”

“A reasonable voter would interpret ‘direct care workers’ to mean that wage rates will be adjusted for those directly involved in the care of patients such as a physician, nurse, or an imaging technician,” wrote attorney Brett Johnson.

In fact, he said, the text of the initiative instead refers to “direct care hospital workers.” And it defines that to include nurses, aides, technicians , janitorial and housekeeping staff, food service workers and nonmanagerial administrative staff — but not doctors.

Johnson also finds fault with the claim that the initiative, if approved, “prohibits insurers from discriminating against pre-existing conditions.” But he said that doesn’t make it clear that it would apply only to health and disability insurance and not things like life or property and casualty insurance.

“This broad overstatement is fraudulent and/or would cause a significant danger of confusion to a reasonable person,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also takes aim at the wording of another provision designed to protect patients from “surprise out-of-network bills” they receive after it turns out that someone who cared for them in the hospital was not actually part of their insurer’s health care network.

Holly Ward, spokeswoman for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, said a measure like this is a bad idea in these “extraordinary times,” mentioning that staffers “are working tirelessly to care for everyone who comes in for care.”

“We don’t need to drive costs up for hospitals and ultimately patients,” she said.

Rodd McLeod, spokesman for the initiative, said the fact that the hospitals are going to court is telling.

“This lawsuit is just an admission by the hospitals that they’re not going to be able to convince Arizonans to vote against affordable health care at the ballot box so they’re going to try to deny voters a chance to have a vote at all,” he said.

McLeod also took a separate swat at state Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, who signed on as a plaintiff with the hospitals. He said that Leach opposed legislation pushed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer to expand the state’s Medicaid program.

“So it’s no surprise to see him standing with millionaire CEOs and against ordinary families that get stuck with surprise bills,” McLeod said.

Leach declined to comment.

Both lawsuits now head to Maricopa County Superior Court where judges will consider the merits of the arguments. But in both cases the final decision is likely to come from Arizona Supreme Court.

Groups roll out proposed remake of campaign finance

Joel Edman, of the Arizona Advocacy Network, speaks during a news conference in Phoenix on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. Arizonans for Fair Elections took the first step Wednesday to getting an ambitious set of elections reforms on the 2020 ballot. (AP Photo/Terry Tang)
Joel Edman, of the Arizona Advocacy Network, speaks during a news conference in Phoenix on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. Arizonans for Fair Elections took the first step Wednesday to getting an ambitious set of elections reforms on the 2020 ballot. (AP Photo/Terry Tang)

A sweeping ballot measure filed October 30 by a coalition of liberal advocacy groups aims to make voting easier and reduce the impact of money in campaigns.

The measure, dubbed the Fair Elections Act, would allow same-day voter registration, provide for automatic voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles and greatly expand the state’s Clean Elections public campaign financing program. It also would limit lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and cap private campaign contributions.

“We’d rather err on the side of trying to solve as many problems for democracy as we can,” said Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, the main group behind the campaign.

Edman described the measure as a “campaign to curtail the corrupting influence of big money in our politics.” But he didn’t rule out the possibility that the campaign would accept contributions from dark money groups as it strives to gather the 238,000 valid signatures of registered voters necessary to make the November 2020 ballot and the votes needed to pass the measure.

Voter registration

Since Oregon passed its first-in-the-nation “motor voter” law in 2016, 17 other states and the District of Columbia have passed laws requiring residents to opt out of registering to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Under the Arizona proposal, any citizen who applies for, renews or updates a driver’s license and has not yet registered to vote would automatically be registered as a nonaffiliated voter. They could opt out of registering to vote or choose a political party by returning a pre-addressed, pre-stamped form to the County Recorder’s Office.

The measure also would allow same-day voter registration, now allowed in 21 other states and the District of Columbia, according to NCSL. By 2021, when a New Mexico law passed this year takes effect, all of Arizona’s neighbors will permit same-day registration.

Aryhanna Meza, an Arizona State University student whose mother and brother work long hours at a packaging plant and whose father drives full-time for a ride-hailing company, said automatic and same-day voter registration would help people like her family

“My family and many Arizona families who work low-wage jobs don’t have the time to register to vote,” Meza said at a press conference staged by organizers.

It also would allow election officials to count mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day, leading to potentially later results in close races.

State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, the Scottsdale Republican who leads GOP legislative efforts on election measures, said she thinks the proposed ballot measure is a “disaster.”

Michelle Ugenti-Rita
Michelle Ugenti-Rita

“They bastardized the registration process, the ID requirements, and it’s very hard to understand why they would do that, other than to try to get an outcome that you’re not getting anywhere else, and I’m concerned about it,” Ugenti-Rita said.

She was particularly troubled by a clause that would allow a county elections departments to accept non-traditional addresses, such as mile markers or geographic landmarks, when registering voters. Tribal leaders say many rural tribal members don’t have standard addresses.

And Ugenti-Rita also questioned the reasoning behind automatic voter registration, pointing out that the state also requires residents to opt into receiving their ballots by mail, receive benefits and become licensed drivers.

“It’s un-American to do it the other way, to just assume people want something without having them first tell you that they want it,” she said.

Campaign finance

The measure would severely cap private contributions. Individuals, who can now give $6,250 to candidates, would be limited to $1,000 for local and legislative candidates and $2,500 for statewide candidates.

Political action committees would be limited to $1,000 in contributions to candidates for all offices, while PACs that receive contributions from more than 500 people could give up to $2,000 per candidate.

But candidates who run campaigns funded through Clean Elections could spend significantly more. Publicly financed legislative candidates could go from being allowed to spend no more than $13,000 in primaries to spending nearly $23,000 in primaries and $34,500 in the general election.

Publicly financed candidates for governor, meanwhile, could spend up to $1.8 million in their primary races and $2.7 million in their general election campaigns. That’s more than David Garcia, the 2018 Democratic candidate for governor, spent, though barely one-third of Gov. Doug Ducey’s 2018 spending.

Beyond the higher spending limits, publicly financed candidates could receive more cash for their campaigns in the form of certificates distributed to voters. The measure would create a program to send each registered voter certificates representing between $50 and $150 and allow them to sign those certificates over to candidates.

With certificates, candidates for governor could get up to an additional $5.4 million to spend on their general election campaigns. Legislative candidates could get up to $69,000 extra.

Much of the funding for the expanded Clean Elections program would come from restoring a $5 Clean Election tax credit and the ability to make a voluntary gift to the Citizens Clean Elections Fund, both repealed in 2012, Edman said. Prior to the repeal, the fund gained about $7 million annually from taxpayers, he said.

Other additional funding would come from increasing the state’s corporate minimum income tax from $50 to $150.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry has not yet taken a position on the measure but generally takes a “dim view” of publicly financed elections, spokesman Garrick Taylor said.

“There’s a better way to spend public resources than on yard signs, junk mail and robocalls,” Taylor said.

The chamber also is likely to oppose tighter caps on contributions from political action committees. “We’ve typically been concerned about efforts to erode entities’ ability to participate in the political process,” Taylor said.


Other provisions in the measure crack down on lobbying. It would expand the one-year ban on former senators or representatives from lobbying at the Legislature to two years.

And free lunches, plane tickets and hotel rooms paid for by lobbyists are off the table. The measure allows lawmakers and public employees to accept only food and beverages with a total value of $20 or less and eliminates exemptions for travel and lodging expenses and speaking engagements.

Edman said the measure would fill loopholes created by the state’s lobbying law. In theory, he said, the law prohibits lobbyists from giving gifts, but in practice there are enough exceptions that lawmakers can still receive plenty.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include statements from Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, and Garrick Taylory, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

ICE to focus on businesses that hire undocumented immigrants

Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, speaks after a Heritage Foundation presentation at which he said his agency would focus on businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Cronkite News)
Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, speaks after a Heritage Foundation presentation at which he said his agency would focus on businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Cronkite News)

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to boost its efforts targeting businesses by “four to five times” and will prosecute employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, the acting director of the agency said October 17.

Thomas Homan said the goal of the new policy is to cut off the supply of jobs that will keep people coming here illegally “as long as they come and get a job.”

An Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman said business leaders are willing to comply with the enforcement program, but cautioned against the administration taking a “hostile” approach with business owners.

Arizona employers are already required to use E-Verify to check a job applicant’s citizenship status, a policy Homan said he would like to see extended nationwide.

Homan’s comments came during a speech at the Heritage Foundation, where he criticized sanctuary cities and defended ICE’s practices of deporting immigrants who are suspected gang members, and arresting them near schools, hospitals, courthouses and other areas that have been off-limits in the past.

Homan stressed that except for immigrants who currently enjoy DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, protection, “nobody is off the table.” He said he hopes to send a message to those breaking the law that “we’re no longer going to turn our heads, we’re going to enforce the laws on the books.”

ICE was one of the federal immigration enforcement agencies that collaborated on an immigration policy priority wish-list released last week by the White House. Among the more than 70 items on the list is a call for employers nationwide to be required to use E-Verify.

Use of E-Verify, a federal database that helps employers determine the citizenship status of job applicants, was one of the immigration pledges made by President Donald Trump during his campaign. The administration included a request for $131.5 million in the budget for upgrades to E-Verify, with an eye toward pushing it nationwide in three year.

Arizona has long required employers to use E-Verify when making a hire. Despite doubts early on, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Garrick Taylor said deployment of the program to state workplaces went smoothly, but he is not sure a nationwide implementation would be as easy.

Taylor said that if there are employers “knowingly hiring folks without work authorization, they ought to be punished.” But if federal law does require businesses to use the program, he said he hopes the rollout would be done in partnership with employers.

“We would hope that there’s a desire from the administration to work with employers so that employers know exactly what the rules of the road are, how you use E-Verify, and what all that entails,” Taylor said.

But immigration advocates said authorities should think twice before making E-Verify mandatory nationwide.

Immigrants are needed to fill manual labor jobs that Americans may not be willing to take, said Petra Falcon, executive director of the Latino voter outreach organization Promise Arizona. Rather than deporting them outright, Falcon said the government should work with employers to find a solution to keep them here.

“We know that they’re here, we’re inviting them to come and work in the fields, in construction, in this economy and yet they’re not invited to receive the benefits of doing that in this country,” Falcon said.

Falcon said she is disappointed but not surprised by the agency’s decision to ramp up workplace enforcement and said it is in step with the Trump administration’s rhetoric of “targeting the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Investment in autonomous vehicle industry could reap 75K jobs

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo, a skylight is reflected in the rear window of a Waymo driverless car during a Google event in San Francisco. Arizona will be home to a sprawling facility for researching the safety of self-driving cars, cementing the state's determination to invest in the technology. Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, establishing the newly-created Institute for Automated Mobility. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo, a skylight is reflected in the rear window of a Waymo driverless car during a Google event in San Francisco.  (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

As we embark upon a new decade, it’s hard to miss the technological advances happening all around us. Arizona in 2020 is a state ripe with investment in cutting-edge technology, one where entrepreneurship is thriving and the breakthroughs of tomorrow are happening right in our own backyard.

Arizona’s autonomous vehicle sector is a prime example of how our state has positioned itself to be on the leading edge of the future. After all, it’s where The New York Times said “self-driving cars go to learn.”

While it’s easy to imagine a future zipping around the state in driverless cars, what hasn’t been simple is measuring the actual economic impact of this future for our state. But economist Jim Rounds crunched the numbers and recently released a report for the Arizona Chamber Foundation on the various models and assumptions for Arizona. One thing they all point to? By leading other states, Arizona is poised to reap a disproportionate share of the billions in economic growth and investment this new industry will bring.

Rounds estimates – conservatively – that a $6.1 billion investment in autonomous vehicle research and development would lead to over 75,000 new Arizona jobs across the industry itself and in supporting industries by 2026. To put this in perspective, the growth alone in autonomous vehicle-related work in the next few years will employ more than double the number of Arizonans working in state government.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the way Arizona has uniquely positioned itself among the states to provide a welcoming environment to innovators. For example, thanks to an executive order from Gov. Doug Ducey, the Arizona Commerce Authority now houses the Institute of Automated Mobility, a team that bridges government, innovating companies, and higher education institutions to facilitate the safe development of these technologies.

Higher education is actually a critical part of this consortium. By training students for a high-tech industry poised to grow here at home, Arizona’s colleges and universities are simultaneously meeting the industry’s demand and retaining Arizona’s best and brightest.

We are investing in a workforce designed to grow with the autonomous-vehicle industry, positioning our state as the top location for additional investments by companies working in this space.

In fact, Arizona’s universities are partnering with the firms pioneering this technology to graduate engineers and software developers. That means the students we are investing in at our state universities are staying here, working here, and keeping their economic contributions here in Arizona.

But it’s not just our universities. Community colleges in Phoenix’s East Valley and Pima Community College in Tucson have developed training programs in cyber-security and autonomous truck operation that are training Arizonans directly for high-demand jobs in the workforce.

With more Arizonans taking jobs in this promising, high tech field, and companies like Waymo and Intel – which in 2017 purchased Israel-based autonomous tech firm Mobileye – expanding their research, development, and manufacturing footprints to support that growth, there is also substantial benefit to the state and local governments in tax collection over the next decade.

If we continue to support the growth of autonomous-vehicle technology in Arizona, it will yield significant resources to state and local governments that can be re-invested in priorities like education and public safety. Rounds estimates that an additional $250-350 million in taxes could be collected by 2026 in autonomous-vehicle sector growth alone, using a conservative approach to modeling the calculations. Those are substantial resources for reinvesting in our state’s priorities.

Rounds’ calculations give us a clear vision for Arizona’s economic future if we continue on the path of welcoming the forward-thinking industry. It’s an Arizona with 75,000 more people working in good-paying jobs, an Arizona training our students for the jobs of the future, and an Arizona that’s reaping the benefits of a growing, successful tax base.

But perhaps more important than any of the economic growth that Arizona will gain by being a leader is the potential impact to road safety we stand to gain. Over 800 people die in fatal car crashes in Arizona each year. Autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to bring that number down dramatically by reducing the human error that is the cause of so many accidents. It’s why groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the National Safety Council have partnered with Waymo here in Arizona. We owe it to ourselves in Arizona to welcome technologies that have potential to keep our roads safer and save lives.

As this new analysis methodically predicts, Arizona can anticipate a bright, safe, and economically prosperous future if we continue to welcome innovation and resist overregulation.

— Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the chairman of the Arizona Chamber Foundation.

Judge disqualifies health care initiative from ballot


Arizonans won’t be voting in November on a proposal to hike pay of hospital workers and guarantee that those with pre-existing conditions can get affordable health insurance.

In an extensive ruling late Friday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Pamela Gates said there are not enough valid signatures on petitions submitted by a California union to put the issue on the ballot. Gates found that some circulators were not legally qualified to circulate the petitions.

In other cases, she said, some of the 332 circulators subpoenaed by foes of the initiative failed to appear in court to be questioned. Gates said the signatures they gathered also cannot be counted.

All that left the backers of the Healthcare Rising measure with fewer than the 237,645 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

Campaign spokesman Rodd McLeod said there will be an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Pamela Gates
Pamela Gates

The initiative sought to require a 20% pay hike for hospital workers — excluding executives and doctors — over a four year period.

It also proposed a guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions will be able to obtain affordable insurance if the federal Affordable Care Act is repealed. Another provision was designed to protect patients against “surprise” medical bills from doctors and others in hospitals who turn out to be “out of network.”

And it also sought to require hospitals to comply with certain national standards of infection control.

Foes, led by the hospitals and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, filed suit. They cited a litany of what they said were flaws in both how signatures were gathered and in the wording of the description of the initiative provided to petition signers.

They also charged that signers were deceived because the names used by the backers of the initiative and of the campaign committee did not disclose that it was being financed by the California-based Service Employees International Union — Union Healthcare Workers West.

Gates acknowledged that virtually all of the $6.7 million raised by June 30 came from the union. But she also said there was not “sufficient credible evidence” to conclude that potential petition signers were defrauded or that anyone was confused or misled because SEIU-UHW was not included in the committee’s name.

But Gates did find other legal problems, even if some of the signatures are restored.

One, she said, goes to the 100-word description which says it will “prohibit insurers from discriminating based on preexisting conditions.”

Gates said the evidence shows that about 60 percent of Arizonans are insured through an employer’s self-funded insurance plan. More to the point, the initiative would apply only to those who purchase individual or group plans. And she said it was misleading not to tell signers that the provision would not aid a majority of Arizonans.

She also said it was misleading to say that the initiative would set “new minimum wages” for workers at private hospitals. Gates said there was evidence that people, confronted with that phrase, would equate it with some bottom-level wage set by federal and state law and not the fact that the raises would be on top of what could be a current $37-an-hour salary paid to an experienced nurse.

Friday’s ruling was cheered by Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber. He said it would “have forced tremendous cost increases onto patients and hospitals.”

Two other initiatives have cleared their first legal challenges, one to legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults and another to give judges more discretion in sentencing “nondangerous” offenders.

But a proposal to increase income taxes on the highest income earners to fund K-12 education was found to have a flawed description.

All of those rulings, however, are subject to Supreme Court review.

Judge rules tax on rich initiative can go to ballot

Mesa High School teacher Joshua Buckley explains Friday why he and David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, are proposing a large surcharge on income taxes paid by state residents who earn the most money to fund public education (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Mesa High School teacher Joshua Buckley explains Friday why he and David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, are proposing a large surcharge on income taxes paid by state residents who earn the most money to fund public education (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)


Note: This story has been updated to include information on a conflicting opinion on strict-compliance. 

A judge has slapped down efforts by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry to block people from voting whether to hike income taxes on the rich to generate $690 million a year for education.

In an extensive ruling Thursday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith acknowledged that, strictly speaking, hiking the top income tax rate from 4.54 percent to 8 percent for those earning more than $250,000 a year actually increases the tax rate on those earnings by 76 percent. Similarly, taking the tax rate for earnings above $500,000 for individuals to 9 percent is a 98 percent increase over the current rate.

But Smith said that did not make it inherently misleading for organizers of the Invest in Ed initiative to describe the tax hikes as 3.46 percent and 4.46 percent, the absolute difference between the current rate and the proposed new ones.

It is true, Smith said, that technically speaking, the 100-word description of the key provisions of the measure, required by state law, should probably have said it was raising the tax rate by 3.46 and 4.46 “percentage points,” respectively.

“While that likely would be more precise, the existing summaries are not fatally misleading without that verbiage,” the judge wrote, meaning the use of the smaller numbers is not enough to block a vote.

Attorneys for the chamber had argued the use of 3.46 and 4.46 percent was misleading, causing some people to sign the petition to put the issue on the November ballot who would have balked at a measure described as hiking tax rates by 76 and 98 percent, even just for the rich.

Smith conceded that initiative organizers crafted the description “undoubtedly … to appeal to potential voters.” But he said that does not make it inaccurate or misleading.

Anyway, the judge pointed out that the full text of the initiative — including the current and proposed tax rates — were attached to the petitions, so those who might have been confused could check for themselves before signing

Smith also was no more impressed with arguments by Kory Langhofer, attorney for the chamber, that the measure could not be on the ballot because that 100-word description does not mention that the initiative also would eliminate automatic indexing of income tax brackets to account for inflation. That provision is designed to keep people from being bumped into higher tax categories solely because their pay hikes are no more than normal inflation.

Initiative backers deny the measure would affect indexing.

Smith said even if it does repeal indexing — a legal finding he chose not to decide — it doesn’t matter.

He said Arizona law requires only that the “principal provisions” of the initiative be listed in the description. And the judge said the effect of any change in indexing is minimal compared to the key provision of hiking income taxes on the state’s most wealthy.

Langhofer already has filed the paperwork for review by the Arizona Supreme Court.

Thursday’s ruling actually is a double setback for the Arizona Chamber.

In a potentially more significant finding, Smith also said state legislators acted illegally in enacting a requirement in 2017 that all efforts by voters to enact their own laws must be in “strict compliance” with each and every election statute.

That change allows initiatives to be kept off the ballot because of largely technical errors in the petitions. Prior to that, courts had allowed measures on the ballot if there was just “substantial compliance” with election laws.

It was the chamber that pushed the measure through the Republican-controlled Legislature on the heels of voters approving an initiative raising the state’s minimum wage from $8.05 an hour at the time to $10.50 now — and eventually to $12 by 2020.

The judge said he reads the Arizona Constitution to provide voters with wide latitude in being able to enact their own laws. And that, he said, means lawmakers cannot tinker with it.

“Legislation requiring strict compliance with every statutory provision regarding initiatives unconstitutionally infringes on separation of powers and fundamental rights under the Arizona Constitution,” Smith wrote.

Just hours later, however, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Kiley reached the opposite conclusion.

In that case, the committee seeking to put a renewable energy mandate on the ballot argued that allowing petitions to be judged — and rejected — based on strict compliance would “choke the life” from the power of people to put things on the ballot. Kiley disagreed, citing similar requirements elsewhere.

“The court sees no basis for the committee’s assertion that such a standard, applied by courts in other jurisdictions with similar constitutional provisions, would impose an intolerable burden on the right to initiative in Arizona,” he wrote.

Thursday’s conflicting rulings mean the Arizona Supreme Court will have to determine who is right — and soon as what the justices rule ultimately could determine what will be on the November ballot.

The idea behind the power of initiative, put into the Arizona Constitution in 1912, was to give voters a chance to approve their own laws when elected legislators will not.

That, in turn, has resulted in voter approval of a series of measures that the business community — and the lawmakers who support them — never wanted. These range from public financing of elections and legalizing medical marijuana to a ban on leg-hold traps on public lands and the creation of a state minimum wage higher than required by federal law.

It was that last action that led the Republican-controlled Legislature to vote to impose the “strict compliance” standard.

Smith’s ruling — and Langhofer’s appeal — will provide the first opportunity for the Arizona Supreme Court to decide if lawmakers have that power.

Judge to decide whether tax on rich initiative used deceptive language

FILE - In this April 17, 2020, file photo dormant school buses are secured at a facility in Tempe, Ariz. Planning is underway to prepare for reopening Arizona's public schools in the next school year and the state's top education official says the resulting decisions that will be made and the guidance provided to local districts won't come too soon. Some districts start their school years as early as mid-July, with most others following in August, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman told KJZZ. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
In this April 17, 2020, file photo dormant school buses are secured at a facility in Tempe, Ariz.  (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

Business interests trying to quash a vote on higher taxes on the rich sought to convince a judge Wednesday that extent and breadth of the proposed new levy is being purposely understated and misleading.

Attorneys for both the Invest in Education initiative and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry all agree that the measure, if approved by voters, would create an effective income tax rate on earnings above $250,000 of 8.04 percent, up from 4.54 percent now.

Taxes on earnings below that would remain unchanged. And estimates are that only about 4 percent of all Arizona taxpayers would be affected.

Only thing is, the description provided to those signing the initiative — and in the initiative text itself — says the measure will impose “a surcharge at the rate of 3.5 percent.” That, the business group contends, misleads the public about the extent of the change which is designed to raise $940 million a year for K-12 education.

They contend what’s really at issue is a 77.7% increase in the top tax rate. And now they want Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury to declare that the failure to sufficiently explain the extent of what is being proposed means the petitions and the initiative wording are fatally flawed and cannot be put before voters.

(Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)
(Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

At least part of the objection from the business foes goes to the use of the word “surcharge.”

“What the initiative refers to as a ‘surcharge’ is a tax,” according to attorney Brett Johnson who is representing the business interests trying to keep the measure off the ballot.

And it’s not just the word “surcharge” that he is arguing to Coury is misleading.

“When the petition’s 100-word description refers to establishing a 3.5 percent surcharge’ on this income, it gives voters the misimpression that the income in question is currently untaxed,” Johnson said. “After all, ‘establish’ refers to starting something that does not currently exist.”

All that, he said, is designed by proponents of the initiative to convince people to sign the petition and support the measure.

“Voters would find the distinction between a new tax and a tax increase material,” Johnson said. “Someone might be willing to tax their fellow citizens 3.5 percent but not 8 percent.”

But for Johnson to win the case — and have the measure removed from the ballot — he needs more than his own assessment. So the foes retained economist Jim Rounds.

“It would have been improper and possibly misleading to use the word ‘surcharge’ instead of ‘tax increase,” Rounds told Coury on Wednesday. He suggested words like ‘surcharge’ and ‘revenue enhancement’ are designed to hide the true nature of what is being proposed.

But attorney Marvin Ruth pointed out that Rounds, in submitting his own argument urging voters to reject the initiative, actually used the word “surcharge.”

Jim Rounds
Jim Rounds

Rounds said he still considers it a tax hike, saying it would take the top tax rate up past 8 percent.

But Ruth pointed out it’s not that simple.

He said the surcharge, if approved by voters, would exist independent of the income tax system. And what that means, Ruth said, is the 3.5 percent levy would remain even if the legislature were to abolish the regular state income tax.

And that, Ruth suggested, makes it a surcharge versus a simple tax increase.

Verbiage issues aside, Rounds also testified that there’s something else missing from the way the levy is described in the initiative: who it would affect.

It spells out that the levy would apply to individual incomes of more than $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples. But Rounds said what the initiative does not say is that it also would affect certain kinds of small businesses.

That includes not just sole proprietorships where any business income is attributable to the individual owner. It also would affect businesses incorporated under Subchapter S of the Internal Revenue Code.

Traditional corporations pay taxes under the corporate name; all earnings of S corporations are considered the earnings of the owners of that company and taxed as individual income.

And that, Rounds testified, means small businesses would be affected if the initiative is adopted, something not mentioned in either the description or the initiative itself.

David Lujan
David Lujan

But David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, told Capitol Media Services that tells just half the story.

He said that these business owners, like any other business, do not pay taxes on their gross receipts. What is taxable is what remains after all expenses are deducted — essentially the individual’s take-home profits, much in the same way employees pay taxes on what they take home and is the bottom line of taxable income on individual tax returns.

Anyway, Lujan said, he doubted there were that many business owners who had take-home profits, after expenses, in excess of $500,000.

Rounds, however, said that perhaps a quarter of those who would be affected by the initiative are business owners.

Ruth, however, said that doesn’t add up.

Using some data that Rounds himself provided, he said that total taxable income of those earning more than $200,000 — the break point used by the state Department of Revenue — was $59.8 million. By contrast, Ruth said, the portion of that attributable to businesses was less than $1.8 million, or less than 3 percent of adjusted gross income

That, Ruth said, shows that just a small portion of business filers would be affected.

“You’re doing the analysis improperly,” Rounds responded.

The hearing is expected to continue into Thursday, with Coury issuing a ruling on whether the measure can go on the ballot within days. Whichever side loses is virtually certain to seek Arizona Supreme Court review.

This trial is just the first of four which will determine what, if anything, will go before voters.

There are separate challenges to a campaign to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, a second to give judges more discretion in sentencing, and a third to both give pay raises to hospital workers and guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions can get affordable health insurance. Those trials begin this coming week.


Lawmaker calls Supreme Court ruling ‘partial’ victory for LGBTQ

Rep. Daniel Hernandez explains legislation to extend the protection of anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identification. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

A new ruling Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court on gay rights is imposing new restrictions on Arizona employers that neither the state legislature nor state courts were willing to do.

The 6-3 decision by the high court effectively puts a provision into federal law that says people who contend they were fired the opportunity to sue under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which bars employers from discriminating based on sex.

“Homosexuality and transgender status are inextricably bound up with sex,” the justices said.

The move follows decades of unsuccessful efforts by some legislators to add sexual orientation and gender identification to existing laws that now prohibit discrimination in public accommodation and employment.

In effect, Monday’s court ruling catches the rest of the state up to cities like Tucson, Phoenix, Tempe and Flagstaff whose anti-discrimination laws already cover sexual orientation. But the high court decision covers only employment discrimination.

Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, chair of the Arizona LGBTQ Caucus, called the ruling a significant — but only partial — victory. He said nothing in Monday’s ruling provides blanket legal protections he believes are necessary for gays.

In this file photo from Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gather for a formal group portrait to include new Associate Justice, top row, far right, at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. Justice Ginsburg, 85, is missing arguments for the first time in more than 25 years as she recuperates from cancer surgery last month but is recuperating and working from home. Seated from left: Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr. Standing behind from left: Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Elena Kagan and Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)
In this file photo from Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gather for a formal group portrait to include new Associate Justice, top row, far right, at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018.  Seated from left: Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr. Standing behind from left: Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Elena Kagan and Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

“In Arizona, you can still be discriminated against in stores, restaurants and hotels,” he said. “You can still be denied housing.”

Hernandez told Capitol Media Services that was brought home last year when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Phoenix could not enforce its anti-discrimination ordinance, which covers sexual orientation, against the owners of a calligraphy firm who refused to design wedding invitations for same-sex couples saying it conflicted with their Christian beliefs.

On one hand, Hernandez said, it was a narrow ruling, with the justices applying it to only the specific facts in that case.

“But it laid out, essentially, a toolkit for those businesses that want to discriminate,” he said. That’s why Hernandez said there needs to be a statewide law to overturn that ruling.

“If you are a business that has an open-door policy, you can’t decide who you close the door on just because you disagree with them,” he said.

Hernandez has had no luck. In fact, House Speaker Rusty Bowers earlier this year even refused to assign his anti-discrimination proposal to a committee for a hearing, telling Capitol Media Services at the time he saw no reason to overturn that state Supreme Court ruling.

“I think that my right of freedom of religion and religious beliefs and expression is at least equal to anybody else’s,” he said.

What might happen next year could depend in part on business community backing. But the head of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, while declaring his support for what the Supreme Court did on Monday, refused to commit to backing such a law.

“We’re going to be very sympathetic when we look at different laws to make sure we don’t have discriminatory treatment in our society,” said Glenn Hamer, the organization’s president and CEO. “We will certainly review any proposal of that sort.”

And then there’s Gov. Doug Ducey. As recently as last year, the governor said he did not support extending state anti-discrimination laws to protect people based on sexual orientation.

Ducey declined to comment on Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, with press aide Patrick Ptak saying the governor is reviewing it with his staff. But Ptak said his boss “remains opposed to discrimination in all its forms.”

That lack of any specific protections in Arizona law is significant.

Doug Ducey (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)
Doug Ducey (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)

In a 1994 ruling, the state Court of Appeals, pointed out that state lawmakers have never extended legal protections to individuals based on sexual orientation. And based on that, the judges ruled that Arizona employers are free to fire workers solely because they are gay.

Since that time there have been no new cases on the issue. And attorney Richard Langerman, who represented Jeffrey Blain in that case, told Capitol Media Services that had his case been tried as recently as last month, before Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, the results would have been the same and his client — and all others — would have no legal recourse in Arizona.

Blain, an employee of Golden State Container Inc. of Phoenix, claimed he was fired because he is a gay man with AIDS.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Norman Hall instructed the jury that they should rule in Blain’s favor if they determine that he was fired because he has AIDS.
That is based on provisions of the Arizona Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability. A state attorney general’s opinion concluded that AIDS fits within the definition of handicapped.
The judge, however, said jurors should ignore the question of whether Blain was fired because he is gay. Hall concluded that, under Arizona law, employers are entitled to do that.
The jury ruled in favor of the company. That sent the case to the Court of Appeals.
Langerman told the appellate judges the verdict might have been different if the jury had considered whether his client’s sexual preference also was a factor. Judge Joseph Livermore, writing the unanimous appellate opinion, disagreed.
The judges said Arizona employers do not need a reason to fire workers.
What companies cannot do, however, is fire someone for a bad reason, like violating constitutional protections based on race, religion or sex. Bad reasons also include violations of public policy, such as firing a worker who refused to break the law.
The judges said they could find nothing in Arizona law that makes a discharge based on sexual orientation a violation of public policy.

Jan Brewer (Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Jan Brewer (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Livermore noted that lawmakers in most states, including Arizona, have not enacted laws barring discrimination based on sexual preferences, the way they have when dealing with sex, race, religion and age. The judge also pointed out that Congress specifically has rejected an outright ban on discrimination against gays in the armed forces.
The lack of statewide action on the issue has created a patchwork of statutes, with Tucson, Phoenix, Tempe, Flagstaff, Sedona and Winslow banning discrimination in private employment. Some other Arizona communities offer more limited protection.

In some ways, Arizona’s business community is out ahead of Ducey and state lawmakers.

Many major Arizona employers already have policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. And some of them in 2014 went on record in urging then-Gov. Jan Brewer to veto legislation which would have expanded the right of businesses to claim they are entitled to deny service to anyone, including gays, based on the owner’s “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

Brewer ended up killing the measure.

More recently, several business groups aligned themselves with Phoenix in a battle over whether the owners of a calligraphy firm who cited their religious beliefs could be forced to design wedding invitations for same-sex nuptials. In that case the Arizona Supreme Court sided with the business.

Lawmaker wants 60% of voters to OK ballot measures


A Yuma Republican wants voters to make it more difficult for themselves to pass ballot propositions.

Coming on the heels of a narrow victory for proponents of Proposition 208, a tax hike on the state’s richest people to pay for public education, Rep. Timothy Dunn, R-Yuma, filed HCR2016, which would require ballot measures to get 60% of the vote to pass. This would also apply to vetoes of initiatives and referendums as well as constitutional changes.

In 2020, Prop. 208 received 51.75% of the vote, which was good enough for more than 1.65 million voters, but under Dunn’s proposal would not have passed.

The other 2020 ballot measure, Proposition 207, which legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 and up, just barely would be enacted under the proposed referendum. It received 60.03% of the vote and became the largest vote-getter in state history with more than 1.9 million people choosing “yes.”

Ironically, for Dunn’s referendum to become law, it would only need a simple majority of votes. Since it is a ballot referral, it would not need the signature of Gov. Doug Ducey, and it would instead go directly to the Secretary of State’s Office to be put on the ballot for 2022.

Dunn did not immediately return a voicemail to explain why he was pushing this measure.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry has noted the concept. The chamber, which has been a staunch opponent of laws through the initiative process over the years, spending tens of millions of dollars to defeat measures, especially ones pushed by progressive Democrats like the two in 2020.

Chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor previously told Capitol Media Services a change of the threshold for victory to 60% like in some other states would be merited, but told Arizona Capitol Times on January 20 that the chamber would not take a stance “at this time.”

“We’re encouraged that the Legislature wants to dig into initiative reform this year,” Taylor said.

If enacted, HCR2016 would have killed at least two earlier efforts the chamber opposed — the legalization of medical marijuana in 2010 and the minimum wage hike voters approved in 2016. Those received 50.13%percent and 58.33%, respectively.

In fact, even the Voter Protection Act, approved in 1998 and which effectively makes it impossible for the Legislature to change ballot measures, would not have become law as it only received 52.26% of the vote.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said she could not think of any conceivable reason why this measure is even necessary.

“Here we are again with legislators holding the people to a higher standard than we hold ourselves to,” she said, adding that in order for a bill to become a law through the legislative process it would only need a simple majority vote, not 60%.

“This is a part of a multi-year agenda that is effectively a power grab away from the people and concentrated in the hands of a party that is becoming increasingly less popular with the majority of both Arizona and voters in the entire country,” Salman said about Republicans.

Several efforts aimed at changing the initiative process were introduced last session, but died in the pandemic-shortened session.

Salman sees this as another attempt to silence the voices of Arizona voters because even if 59.99% of the vote, or more than 1.6 million people choose to approve a measure, it won’t be enough.

Mass subpoenas to be tested in challenge to energy measure

power-lines-620Opponents of a ballot measure to increase Arizona’s use of renewable energy have the right to subpoena more than 1,600 individuals who gathered signatures to get the proposed law on the ballot.

But there are several ways backers of the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona initiative could argue in trial, set to begin on August 20, that there’s not a good reason to compel those individuals to show up in court, according to some elections attorneys.

There’s high stakes over the subpoenas thanks to a 2014 law that requires judges to toss signatures from circulators who don’t show up in court.

The law, adopted as an amendment pushed by Secretary of State Michele Reagan, then a state senator, places the burden on circulators and the committee they work for to ensure that signature gatherers show up in Maricopa County Superior Court, where legal challenges to statewide ballot initiatives are heard.

Failure to show means a judge must invalidate all the signatures collected by that individual.

Attorney Brett Johnson, an attorney for GOP lawmakers Vince Leach, John Kavanagh, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Glenn Hamer and others challenging the Clean Energy initiative, told the court he plans to subpoena nearly all those who gathered signatures for the initiative, since they all registered with the Secretary of State’s Office and signed paperwork acknowledging they might be subpoenaed.

Election attorney Andy Gordon said it’s “pretty transparent” what Johnson’s strategy is.

“If you subpoena someone to show up and they don’t show up, all their signatures are automatically disqualified. That’s what they’re trying to do,” Gordon said. “Their hope is that the people don’t show up.”

What remains to be seen, Gordon said, is how the court will handle all those subpoenas — and what arguments Jim Barton, the attorney for the Clean Energy campaign, will make to dispute that all the 1,600 subpoenas are necessary.

Barton’s effort to quash the subpoenas pre-trial failed, as the court ruled the plaintiffs may subpoena however many signature gatherers they choose. The judge has also acknowledged the logistical challenges that issuing so many subpoenas presents.

That could be an opening for Barton to make the argument that some of the subpoenas weren’t necessary and the judge shouldn’t disqualify signatures even if an individual doesn’t make it to trial, Gordon said.

“I think that’s the argument you need to make because of these peculiar statutes, and because you’re dealing with kind of fundamental constitutional rights to the initiative,” Gordon said. “They should have to make a particularized showing, at least when you subpoena 1,600 (individuals), that there’s some reason to think there’s really underlying problems, other than just a ploy to disqualify the signatures.”

Roopali Desai
Roopali Desai

Attorney Roopali Desai, who worked with Gordon in 2016 to subpoena dozens of circulators in two initiative challenges for the first time under the 2014 law, said there may also be an argument that the statute requiring judges to toss signatures for no-show circulators is, on its face, unconstitutional.

“It may just be, as a statutory impediment on the citizen initiative process, not counting voters signatures simply because a circulator doesn’t show up — there’s a disconnect between the impact to the voter who signs the petition versus this burdensome requirement that was put into statute by the Legislature,” Desai said.

Barton has hinted at arguments he might might make in trial. Issuing subpoenas just to see if a individual will show up “is contrary to the purpose of that (subpoena) power being granted to attorneys,” he said.

“When you subpoena someone to trial, you are compelling them to appear, presumably for a reason. And I think just to see if they show is not a good reason,” Barton told the Arizona Capitol Times. “It’s not what the subpoena power is for.”

Johnson has argued in briefs that subpoenas are necessary because “there is no other source for this witness information.”

And a spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, a group formed to oppose the Clean Energy initiative, said that individual signature gatherers can best shed light on signatures those opposed to the initiative think should be invalidated.

The spokesman, Matthew Benson, wouldn’t say whether Johnson plans to call every signature-gatherer who complies with the subpoena to the witness stand.

“I’m not saying we will or we won’t,” Benson said. “I’m saying we reserve that right.”

“From our campaign’s perspective, the circulators are primary sources of information about these petitions,” Benson added. “No one’s in a better position than they are to address peculiarities with these petitions that we have identified.”

Desai said Barton might be on to something by arguing that there’s a disconnect between the Rules of Civil Procedure, which specify when and how subpoenas are issued, and the law as written in 2014.

When Gordon and Desai were hired to challenge an initiative to cap the pay of top hospital executives, they were cautious in who they subpoenaed. Though they identified more than 300 signature gatherers with potential issues on their petitions, Desai said they only subpoenaed about 80 individuals.

Desai said they thought it frivolous to issue subpoenas for individuals when there were other ways to easily prove in court a signature was problematic and should be invalidated.

“You have to give people notice of what it is that you want. It has to be within a particular time frame. And then you have to have these specific procedures to have them show up,” Desai said. “The statute just seems to completely obliterate, or pay no attention, to the service rules.”

That could be a path to argue that the statute requiring signatures to be tossed should be overruled by the courts, Desai said.

Minimum wage to bump up in new year

(Deposit Photos/Ras-Slava)
(Deposit Photos/Ras-Slava)

What would you do with an extra $2,080 a year?

Well, maybe closer to $1,600 after taxes?

That’s the happy question facing hundreds of thousands of Arizonans who are in line for a wage bump come Jan 1. That’s when the last phase in a 2016 voter-approved increase in the minimum wage kicks in.

It will take the bottom from $11 an hour to $12, adding an extra $2,080 for those working a full-time job.

Exactly how many Arizonans are affected is unclear.

The most recent wage data from the Arizona Commerce Authority is for 2018. But it does show the folks who, on average, were getting not much more than $11 at the time.

Among the largest group likely to see bigger paychecks are those who are in the personal care and service occupations.

The state figured there were more than 112,000 people at that time with a median wage of $11.61 an hour. That means half were making above that and half were making less.

Another nearly 48,000 personal care aides are in that wage category.

And there are other categories where the median wage last year was below $12 an hour, including more than 92,000 in retail sales, close to 49,000 waiters and waitresses, 12,500 counter attendants and 17,500 fast food cooks.

Living Wage

The wage figures do include tips. That’s crucial as the 2016 law allows employers to pay tipped workers up to $3 an hour less than the minimum – but only as long as what they ultimately get, with those tips, hits what the law mandates.

And it won’t be those now making less than $12 who will be affected. Any move that makes $12 the new minimum rung on the salary ladder is likely to force employers to increase the wages of more experience workers who now are getting just $12 or slightly more.

“We’re very excited that we’re about the reach the culmination of Prop 206,” said Tomas Robles of Living United for Change in Arizona, the group that put the issue on the ballot that scrapped the minimum of $8.05 an hour in 2016.

He said the higher wages helped get Arizonans closer to a “living wage,” especially with rapidly rising rents. And Robles said all that was accomplished without wrecking the economy as had been predicted by initiative foes, mostly in the business community.

“The industries that folks said would die off because of this minimum wage have not only been fine but actually have increased in income, employment, demand,” he said.

That is borne out by statistics from the Arizona Commerce Authority.

Since 2017, the average number of people employed by all private companies has increased by 5.7 percent. And employment in bars and restaurants, which include fast food establishments, has pretty much kept pace at 5.6 percent.

Strong Economy

Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which opposed the 2016 measure – and then unsuccessfully sued to have it voided – does not dispute that the predictions of wholesale reductions in employment levels in certain industries have not materialized. But he said there’s a reason for that.

“It is important to remember that we are in a strong economy, particularly in metropolitan areas, both nationally and in Arizona,” he told Capitol Media Services. “We have yet to see the effects of this policy in a struggling economy or to truly understand the impact in rural areas.”

And Taylor said he still believes that it is the people who are seeking jobs who will “bear the brunt of a policy that makes hiring more expensive.”

But Taylor has more immediate concerns.

One is an initiative drive being financed by the California-based Service Employees International Union which, if approved in November, would mandate that everyone working at a hospital get an immediate 5 percent pay hike. Then there would be successive 5-percent pay increases for the following three years.

That would apply at all levels, including medical staff, nurses, social workers, orderlies and even custodians. And with that $12 minimum beginning in January, that would put the base salary for hospital workers after the fourth year at $14.59.

Taylor said his organization will try to convince voters to reject the proposal.

Cities Enact Their Own Minimum Wage

Separately, Taylor objects to the fact that the 2016 law actually allows local communities to create their own minimum wages.

Flagstaff votes did that in a move that will put the floor in that city at $13 an hour in 2020, increasing automatically to $15.50 by 2022.

Robles, for his part, said the benefits of Prop 206 extend beyond pure pay. He pointed out that it requires employers to provide at least three paid leave days each year.

“We get phone calls all the time of people utilizing their paid sick days and being able to utilize those days for emergencies or other situations,” he said.

A study performed earlier this year by the Grand Canyon Institute concluded that since the wage law took effect in 2017 that there has been a 19 percent increase in food service hourly pay. The report did conclude, however, there was “some evidence” that the average hours worked by those in that sector of the economy “may have declined by about one hour per week.”

Robles said that, even with new minimum set at $12 an hour it still does not providing a “living wage,” particularly for people in metro areas where housing prices, particularly rental rates, are increasing sharply.

For the Phoenix metro area, the web site Rent Jungle puts average monthly rent at $1,215. That is 18 percent higher than it was at the end of 2016.

At the moment, however, Robles said there are no plans for a future initiative. But even if that does not occur, a provision in the law requires an adjustment to the minimum annually based on a cost of living index. So if inflation goes up by 2.5 percent in 2020, the 2021 minimum would go to $12.30.

Money pours into campaigns for, against renewable energy ballot measure

(Deposit Photos/Ras-Slava)
(Deposit Photos/Ras-Slava)

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.


New group pushes upbeat image of Arizona’s education system

A new nonprofit backed by business groups is running ads on television and online to put a positive spin on the state of Arizona’s education.

The Arizona Education Project, which is backed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, utility company Pinnacle West, among other contributors, wants to tell the “other side of the story” to counter the negative voices dominating the education debate in Arizona, the group’s spokesman, Matthew Benson, told the Arizona Capitol Times.

“Arizona schools aren’t perfect, but we’re making tremendous progress in the state,” Benson said.

In the first week, the group will spend six figures on local TV, cable and digital ads, and then gauge from there how much to spend more and where, he said.

The group has put up a website outlining positive points about Arizona’s K-12 system.

Spending on Arizona schools plummeted during the Great Recession, and the state has yet to return to the spending levels before the economy tanked. Arizona schools also rank among the lowest in the nation for teacher pay.

television ad that ran Jan. 22 boasts about the state’s improvements in education spending and outcomes

An ad from the Arizona Education Project, a new nonprofit backed by business groups, notes the state's positive education news, like increased funding and academic achievements. (Screenshot from YouTube video)
An ad from the Arizona Education Project, a new nonprofit backed by business groups, notes the state’s positive education news, like increased funding and academic achievements. (Screenshot from YouTube video)

“What if I told you there’s a state that has increased education funding by nearly $1.5 billion in the last three years?” the ad says.

It touts Arizona’s math and reading scores, as well as the teacher’s academy that provides free college education to future teachers, so long as they teach in the state for a few years.

“This state is Arizona. There’s much more to do, but Arizona schools are making progress,” the ad concludes.

Joe Thomas, the head of the Arizona Education Association, the teachers union, said most of the negativity he hears around schools in Arizona is about the Legislature and the governor’s policies. Thomas said his group isn’t saying schools aren’t doing a good job, but rather that elected officials need to do better.

“I call that realism,” he said, adding that education funding statistics back him up.

Thomas admits his group reacts negatively to elected officials who aren’t supporting classrooms, and said they will continue to do so.

“If you ever feel (we’ve been) negative, it’s probably because we’re pointing the finger at you,” he said.

Benson said that, as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the group has no connection with any candidate, campaign or legislative effort. Instead, it’s a public education campaign to tell Arizonans that their schools produce a lot to be proud of, including performance, improvements and school choice, Benson said.

It’s great that Arizona has some of the top schools in the nation, Thomas said, but all kids in the state should have access to a quality public education, regardless of where they live.

While knowing the money behind the ad campaign isn’t public dollars, Thomas said businesses could instead donate to struggling schools, rather than “propagandize a dire situation.” Teachers will see the ads and find them offensive, Thomas said.

“I hope a PR campaign isn’t all we’re going to do to stop teachers from googling teacher openings in Las Vegas,” he said.

Benson said the group has nothing to do with Gov. Doug Ducey’s re-election campaign because it’s a nonprofit. As for whether the ad, which echoes Ducey’s talking points on education, could boost the governor’s re-election bid this year, Benson said it isn’t for him to speculate.

He said the effort is led by Arizona moms and backed by Arizona businesses. The group’s filing with the Arizona Corporation Commission shows three women as its directors: Jessica Connelly, Amy Paul and Melissa Luzader.

Here’s the full list of donors to the Arizona Education Project:

·        Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry

·        Pinnacle West Capital Corp, the parent company of Arizona Public Service

·        Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

·        Douglas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

·        Sierra Vista Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

·        Ambos Nogales Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

·        Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association

·        Services Group of America

New year is time for fresh start, chamber excited to work with Hobbs

Biden, Hobbs, Ducey, Taiwan Semiconductor, computer chip plant, economy, election, jobs
Democratic Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs speaks at a victory rally on Nov. 15 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

A New Year is a time of new beginnings, new challenges, new opportunities and new leaders. It’s a time to look to the future, to build upon our successes of the past year, to learn from our shortcomings and to leave behind the bad habits and baggage that keep us from moving forward.  

A lot happened in 2022. At a federal level, Congress passed the bipartisan-backed CHIPS and Science Act – significant, sweeping legislation that will bolster U.S. competitiveness and national security while enhancing Arizona’s position as a national hub for advanced manufacturing jobs. And earlier this month, TSMC announced plans to expand in our state with the opening of a second chip facility, raising its investment in Arizona to $40 billion – one of the largest foreign investments in U.S. history. 

Danny Seiden (Photo by Jennifer Stewart)

Our Arizona legislative session saw the passage of priority, pro-growth policies that lower taxes and lessen regulatory burdens on Arizona businesses. A booming economy and record revenues triggered the implementation of our historic income tax reduction a full year ahead of schedule, meaning Arizona will enter 2023 with a simple, low, fair and flat state income tax of 2.5% – the lowest in the nation. 

Of course, we can’t mention 2022 without talking about the midterm elections. Over a month later, it still seems like it’s all some people can talk about.  

Enough is enough. The election is over. The results are in. And lest there be any doubt, Katie Hobbs is Arizona’s governor-elect.  

As the leading voice of Arizona’s business community, we not only recognize Katie Hobbs as our legitimately-elected governor – we stand ready and excited to work with her, the administration, and our entire Legislature to pursue good policy on behalf of our state’s job creators and taxpayers.  

The Chamber’s mission has always been to advance policies that enhance Arizona’s competitive standing and make it as easy as possible for job creators to do business. That mission remains the same whether we’re operating under a government that’s divided or unified – regardless of who holds office, and regardless of what their political affiliation might be.  

We also know that reputation matters. We think Arizona should be stealing headlines for new job announcements, business investments and economic wins – not for dead-end lawsuits, conspiracy theories and baseless claims of election fraud.  

I don’t think anyone would argue that Arizona’s elections last month were absolutely perfect. And if there are constructive discussions to be had over how we can improve our elections and instill greater trust in the process, then the Legislature can have that conversation. But denying the results outright – and peddling the myth that there is a larger, systemic election fraud at play – is untruthful, unproductive, divisive, and destructive. 

Arizona enters 2023 in one of the most competitive economic positions in recent memory, thanks to significant policy wins last session. Let’s not let our progress and momentum be hindered by dwelling on an election that was settled legitimately a month ago.  

Let’s resolve to leave the election lawsuits and inflammatory rhetoric in 2022. 

Danny Seiden is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry. 

Politicians weigh in on ballot measures

This April 11, 2018, photo shows a sign directing voters to an early-voting location in Surprise, Ariz. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs settled a lawsuit with the Navajo Nation by adopting an elections procedure that allows counties five days to fix early ballots that don’t match signatures on file or are missing signatures. PHOTO BY ANITA SNOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS
This April 11, 2018, photo shows a sign directing voters to an early-voting location in Surprise, Ariz.  PHOTO BY ANITA SNOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS

If you get your advice from Gov. Doug Ducey you’re going to want to vote against at least three of the four measures expected to be on the November ballot.

The governor has submitted statements in opposition to proposals to legalize recreational uses of marijuana, increase taxes on the wealthy to help fund education, and a third with various provisions relating to hospitals and health care.

But he took no position on a fourth ballot measure to give judges more discretion in sentencing.

On marijuana, the governor called what is expected to be on the ballot as Proposition 207 “a bad idea based on false promises,” saying the experience from other states shows it will lead to more highway deaths, dramatic increases in teen drug use and more newborns exposed to marijuana. Anyway, Ducey said, the current system of medical marijuana, approved by voters in 2010 “is serving the people who need it for health-related reasons.”

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

Ducey is not alone, particularly on the issue of whether Arizonans should be able to legally buy and possess marijuana for personal use. The Secretary of State’s Office got dozens of arguments from foes.

All those arguments will be placed into publicity pamphlets mailed to the homes of all registered voters.

So will the handful of arguments in favor of the measure, including one from former Gov. Fife Symington III.

“Today the evidence is overwhelmingly clear: criminalizing law-abiding citizens who choose to responsibly consume marijuana is an outdated policy that wastes precious government resources and unnecessarily restricts individual liberty,” he wrote. “A far more logical approach would be to respect the right of adults to choose to consume marijuana while regulating and taxing its production and sale.”

He has at least a passing familial interest in the issue: His son, Fife Symington IV, is managing director of Copperstate Farms, which operates what is believed to be the largest medical marijuana cultivation facility in the state. And those already involved in medical marijuana are going to get first crack at the expanded recreational system if voters approve.

The pamphlet actually contains two arguments by Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, one in favor and one against.

Humble told Capitol Media Services his organization sees the issue through a pair of lenses.

On one hand, he said, there are members of his organization who support the idea of “criminal justice reform,” getting rid of state laws that make it a felony to have any amount of marijuana at all.

Will Humble
Will Humble

“But, on the other hand, there is good evidence that these retail marijuana laws increase access to people under 21,” Humble said. “It’s harmful to adolescents.”

He said voters will get to read both perspectives.

“I’m probably going to vote for it,” Humble said, saying there’s no reason to make felons out of people who have small quantities of marijuana. “Even if they don’t do time for it … part of it is going through being arrested, paying the fees for the court, suffering through the criminal justice system, paying for all those classes they make you take.”

On the other side are Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Sheila Polk, her Yavapai County counterpart. The measure also is opposed by Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, whose organization is financing much of the campaign against the initiative.

The proposal to increase income taxes on the state’s top earners, Proposition 210, also drew lots of comments.

Most of the support comes from members of the education community like Joshua Buckley, president of the Mesa Education Association.

“A decade of cuts to education have hit hardest on our state’s most vulnerable population – our children,” he wrote.

And Steve Adams, co-president of the Tempe School Education Association, said the funding is needed to make up for cuts made during the past decade.

“Now is the time for smaller class sizes,” she said. “Now is the time to pay certified teachers a professional salary. Now is the time for all Arizona students to have access to a qualified school nurse, counselor, librarian and support staff who keep them safe and healthy.”

The measure would affect only the top 4% of earners in Arizona, raising the rate only on earnings of more than $250,000 a year for individuals and $500,000 for couples filing jointly. It is billed as raising $940 million a year for K-12 education.

Close-up of child's abacus in classroom.“That’s a whopping amount, especially considering that our economy is recovering from recession and high unemployment,” Ducey wrote. And he said there is no guarantee how much of this actually would wind up in the classroom.

Various business groups also have taken positions against the measure. And state Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said the measure “will result in a huge drag on the overall economy.”

“If we can’t grow the economy, we can’t invest in schools and raise teacher pay,” he argued.

The health care measure, Proposition 208, pulls some of the same interests together in opposition.

It would require a 20% pay hike for hospital workers, impose new infection-control standards on hospitals, provide protections for insured patients against “surprise” medical bills for out-of-network care, and guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions can get affordable health insurance.

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called it part of a “radical agenda” by “out-of-state special interests.” That refers to the fact the measure is being financed by a California chapter of Service Employees International Union.

Glenn Hamer
Glenn Hamer

“Dramatically increasing health care costs at a time when the Arizona economy is struggling with double-digit unemployment rate and record jobless claims will devastate hardworking families and delay the state’s economic recovery,” he said.

But it has support from groups ranging from the Arizona Faith Network and Living United for Change in Arizona to Poder Latinx and the Sky Harbor Lodge 2559 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The lone item Ducey has not weighed in on is Proposition 209, designed to partly reverse laws on mandatory prison terms imposed in 1978 and modify the 1993 “truth in sentencing” law that requires criminals to serve at least 85% of their term before being released.

It also would end the ability of prosecutors to “stack” multiple charges committed by someone before arrest to allow them to have the person designed a repeat offender.

State lawmakers actually approved that change last year only to have it vetoed by Ducey because of what he said where “unintended consequences that may raise from this legislation.”

Dawn Penich-Thacker and Beth Lewis, co-founders of Save Our Schools Arizona, argued that the state now spends more on incarcerating people than in state aid to colleges and universities.

“By emphasizing rehabilitation, reintegration training and smarter sentencing, the Second Chances Act addresses the other side of the school-to-prison pipeline that holds back too many Arizona families,” they said.

But Polk, the Yavapai County attorney, said voters should not dismantle the sentencing code.

“It will, once again, allow many very serious and repeat offenders to serve only half of their sentence before being released back on our streets and into our communities,” she said. And Polk said the current laws ensure that people are sentenced based on their crimes and not “who you are, where you live, and who your sentencing judge is will determine your sentence.”

Prop 208 heads to court

In this May 4, 2018, file photo, third grade teacher Jennifer Boettcher reads a story to kids as they eat breakfast at San Marcos Elementary School in Chandler. Republican lawmakers have filed suit to invalidate Proposition 208, a 2020 voter-approved measure to tax Arizona’s highest earners to fund public education.
In this May 4, 2018, file photo, third grade teacher Jennifer Boettcher reads a story to kids as they eat breakfast at San Marcos Elementary School in Chandler. Republican lawmakers have filed suit to invalidate Proposition 208, a 2020 voter-approved measure to tax Arizona’s highest earners to fund public education.

Top Republican legislative leaders filed suit Monday to block implementation of the voter-approved tax on the income of the wealthiest Arizonans.

Legal papers filed in Maricopa County Superior Court contends that the Arizona Constitution allows only the legislature to impose a new tax, and then only with a two-thirds vote.

“Because Proposition 208 did not meet either requirement, its new tax was not constitutionally enacted,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit also points out that the measure, approved by voters by a margin of 51.7% to 48.3%, seeks to exempt the money raised from the constitutional cap on how much schools can spend. The attorneys say a statute — even one approved by voters — cannot override what is in the Arizona Constitution.

Attorneys for the challengers also say that the amount of spending the Invest in Ed initiative would require exceeds the amount of revenues that would be raised by the new 3.5% surcharge on incomes above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Finally, the claim says it illegally ties the hands of state lawmakers by telling them they cannot use the new revenues that would be raised — about $940 million a year — to reduce education spending elsewhere.

That provision in particular gets the attention of the lawmakers who agreed to sign on to the lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute, including House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann.

“Proposition 208 restricts their ability to appropriate funds for other legislative priorities,” wrote attorneys in the case.

“These legislative leaders further understand that despite the authorities vested in their offices and position, they are powerless under Proposition 208 to divert funds from the general fund, each with a supermajority,” attorneys said. And that, the lawyers said, limits their ability not just to reduce state taxes but also respond to emergencies and “eliminate educational programs that are no longer necessary or are deemed ineffective.”

The bottom line is that the litigation seeks an injunction order barring any implementation or enforcement of the ballot measure until there can be a full-blown hearing.

A separate lawsuit also was filed Monday by Ann Siner, founder of My Sister’s Closet, and retired Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Buttrick.

Backers of the measure are expected to fight both lawsuits.

Attorney Roopali Desai who represents the Invest in Ed initiative said what’s lost in all this is that the Arizona Constitution makes the people co-equal with the legislature when creating law. And that, she said, means they have the same powers as lawmakers, even if the elected legislators disagree.

In fact, in some ways the powers of the people are superior. That’s because a constitutional provision bars lawmakers from repealing what voters have enacted. And they can make only changes that “further the purpose” of the voter-approved measure, and only with a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate.

The measure, put on the ballot with a petition gathering process, was pushed by the Arizona Education Association and allied groups seeking to restore cuts that have been made to K-12 funding in the past decade. They say that per-student aid has not kept pace with inflation and student growth.

Half of the funds are earmarked for schools to hire teachers and classroom support personnel, such as librarians, nurses, counselors and coaches. The dollars also could be used for raises.

Another quarter is for support services personnel, including classroom aides, security personnel, food service and transportation.

There’s also 12% for grants for career and technical education programs, 10% for mentoring and retaining new teachers in the classroom, and 3% for the Arizona Teachers Academy to provide tuition grants for those who go into education.

Foes, led by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, argued there was no guarantee that the cash would go to teachers and salaries.

They also pointed out that it would raise the state’s top income tax rate, now 4.5%, to 8%, which they said would be one of the highest in the nation. And that, they argued, would be a damper on economic development.

But David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, pointed out that the only people affected would be those whose taxable income — after all deductions and credits — would be above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples.

Foes also questioned how much of the cash would wind up in the classroom.

They pointed out that the most recent report by Auditor General Lindsey Perry said just 54.7 cents of every dollar goes into direct classroom expenses.

But as Perry’s report pointed out, there is more to that story.

One is that figure does not include other necessary instructional support like librarians and teacher training, nor guidance counselors, nurses, speech pathologists and social workers. And Perry said that, on average, Arizona schools spend less on administrative expenses than the rest of the country.

Other challengers in the suit brought on behalf of Fann and Bowers include other Republican lawmakers and the owners of three businesses who say their income exceeds that $500,000 threshold and would be affected by the new law.

No date has been set for a hearing.

Prop 306 foe warns of ‘Trojan horse’ to undermine Clean Elections

A measure Republican lawmakers put on the November ballot could determine how much Arizonans actually know about who is trying to influence political campaigns.

Anyone reviewing all the statements in support of Proposition 306 in the brochure sent to voters would think the measure is aimed at keeping publicly funded candidates from buying services from political parties.

And that’s true.

Rep. Ken Clark
Rep. Ken Clark

But the proposal also contains what Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, calls a “Trojan horse,” one that supporters say very little about.

If approved, it would allow the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council, which is entirely filled with people the governor appoints, to review – and veto – rules the bipartisan Citizens Clean Elections Commission enacted.

The reason all that is important is that the commission has taken it upon itself to enact – and enforce – rules which require certain groups seeking to influence political campaigns to disclose the sources of their funds, even as Arizona lawmakers have approved and Gov. Doug Ducey has signed legislation to shield the identity of contributors.

Ducey has depended on private donations for all of his campaigns, with much of his support coming from “dark money” groups that refuse to divulge their donors. And he is on record as opposing efforts to ban anonymous funding of political campaigns.

This fight isn’t just an academic exercise.

Last year GRRC ordered the Secretary of State to “depublish” a commission rule which dealt with the reporting of the sources of money spent by groups seeking to influence the outcome of elections. The commission responded by re-enacting the same rules, simply ignoring GRRC.

So the outcome of Proposition 306 could determine not just the future of whether the public gets a look at who is seeking to influence elections.

At the heart of the fight is the decision by voters in 1998 to create a voluntary system of public financing for candidates for statewide and legislative office. Candidates who get sufficient $5 qualifying contributions and agree not to take outside cash are entitled to set sums of money.

It is funded through a surcharge on civil, criminal and traffic fines.

The system has been fought from the beginning by the business community, particularly the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has been the source of campaign dollars, particularly for Republicans. But while the U.S. Supreme Court voided one provision, the basic structure has been upheld.

What has made the role of the commission more significant is its conclusion that the voter-approved law gives it power not only over publicly funded candidates but also spending by outside groups on behalf of all candidates. That flies directly in the face of the Republican-controlled Legislature which has adopted various measures designed to shield groups set up as “social welfare” organizations from having to divulge the original sources of cash.

Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, who is listed as the author of the measure, referred questions about the change in rule oversight to Scot Mussi.

Scot Mussi
Scot Mussi

He’s the chairman of the Stop Taxpayer Money for Political Parties, the group set up to convince voters to approve Proposition 306. That same group paid for 33 individuals to put statements into the ballot pamphlet being mailed to the homes of all registered voters detailing why publicly funded candidates should not be able to buy services from political parties.

But Mussi, who did not return repeated calls seeking comment, also is the chairman of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club which actually gave the money to the campaign committee for all those statements.

More to the point, the Free Enterprise Club has been a major source of funding to support candidates it likes – and oppose those it does not like – all without disclosing where the original source of the cash.

In the 2014 election the group reported spending more than $1.7 million to influence election outcomes. That included $150,000 spent in the Republican gubernatorial primary to defeat former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, clearing the way for Ducey’s nomination.

That same year, the group also spent more than $437,000 in hopes of getting Justin Pierce nominated for secretary of state for the GOP while spending $198,185 against Wil Cardon and $97,505 against Michele Reagan.

During the campaign, Pierce was the only one who said he’s not convinced that Arizona law should bar anonymous spending on political campaigns. He said there are legitimate reasons to allow people to get involved in politics — and write out checks — without their names being made public.

As it turned out, Reagan won the nomination anyway.

But where Mussi and the club got the money remains hidden.

Mussi’s interest in keeping the source of his organization’s finances goes beyond any changes that Prop 306 would make in oversight of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. He also was one of the plaintiffs who successfully sued earlier this year to block a public vote on a constitutional measure which would have required disclosure of all sources of funding of independent expenditures on political campaigns.


Rash of GOP bills seek to empower lawmakers, disempower voters


Arizona Republican legislators have a habit of pushing ideas that make their own lives easier, but harder for voters to have their voices heard.

Critics say the GOP-led efforts are a consolidation of legislative authority, designed to fend off an increasingly independent and incensed electorate in a state that’s becoming slightly more competitive every two years.

Some examples include legislation like SB1023, which would allow legislative candidates to identify fewer of those individuals who make financial contributions to their campaigns, leaving voters in the dark about who’s influencing elections.

And Republicans are also leading an effort to quash a movement in Tempe to reveal the sources of “dark money” in local elections. It’s a GOP bid to keep campaign dollars spent by groups that don’t disclose the source of their money a secret.

And there are more.

Arizona is no stranger to bills that are criticized as a power struggle between lawmakers and voters, but Zachary Smith, a regents professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University, said this year’s wave of legislation is unprecedented.

“In 30 years of watching the Arizona Legislature, I’ve never seen such blatant attempts to empower the Legislature and disempower the voters, and that’s taking all of these things into consideration,” Smith said.

Republican lawmakers say there’s no concerted effort to undermine voters, and make the case for bills on an individual basis as good for Arizona and good for their constituents. But on some issues, their policy positions contradict popular public opinion.

Rivko Knox, a volunteer lobbyist with the League of Women Voters, recalled one legislative hearing this year on a bill with dozens of speakers signed in to oppose, and minimal support, but still, a lawmaker claimed the measure was widely backed.

The “request to speak” system is by no means a definitive arbiter of public opinion. Still, in the face of overwhelming opposition at the hearing, “the legislator said, ‘That’s not what I hear in my district,’” Knox said.

If that’s the case, she said, “to what extent you’re really representing your district, I don’t know.”

Power retention

In some ways, Knox sees Republican efforts to consolidate power in the Legislature as instinctual, albeit a tactic that shies away from transparency and shows a disrespect for the public, she said.

“To some extent it’s almost a natural reaction, in the sense that one body wants to retain power,” she said.

Joel Edman
Joel Edman

Those bodies, the Republican-dominated Arizona Senate and House of Representatives, are frustrating lobbyists like Knox and Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network.

“Instead of having huge debates on how we can get more money into classrooms, and how we can take care of the families that don’t have reliable access to health care, that we’re trying to figure out, can we raise the salaries of legislators, can we make it so we don’t have to run for re-election so often, can we make it so we can hide some of our campaign contributions?” Edman said. “It’s a really sort of twisted view of the priorities.”

There is in fact an effort to dramatically increase legislative salaries, though such a pay hike would require a vote of the people, and Arizonans haven’t been keen on rewarding lawmakers with a raise for years.

Arizonans may also be asked whether they want senators and representatives to serve four-year terms, rather than two years. The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Drew John, R-Safford, would halve the number of elections in which legislators must campaign, a boon for institutional knowledge, some argue. Even Edman and Knox see the benefits of such a proposal.

And yet, HCR2006 finds a way to make legislators’ lives even more easy because legislative elections would only be held every four years during midterm elections, when voter turnout is at its lowest and campaigns are dominated by the most passionate, and arguably far-right and -left, of each party, Edman said.

“That means that some segment of voters who show up just for presidential years aren’t going to have their voices heard at all – they’re basically irrelevant as far as the state Capitol is concerned. And so that’s a whole segment of voters that are taken out of the process,” he said.

Should they vote every year? Sure, Edman said. But as long as they don’t, fewer elections should at least be held at a time when more voters are likely to cast ballots, he said.


Edman and Knox speculate that avoiding voters might be the underlying goal. For example, it has become routine for Republicans to sponsor bills that chip away at the initiative process, by which voters can bypass the Legislature and pass laws on their own, or even block laws the Legislature approved.

Proposition 206, a citizens initiative to raise the minimum wage that voters approved in 2016, seems to have accelerated those efforts, Edman said.

“Certainly it brought on all these attacks on the initiative process, but I think folks down here, and I think in particular a couple of powerful interests groups like the (Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry) who were used to getting their way saw they can’t always get their way with the electorate,” he said. “So let’s see if they can again find a way to make the electorate less important in how the state runs things.”

That feeling is also reflected in efforts like HCR2022. Sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, the resolution would ask voters to give up their right to elect partisan candidates in primary elections for the U.S. Senate. Instead, legislators from the Republican and Democratic parties would select two nominees each whose names would appear on the General Election ballot.

When the resolution was approved by a House committee on a 6-3 party-line vote, Republican representatives said the measure will better serve the state by ensuring U.S. senators are acting in the best interest of the state.

“That to me is such a blatant way of saying, ‘We ought to control what’s going on. We want senators that are dependent on us,’ as if the legislators are the people of the state, and they’re not,” Knox said.

Some don’t pan out

Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff)
Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff)

The sponsors of resolutions like HCR 2022 are often criticized for not having their finger on the pulse of the electorate. Rep. Bob Thorpe, the Flagstaff Republican who has sponsored several bills to draw the fire of progressive and nonpartisan interest groups alike, said he knows exactly what he’s doing – it’s what his voters want.

Not all constituents may like it, but Thorpe said he’s doing right by his Legislative District 6.

Sometimes that means pitching bills that don’t pan out. Thorpe said he sponsored HCR2014, the resolution to block independents from voting in partisan primaries, because a voter in his district asked him to. But he backed off the idea after consulting with state Republican leaders, who weren’t in favor of the idea.

Thorpe said most bills come from ideas from constituents. There’s nothing nefarious going on, as if Republican lawmakers are plotting with one another about ways to undermine the will of the voters.

“We are all free agents down here, and it’s very rare that as we’re crafting bill ideas that we’re having conversations with members. … I think what you might be suggesting and other people might be suggesting is there’s a collaborative effort to push the agenda in a certain direction,” Thorpe said. “We don’t even have right now a majority plan in place, where the majority has decided we’re going to be pushing A, B and C.”

For Thorpe, the best way to represent the voters of his district is to push for what he philosophically believes is in the best interest of the state of Arizona.

Take the minimum wage issue as an example.

Thorpe argued that such a high minimum wage – Arizona’s now stands at $10.50 per hour, but will increase to $12 by 2020 – is bad for businesses and ultimately hurts the residents it’s trying to help. So he supports efforts to freeze the minimum wage at its current rate and undo paid-leave protections for employees that were approved by voters less than 18 months ago.

Initiatives like Prop. 206 that increased the minimum wage get in the way of Thorpe’s view of a representative form of government.

“People elect us to come down here and the Legislature to write laws,” he said. “So when you have a bill, whether it’s well intentioned or not, a referendum, it basically steps on our toes as the Legislature.”

Stepping on toes or not, Prop. 206 passed with little opposition. Roughly 58 percent of voters approved the minimum wage hike across the state, and in Thorpe’s LD6, the proposition passed with more than 57 percent of the vote, according to an analysis prepared for Arizona Wins, a progressive advocacy group.

So how does Thorpe reconcile supporting a measure to undo something that voters in his district supported?

“I look at my constituents. When I go before the people in northern Arizona, I’m thanked for the job I’m doing,” he said.

And if he keeps getting elected, that must mean there’s at least some voters in LD6 who approve of what he’s doing, like undermining the minimum wage initiative.

“Any election, (voters) have the opportunity to get rid of me and to elect someone else. I’m coming up for re-election now, and they have that opportunity to do so,” Thorpe said. “So if I’m not doing what they want me to do, they’ll replace me.”

Ignoring the popular vote

Smith, the NAU professor, said there are many factors that create an environment where a lawmaker like Thorpe can ignore the popular vote in his district. Lawmakers are listening to some, but not all, of their constituents, he said.

As far as having their finger on the pulse of the electorate, it’s a valid criticism, Smith said, “but see, they don’t have to, because they only have to have 51 percent of the people that vote in the Republican primary in their district, and most of those guys know it.”

Smith said that Republicans in charge of the state right now are “enriched and empowered by forces that weren’t in play in the past” – particularly anonymous campaign expenditures like the ones Tempe wants to shine a light on, but Republican legislators want to keep in the, well, dark.

The financial influence of anonymous political spending stretches from the highest office in the state – Gov. Doug Ducey was the beneficiary of $8.2 million in dark money during the 2014 election — to some legislative races.

On the bright side, Smith noted that many of these legislative efforts are dead or dying.

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, is killing SB1023, which would shield some campaign contributor s from exposure, in the face of opposition, including some from his own party. A Thorpe bill to exempt communications on personal devices from the public record never passed a committee hearing.

But bills like the dark money ban pre-emption and an effort to overhaul Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission are alive and will likely be approved along party-line votes. Progressives like Edman are hopeful that the changing demographics of the state will alter that reality.

Some see a not-too-distant future where that might be the case.

Sen. Robert Meza (D-Phoenix) (Cronkite News photo by Griselda Nevarez)
Sen. Robert Meza (D-Phoenix) (Cronkite News photo by Griselda Nevarez)

In a committee hearing on the resolution to undermine the voter-approved minimum wage hike, Sen. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix, warned his GOP colleagues that a wave is coming in the form of a young, educated, and arguably angry voter fed up with legislators who don’t listen to the people.
Smith isn’t so sure.

“You know if you’re a Republican sitting in a safe district, you can do just about anything,” he said. “Is there gonna be a backlash? Yeah, I think some of these things are going to be a bit too far. Is the backlash gonna extend to throwing people out of office? No.”

Legislation voters likely won’t love

Critics say that Republican lawmakers are pushing ideas to make legislators’ lives easier at the expense of voters, who would be cut off from vital knowledge about their elected officials and in some cases denied opportunities to vote. Here are a few examples of those bills they oppose – many have failed, but others are still making their way through the process.

SB 1023
Sponsored by Sen. John Kavanagh, the bill would have hidden the identities of most individuals who donate to political campaigns and legislative candidates in elections. Roughly three out of every four donors would not have their identities disclosed. Kavanagh won’t pursue the bill after facing some criticism from his GOP colleagues.

HB 2153
Sponsored by Rep. Vince Leach, the bill would bar Arizona municipalities from requiring politically active, tax-exempt organizations from revealing their donors. No city, county or town currently does this, but Tempe is considering the idea. The bill already passed the House, but must now be voted on in the Senate.

HB 2256
Sponsored by Rep. Bob Thorpe, the bill would undermine a recent ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals that found records stored on public official’s personal media devices are subject to public records laws. The bill would exempt those records, even if a public official was using a personal device to conduct official business. The bill never received a hearing.

SCR 1034
Sponsored by Senate President Steve Yarbrough, the resolution would increase the members serving on the Independent Redistricting Commission, the body responsible for redrawing Arizona’s congressional and legislative district boundaries. The bill has faced criticisms that it re-politicizes a process that voters explicitly don’t want legislators to be involved in. It awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

SCR 1002
Sponsored by Sen. David Farnsworth, the resolution sought to require voters to re-consider statewide initiatives or referendums every 10 years, essentially putting laws up for a revote each decade, something not required of laws approved by the Legislature. The resolution never received a hearing.

SCR 1016 and HCR 2026
Sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Allen and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, the resolutions second-guess the voters, who in 2016 approved an initiative to hike the minimum wage and give protections for employees who need paid sick leave. Mesnard’s resolution would weaken those protections, while Allen’s goes further and seeks to freeze the minimum wage at its current rate of $10.50 per hour, rather than let it climb to $12 as voters approved. Both measures are working their way through the Capitol.

HCR 2022
Sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham, the resolution would eliminate primaries when it comes to electing U.S. senators to represent Arizona in Congress. Legislators, not voters, would get to decide which partisan candidates run in the general election. It was approved in a House committee, but awaits a vote by the full chamber.

Recreational marijuana initiative written from lessons learned

Illustration of a green ballot box with a marijuana leaf
Illustration of a green ballot box with a marijuana leaf

Nearly three years after a narrow defeat at the polls, a new attempt to legalize recreational marijuana is underway.

Backers of the initiative, many of the same Arizona medical dispensary owners who supported the 2016 ballot measure, have incorporated lessons learned not just from their 2016 defeat, but from laws and initiatives that passed or failed in other states.

The result: The Smart and Safe Arizona Act, which mirrors the 2016 Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in some ways, but in others is completely different.

A cap on dispensary licenses

Once again, existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be given a leg up when it comes to obtaining licenses to begin selling recreational weed.

The 2016 initiative limited the number of licenses the state could issue for recreational marijuana sales to about 150 dispensaries – a figure roughly equal to 10% of the number of liquor store licenses in Arizona. Of those licenses, preference would have been given to existing medical dispensaries that applied for a recreational license.

Dispensary owner J.P. Holyoak said at the time that preference was given not to protect the business interests of medical dispensaries, but to ensure new recreational sales would be conducted by those familiar with the industry and in good standing with the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The 2020 initiative takes a similar approach, though a cap on the number of recreational dispensary licenses is linked not to liquor stores, but to pharmacies. The proposed law states that the Department of Health Services may issue no more than one recreational marijuana license for every 10 licensed pharmacies, drug manufacturing facilities or wholesaling facilities in the state – put another way, any place “in which or from which drugs are sold, compounded, dispensed, stocked, exposed, manufactured

Stacy Pearson
Stacy Pearson

or offered for sale.”

Stacy Pearson, a campaign consultant for the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, said that’s exactly how DHS currently calculates the number of medical marijuana licenses it issues. The state has issued 131 medical licenses so far, she said, meaning there would be roughly 131 licenses for recreational sales available if the initiative is approved.

“For ease of management at DHS, we kept the ratio the same,” she said.

Of those recreational licenses, preference would be given to two kinds of applications, referred to as “early applicants” in the initiative. The first are registered nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries in “good standing” with the Department of Health Services.

If approved, those applicants would be required to co-locate, meaning they’d sell recreational and medical marijuana out of the same facility, Pearson said.

What that means is double the licenses won’t double the number of physical dispensary locations.

Most current medical licensees are expected to apply for recreational licenses as well, Pearson added, though it’s unclear exactly how many will. Of the 131 available medical licenses, roughly 115 are currently operational.

The second applicants are those who seek to operate recreational sales in counties without much in the way of medicinal marijuana sales to begin with, meaning counties “with fewer than two registered nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries.”

Where the tax revenue goes

tax or taxes concept with word on business folder index

The Smart and Safe Arizona Act adjusts which areas of government would receive funding from a 16% excise tax on sales of recreational marijuana.

In 2016, the tax revenue was predominantly allocated to education. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol sought to place a 15% excise tax on retail sales of marijuana.

While a portion of those funds would have first be used to implement and enforce the new marijuana laws and regulations, a bulk of prospective revenues were earmarked for public schools: 40% would have helped pay  for school construction and maintenance, and another 40% would have been dedicated to funding full-day kindergarten programs. The remaining 20% would have gone to DHS to fund substance abuse awareness programs.

State budget analysts estimated in 2016 that recreational sales would raise more than $123 million in total annual revenue for the state.

Funds raised by the latest initiative would be split among a wider variety of state agencies.

Community college districts would receive 31.4% of the funds, about half of which would be distributed evenly among all districts, approximately half would go to community college districts and provisional community colleges in proportion to their enrollment, and a small percentage would be divided equally among provisional community colleges.

Another 31.4% would be allocated to police, fire departments, and sheriff’s offices. Local infrastructure projects would receive 30% of revenues, with those dollars earmarked for the state’s Highway User Revenue Fund.

In addition, 7% would go to a new Justice Reinvestment Fund, which includes substance abuse awareness and prevention programs, reducing the prison population and creating a program to identify those who are eligible for expungement, and the remaining 0.2% would go to the Attorney General’s Office.

The campaign estimates this initiative will bring in around $300 million in tax revenue, more than double the figure estimated during the 2016 campaign.

Packaging and advertising regulations

One area not addressed by the 2016 initiative was the packaging and marketing of marijuana products, particularly edibles. Three years ago, the anti-marijuana campaign focused on products like marijuana gummies and candies to drum up fear that kids would not just have easier access to marijuana if it were legalized recreational, but that kids would be tempted by a drug designed to look appealing to them.

The No On Prop 205 campaign in 2016 placed signs throughout Maricopa and Pima counties that featured pictures of edible marijuana they claimed were “virtually indistinguishable from popular store-brand, drug-free candy.”

Would you be able to recognize marijuana? Would your children?” the signs stated.


The 2020 initiative attempts to head off that campaign tactic by regulating the packaging and advertising of marijuana products. Broadly, the proposed law says that marijuana products may not be packaged or labeled “in a false or misleading manner.”

More specifically, dispensaries would be barred from producing and selling marijuana products “that resemble the form of a human, animal, insect, fruit, toy or cartoon” – for example, marijuana gummy bears.

The proposed law also specifically bars the sale of marijuana products with names, not just shapes, “that resemble food or drink brands marketed to children.” As for advertising, dispensaries would be required to specifically highlight themselves as the company responsible for an ad, and must ensure that their advertising efforts are targeted only to adults 21 and older.

Pearson said the inclusion of advertising and packaging restrictions is “not about the campaign as much as it is about good policy. It’s the right thing to do… There’s no interest in the industry to market products to kids.”

She noted that the language was inspired by other states that legalized recreational marijuana without such restrictions aimed at protecting children.

“Dispensary owners are parents too. They have no interest in having products that can be confused with products in Circle K,” Pearson said.

Employer rights

One of the most potent arguments against the 2016 recreational marijuana initiative was that it would hamper employers’ ability to discipline or fire a worker who uses marijuana. The 2016 initiative, Prop. 205, did not address that concern and ultimately failed by roughly 3 percentage points.

Having learned their lesson from that failure, backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act have attempted to add air-tight language to ensure that employers can continue to have drug-free workplaces, despite legalization.

Where the 2016 initiative did not require employers to allow or accommodate marijuana consumption, the 2020 initiative explicitly spells out that it “does not restrict the rights of employers to maintain a drug-and-alcohol-free workplace.”

Demitri Downing, the founder of the Marijuana Industry Trade Association, said in March that if the 2020 initiative did not explicitly say employers will maintain all rights and control, he would not support it. Now that the language has come out he says that he likes the way the initiative handled employer protections, and he thinks the voters should as well.

“One of the greatest obstacles that employers deal with is psychological issues, substance abuse issues like caffeine and alcohol, and having that protection is paramount,” Downing said. “The writers got it right and anybody who would argue otherwise is wrong.”

In 2016, various chambers of commerce slammed the initiative as anti-business, with the Tucson Hispanic Chamber, for example, calling the initiative a “tort-lawyer’s dream” and arguing that employers could be sued if they refuse to hire someone who tests positive for marijuana.

Garrick Taylor
Garrick Taylor

Garrick Taylor, a lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in May that was one of its biggest concerns for a new initiative. He said if the initiative drafters properly addressed the issue, it would help the chamber to possibly not oppose it. In 2016, the chamber spent roughly $1.5 million in opposition to legalization. Still, he said that does not mean the chamber would support it either.

“In light of our stiff opposition in 2016, the business community will take some serious convincing,” Taylor said, adding that the chamber is “especially concerned about a voter approved effort that would be nearly impossible to amend going forward.”

But whether the language in the new initiative assuaged the chamber’s concerns is still unclear. Taylor recently told Yellow Sheet Report that the chamber is waiting for everything to go through the Legislative Council before it commits to any stance.

Expunging criminal records

One portion of the initiative likely to attract new voters in the years since the last attempt failed is the inclusion of record expungement.

There was no mention of expungement of criminal records in the 2016 language. And while there isn’t an actual database that can be used to figure out the exact number of people who would qualify for the program, Pearson estimated roughly 150,000 Arizonans would be eligible.

The expungement process would not go into effect until July 12, 2021, and would be for anyone who was arrested, charged, convicted or sentenced for possessing, transporting or consuming up to one ounce of marijuana; possessing, transporting or cultivating up to six plants for personal use, or up to 12 plants per household with more than one adult; or possessing, transporting or using paraphernalia.

However, if the prosecuting agency involved can determine the request for expungement has genuine disputes of fact about whether the petition should be granted, the petition for expungement may be denied.

Future amendments

The Smart and Safe Arizona Act also includes an olive branch of sorts to the legislators, one not contemplated in 2016.

The initiative proposes a list of legislative actions that, were the Legislature to try and amend recreational marijuana laws in the future, would be considered OK in accordance with the Voter Protection Act.

The Voter Protection Act is infamous, particularly among GOP lawmakers who use it as a frequent critique of the initiative process, claiming they are unable to amend voter-approved laws even with the best of intentions because their hands are tied by the that law.

Amending voter-approved laws requires a three-quarters majority vote in both the House and Senate, but the Voter Protection Act also requires that those amendments further the intent of the voter-approved law that’s being amended. To assuage those concerns, the 2020 initiative stipulates that “the People of Arizona declare” that certain acts by the Legislature would “further the purpose” of the law.

The section acts as something of a green light for future legislators to make certain amendments, like reducing or eliminating certain offenses or penalties in the proposed law and increasing the amount of marijuana an individual can lawfully possess.

Pink And Blue Gummy Bears
Pink And Blue Gummy Bears

“We’re trying to give the Legislature as much flexibility as possible for this initiative to evolve,” Pearson said.

The list also contemplates a world in which the federal government passes its own laws to regulate legalized marijuana.

Lawmakers could amend the Smart and Safe Arizona Act “to align more closely with federal laws and regulations in the event that marijuana is legalized or decriminalized by the federal government.” That comes with the caveat that those new laws and regulations can’t be more restrictive or punitive than the law approved by voters.

“The funders of the initiative and the industry itself don’t claim to know every answer,” Pearson said. “Certainly as fast as this industry is evolving, we know there’s things that will need to be addressed.”

Including specific language regarding the Voter Protection Act “speaks to the committee’s intent to make good policy,” she said.

Recreational pot struggles in polls, low on funds

In this Nov. 4, 2010, file photo, a marijuana user poses a joint over some ground marijuana in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona voters will decide whether the state joins nearly a dozen others across the nation that have legalized recreational marijuana when they head to the polls on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
In this Nov. 4, 2010, file photo, a marijuana user poses a joint over some ground marijuana in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona voters will decide whether the state joins nearly a dozen others across the nation that have legalized recreational marijuana when they head to the polls on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

Polling data and an expensive media market paint a gloomy picture for legalizing recreational marijuana at the ballot this year. 

What seemed like a sure thing months ago, may not be so as voters are already filling out ballots at a record pace. Arizona narrowly defeated an effort to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016, but that effort even had ardent supporters against it. Four years later, the backers covered all their tracks, began collecting support months earlier than usual and were raking in millions of dollars from medical marijuana dispensaries to get the Smart and Safe Arizona Act on the ballot. 

After more than 420,000 signatures – and the impact of a pandemic – it survived two court challenges and became one of two ballot propositions voters have the opportunity to approve or shoot down. Proposition 207, as it’s now known, would allow adults 21 years old and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, cultivate up to six plants per home and would create a path for record expunging charges of marijuana possession. It also comes with an excise tax of 16% that would go to funding various areas. But for some reason, advertising has been dormant for the effort. 

The post-primary election campaign finance report indicates Smart and Safe Arizona was left with only $16,000 on hand after spending millions of dollars to get on the ballot. 

The highest fundraising mark came between January 1 and March 31 – more than $1 million dollars almost entirely from the dispensaries. 

But now with Arizona being a battleground state for the U.S. Senate and presidential races, the price to buy a TV ad has skyrocketed. 

Phoenix alone makes up for a high percentage of the state’s electorate, inside of Maricopa County, which accounts for roughly 60% of the vote, and the city is considered the most expensive media market in the entire country. 

In an average election cycle, Phoenix’s market would be between $700 and $800 in cost per point (how television advertising is measured). Right now, it’s skyrocketed to $2,053 cost per point. Campaigns would need to spend about $4 million for prime spots. 

While the 2016 effort had a well-funded opposition campaign due in part to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the chamber as well as other top contributors are no longer a factor this time around. The Ducey and the chamber still oppose the effort, but it will not put any money into the campaign. Instead it’s working to defeat Proposition 208, a proposal to tax the state’s highest earners, and to keep the Legislature in Republican control. 

Smart and Safe’s only opposition comes in the form of Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, a weak-funded effort spearheaded by the Center for Arizona Policy and chaired by Republican consultant Lisa James. 

The political action committee was left with roughly $21,000 on hand after the August primary. Neither campaign had third quarter numbers available in time for this report. 

Even without the spending, Smart and Safe has not been able to even rely on polling in its favor with most polls showing it under 50% support, something that is usually worrisome for campaigns this close to an election on a “yes” or “no” question.

Recreational marijuana lost with 48.7% of the vote in 2016. 

Polls are not the end-all-be-all for political campaigns, but a recent survey shows Prop. 207 gaining support. 

A new Monmouth poll released on October 15 shows increased support for legalization at a margin of 56% in favor to 36% opposed. A September Monmouth poll had 51% in favor, 41% opposed and 8% undecided. 

The first poll came out before Arizonans began to receive their ballots, but at the time of the poll James was delighted at the results.

“I would definitely be concerned if the yes campaign was over 60 at this point, but they are not,” she said. James thinks the dwindling support for legalizing weed is due to people paying attention to “what’s in all 17 pages” of the proposal and understanding that if approved, it’s virtually untouchable.

She was referring to the Voter Protection Act, which prevents any amendments or modifications from the Legislature –– unless they further the intent of the initiative, and any changes would need to have three-fourths support in both chambers, which becomes more rare as politics becomes more divisive.

“With voter protection, we’ll be locked into this for the foreseeable future and these guys have just gone, once again, a step too far,” James said.

Stacy Pearson, who is running the Smart and Safe campaign, said she was not worried, adding that the campaign’s internal polling has been in the high 50% range for almost two years. 

“We’re confident that the number is higher than 51. It is a relatively small sample size and I don’t know how it’s weighted,” she said. “But certainly Monmouth’s got a great reputation so we’re taking a close look at it.” 

 Monmouth’s new poll surveyed 502 likely voters that identified more heavily as independent followed by Republican and then Democrat, which could have affected its results. It also had a plus-minus 4.4% margin of error. Monmouth adjusts the results for a low and high turnout predictor putting the support between 54 and 56%. 

 Other polls, like Suffolk University/USA TODAY had Smart and Safe with just 45.6% in support compared to 34.2% opposed, but it’s undecided voters were at an unusually high 19%. 



Reopening economy: Ducey has hand on ‘dimmer switch’

Gov. Doug Ducey answers questions Monday about COVID-19, its effects on the economy and how that could affect the state budget and his call for tax cuts. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey answers questions Monday about COVID-19, its effects on the economy and how that could affect the state budget and his call for tax cuts. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Don’t expect scenes reminiscent of Black Friday stampedes or running with the bulls when Arizona’s economy restarts.

While local business officials urged Gov. Doug Ducey to reopen the state so they could get back to work, health experts warn of a surge in cases if the state opens too early and possible irreversible collateral damage if the state opens too late.

Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry — which advocates for putting the state in a competitive position in the global economy — said the organization was hearing from their frustrated membership who said they have been willing to make adjustments to their day-to-day activities if it means they can

“They have a desire to open in a way that still protects people,” Taylor said.

Taylor said a possible reopening process will be “like a dimmer switch.” He suggested a balance for “reopening responsibly” without putting stress on the health care system.

Consideration of customer density, modified hours, business by appointment only and increased use of Personal Protection Equipment, or PPE, by employees are all steps in the process to make reopening as safe as possible, Taylor said.

But reopening is a process and each day brings new challenges, updated case numbers and niche groups that need special protection.

Ducey already announced on April 22 elective surgeries could resume on May 1 at hospitals that meet a host of preparedness standards. There must be enhanced cleaning processes for waiting areas, screening for patients and staff, a more than two-week supply of PPE, adequate staffing and bed space, and appropriate discharge plans and testing for patients prior to

“There is a glimmer of hope since  surgeries can begin,” Taylor said. “It’s an important step in the economy starting again.”

Ducey’s stay-at-home executive order was set to expire April 30, but Ducey extended it to May 15, with some modifications. When data shows it’s safe to do so, the state will begin to implement federal guidelines for reopening.

States should meet “regional gating criteria” in order to implement each phase to reopen their state.

Criteria require state agencies to report more than once a downward trajectory in reported symptoms and positive cases as well as a testing program for patients, the public and health care workers.

Guidelines for phase one say individuals should continue to distance themselves from others, wash their hands, avoid touching their face and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

It tells employers to administer temperature checks, provide PPE, reconsider travel and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

States that meet the criteria a second time can go to phase two of reopening, which means non-essential travel can resume, socializing in groups of 50 people or less can occur and schools, venues, gyms and bars can reopen with strict adherence to distancing and sanitization protocols.

When states have met criteria a third time, vulnerable individuals can resume public interactions with adherence to phase one distancing and sanitization protocols. The guidelines say at this stage, employers can open worksites and venues, gyms, restaurants and bars can reopen as long as they follow sanitization protocols.

The New York Times reported businesses, restaurants, retail stores, nail salons were opening in districts across nine states. Arizona is among seven other states that had stay-at-home orders expiring at the end of the month.

Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, said the timing for reopening must be perfect.

“If we open too early, we don’t want to have a surge. But if we open too late, we don’t want that collateral damage,” Humble said, listing domestic and substance abuse and increased damage to low-income families. “It does more good than harm to plan for a reopening scenario,” Humble said.

He said some of the focus for reopening seemed to be on customer-focused businesses while companies that relied on staff were forgotten. He suggested managers develop break-room protocol and consider putting up physical barriers in the workplace.

Humble also said the state should follow four steps for success: robust testing, study trends of the spread, increase hospital capacity and staff a contact tracing team.

With guidance from the Governor’s Office, state agencies are preparing for all possibilities.

Morgan Dick, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Education said reopening schools will be a step-by-process.

Dick said department leadership was actively having conversations about protecting students, especially those who are medically fragile, with Personal Protective Equipment.

“All options are on the table right now,” Dick said, emphasizing the department’s expansion of a circle of experts which includes the Association of School Nurses.

The department began offering its summer meal service early for students in need and will continue to do so for the remainder of the school year and through the summer.

“We have tons of creative ways to help students, thanks to the flexibility from the Department of Agriculture,” Dick said, explaining how some families go to a pick-up location at the beginning of the week for enough food to last more than one day.

Split widens between business and education communities

After working together to pump $3.5 billion over a decade into the public education system, the business and education communities find themselves once more at odds following the latest actions at the Arizona Legislature.

The schism has the potential to threaten not only the extension of Proposition 301, the voter-approved tax increase that provides roughly $650 million a year in resources for Arizona schools, but also future initiatives meant to carve a successful path for K-12 education.

The immediate worry revolves around Prop. 301, which is set to expire in June 2021. Some fear that time is slipping, as the groundwork needed to push its extension – or maybe even expansion – has scarcely begun.

Chuck Essigs (Photo by Gary Grado, Arizona Capitol Times)
Chuck Essigs (Photo by Gary Grado, Arizona Capitol Times)

“I’m not sure people fully appreciate how short the time is to get it (Prop. 301) reauthorized,” said Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

And while leaders from both the education and business communities agree the tax must continue, they disagree on the status of their relationship.

With Gov. Doug Ducey at the helm, the business and education communities, two of the most influential groups in K-12 policy, had forged an alliance to pass Prop. 123 in 2016, and its success at the ballot box gave educators hope they would have a seat at the table when crafting future education policy.

But K-12 advocates said that hope was dashed following this year’s legislative session, when legislators did little to address issues school advocates raised and instead passed policies they opposed.

They said the teacher pay hikes that Ducey boasted of, for example, failed to even match inflation since the last teacher raise. Similarly, they argued, merit-based funding for schools, which lawmakers approved and which was backed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is ineffective in solving public education funding issues.

But business leaders said their relationship with the K-12 community is “very, very strong.”

Glenn Hamer
Glenn Hamer

“The business community is more engaged now than it has been, maybe ever, in efforts to align our education system with skills that are necessary for a productive workforce,” said Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Indeed, while the business community has always had a robust education agenda, it has aggressively been pushing policies in the last several years.

Notably, business leaders lobbied hard for legislators to restore funding for career and technical education, and by the time the restoration legislation was approved, lawmakers were clambering over each other to get credit for it.

While the business community and K-12 advocates agree on overarching goals, such as better education outcomes and more money for teachers and low-income schools, they differ on paths to get there.

Dick Foreman, president of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition, said “inclusive” was not an adjective he would use to describe the 2016-2017 legislative session.

Foreman agreed that while school leaders were open to discussions about education policy, they were not invited to the table.

However, Foreman recognized that the business community is “sensitive, aware and interested in public education.”

Unfortunately, he added, there is very little opportunity for CEOs and superintendents to communicate on what he considers a level playing field.

Foreman attributed this unequal playing field to differing worldviews. He said CEOs are worried about making profitable decisions, and superintendents are concerned with pleasing teachers.

The relationship between the business community and the education community, Foreman added, is the “same as it always has been, mostly favorable on the surface, but not having a clue what goes on under that surface.”

The schism between the K-12 and the business communities revolves around familiar issues of controversy.

The business community pushed for merit-based funding, which public school advocates believe only favor certain schools, notably charters.

Chris Kotterman
Chris Kotterman

Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Boards Association, said the merit-based funding is “disproportionately awarded to certain charter schools that do very well on standardized tests.”

But Hamer, the chamber official, denies preference for any schools.

“The business community is nondenominational when it comes to educational performance,” he said.

Lisa Graham Keegan, CEO of A for Arizona, also said the business community’s intention is to support schools that aid low-income students and produce students with the skillsets necessary to build a successful workforce and attract businesses to Arizona.

She attributed what she calls a “fast-paced moment” in Arizona’s education history to the “instinct” business leaders bring to schools.

The business community also successfully pushed for the expansion of a controversial voucher program, in which the state provides funding for a child’s private education.

Once limited to certain populations like children with disabilities, lawmakers this year opened up the program to all pupils, albeit enrollment is still capped to roughly 5,000 new students a year.

Kotterman called voucher expansion a “gut-check to true public education advocates,” which he said made clear that the business community is interested in making decisions that benefit their members, with little regard to the education community.

“When your primary economic policy is maintaining low taxes, you’re going to run into problem with institutions that depend on taxpayer support,” Kotterman said. “It does feel like they’re (business community) picking sides… and what they’re picking is a very specific model that advantages schools of choice over traditional district schools.”

Many believe that, in the end, public education advocates and business leaders would have to reconcile their differences, or at least set them aside, in order to push big initiatives.

Daniel Scarpinato, who speaks for the governor, said the success of Prop. 123 last year illustrated what can be achieved when these two groups get on the same page.

“There’s no way that you could have seen such a significant policy like that move through without real cooperation on that end,” Scarpinato said.

He noted that throughout the state’s history, monumental policies in education only happened when the business community and the K-12 advocates hunkered down together.

Ducey is keen on having these two groups work together, particularly because he is pushing big initiatives, such as the ambitious goal of having 60 percent of Arizona’s adults with a professional certificate or college degree by 2030.

More immediately, Ducey wants a “new Prop. 301.”

That reality, shared by many, will only come through if the business and education communities are on the same page, Scarpinato said.

“I don’t think one group can move this on their own,” he said. “And it’s critical, from the governor’s perspective, that there is something next on that because he didn’t fight so hard to resolve the lawsuit and pass Prop. 123 for us to then face a funding cliff.”

While not all parties will agree on every issue, what has to happen next is clear – groups must recognize the achievements that have been accomplished when “we partner,” and coalesce around policies that truly matter, Scarpinato said.

“We have every expectation it will [happen],” he said. “We really feel like we have a potential to come together again on some big issues next session and moving forward.”

But as Scarpinato recommends a unified front, some suggest that parting ways with certain elements of the business community, while cultivating collaboration with others, might be the most viable path for education advocates.

Essigs, who lobbies for school business officials, said he’s optimistic that business and education interests can work together in the future, adding he believes the schism isn’t so much between education groups and the business community at large, but with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Just because (Hamer) says there isn’t doesn’t mean that there isn’t,” Essigs said. “That could lead to a real pessimistic look, but I’m optimistic because I can see other people in the business community are looking at things differently.”

Essigs pointed to groups like the Arizona Business and Education Coalition, as well as local business groups and chambers of commerce, as evidence there are some in the business community who support the goals of education groups like his own.

He said people need to understand differences of opinion exist in the business community, and the path forward requires separating the Arizona Chamber of Commerce from the business community at large.

As long as the state chamber ignores the true needs of schools and the perception that poorly funded schools creates, the education community has no choice but to move forward without them, Essigs said.

“At this point in time, our only choice is to work with and corroborate with the business community that is supportive of public schools,” Essigs said. That would be business groups that, he said, “seem to recognize the problem and realize that, if we want to move forward as a state, and really make some progress, we’re going to have to address how to fund our schools.”

Reporter Ben Giles contributed to this article

Supreme Court bars tax on rich ballot measure from vote

Gavel and scales

The Arizona Supreme Court won’t allow a vote on a citizen initiative to raise taxes for public education.

In an order signed by Chief Justice Scott Bales Aug. 29, a majority of the justices ruled that the #InvestInEd initiative’s description of the campaign’s proposed tax hike on the wealthiest Arizonans, and the omission of any language describing how the law would affect the income tax brackets for Arizonans at every income level, was inadequate.

The two factors created “a significant danger of confusion or unfairness,” Bales wrote in the decision barring the initiative from a vote on the November ballot.

Supporters of the #InvestInEd movement sought to raise taxes on income above $250,000, a move they estimated would boost funding for K-12 public schools by $690 million.

The effort was crippled by what the opposition described as drafting errors.

Kory Langhofer, an attorney for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, argued that a 100-word description of the initiative inaccurately described the percent increase in tax brackets for wealthy Arizonans. And the initiative would undo a 2014 law that indexes all income tax brackets for inflation, which state budget analysts estimated would affect all Arizonans with higher taxes, Langhofer argued.

Though the #InvestInEd campaign vehemently denied the initiative would affect indexing, lawyers for the Legislature, and now a majority the Supreme Court, disagreed.

Joshua Buckley, a Mesa high school teacher and co-chair of the #InvestInEd campaign, said the court’s ruling infringed on Arizonans right to pass laws via the ballot, and vowed that the campaign would divert its efforts into electing legislators and politicians to statewide office that would support new funding for public schools.

“Today’s State Supreme Court decision is an utter outrage. Our highest court has joined the entrenched politicians at the Capitol in blatantly protecting the elite and the wealthy over the rights of voters and the needs of Arizona’s children,” Buckley said in a statement. “They’ve ignored the basic right, enshrined in the Arizona Constitution, of Arizona voters to enact laws on their own behalf.”

Supporters of the #RedForEd movement, which protested during the legislative session for higher teacher pay and more funding in general for public schools, planned a rally on the steps of the Arizona Supreme Court building on Thursday afternoon to object to the justice’s decision.

Leaders with Arizonans for Great Schools and a Stronger Economy, an organization formed to counter the #RedForEd narrative and oppose the tax hike, thanked the justices for their ruling.

“This was the right decision. As we argued, the initiative and its petition were fatally flawed. Proposition 207 does not meet the requirements to be on the ballot,” Jaime Molera, the group’s chairman, said in a statement. “Not only was the initiative poorly crafted, it was the wrong plan.”

Some blamed the ruling on Gov. Doug Ducey, who signed legislation in 2016 granting him the power to stack Arizona’s high court with two new justices. Previously there were only five, now there are seven, which supporters of the law — chief among them the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry — claimed would lessen the Court’s workload.

“We saw the first fruits of Doug Ducey’s court packing scheme of adding radically partisan, anti-education political operatives to the Arizona Supreme Court,” said Josselyn Berry, executive director at ProgressNow Arizona.

The justices were split in their decision to bar the initiative from the ballot, though it’s still unknown which justices took which side in the debate. A written ruling further explaining the justice’s decision, and presumably the dissent, will be released at a later date.

Supreme Court explains reasons Prop 208 returned to ballot

Trial judges cannot keep voter-proposed initiatives off the ballot just because the description doesn’t mention every provision, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday, a conclusion that should make it easier to put future initiatives to voters.

In an extensive decision, the justices rejected the idea that the legally required 100-word explanation on petition sheets must inform would-be signers of everything the proposed state law or constitutional amendment would do. As long as the verbiage does not provide “objectively false or misleading information” or obscures key provisions, it’s meets what’s legally required, wrote Justice Ann Scott Timmer for the unanimous court.

And if nothing else, Timmer said including every provision of a complex measure in that 100-word limit is just impractical. She said it’s sufficient for proponents to say in the description that those who want more information should read the actual text of the proposal.

Monday’s ruling is specifically explaining the court’s previously announced decision to give voters their say on a 3.5 percent surcharge on taxes of earnings above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples. Proposition 208 earmarks the proceeds mainly for K-12 education.

A trial judge had provided a litany of reasons he found the proposal legally unworthy to be on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Ann Scott Timmer
Ann Scott Timmer

More to the point, it sends a message to trial judges that they should not look for excuses to knock future proposals off the ballot as long as petition signers have reasonable notice of what the measure would do.

The unanimous decision is also a setback for initiative foes, particularly the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has routinely opposed efforts by voters to go around the decisions of the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature in deciding what to enact and what issues to ignore. That, in turn, could ease the path for anticipated future ballot proposals including increasing Arizona’s unemployment benefits, providing for family leave and creation of more affordable housing, all of which could end up on the 2022 ballot.

Chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor, who believes initiatives are misused, noted some states require that a certain percentage of signatures to come from different areas of the state. Right now, circulators can get all the names they need only from one county.

Taylor also noted some states have a requirement for initiatives to be ratified at two successive elections to take effect. And he also cited a requirement for a 60 percent approval margin that exists elsewhere.

That latter hurdle, had it been in effect, would have resulted in the defeat of at least two proposals opposed by the Chamber: the 2010 initiative allowing the medical use of marijuana and the 2016 measure imposing a $12 minimum wage.

Garrick said both are merited, and not just because his organization traditionally opposes ballot measures. He said initiatives often are financed by out-of-state interests. And a constitutional amendment — itself proposed and approved by voters — bars lawmakers from tinkering with anything approval at the ballot.

Central to the ruling is the right of Arizonans to propose their own constitutional amendments and changes to state law by gathering sufficient signatures on petitions.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury had invalidated all the Prop 208 petitions saying that the 100-word description omitted five principal provisions. One was that the description listed which programs would benefit from the money raised by hiking taxes on high-wage earners, but not what percentage for each program.

Timmer said that is not a principal provision that has to be detailed for signers. And she said anyone who wanted that level of detail “could readily discover it by reading the initiative text appended to the petition.

The justices also rejected Coury’s claim that it was misleading and confusing to call the 3.5 percent hike on taxes of certain individuals a “surcharge.”

“Neither the definition of `surcharge’ nor other language in the description supports this finding,” Timmer wrote. “The term is commonly understood to mean an additional charge, not a temporary one.”

And the court also said Coury was wrong in quashing the initiative because it did not specifically point out that the effect on owners of certain kinds of small businesses who do not report corporate income but instead attribute any profits to their personal income taxes.

“What is taxable as income is dictated by state and federal law,” Timmer said.

The judge said the effect on small businesses is a point to be argued to voters, something the chamber is doing with its claim that half of the money raised would come from owners of small businesses who employ 58% of Arizonans.

The bottom line, said Timmer, is that nothing in the Arizona Constitution or state initiative laws throws as many hurdles in the path of petition circulators as foes of the process have suggested. And she specifically said that only the most important, consequential and primary features of the initiative have to be in that explanation.

“The 100-word description serves as the ‘elevator pitch’ that alerts prospective signatories to the measure’s key operative provisions, enabling them to decide in short order whether to sign the petition, refuse to do so, or make further inquiry about the measure,” she said.

Potentially more important, Timmer said that the description can, in fact, be a sales pitch as long as it’s not misleading.

“(The law) does not require the description to be impartial,” she said.

Finally, the justices told the trial judges to use common sense in deciding whether a description is misleading.

“Reasonable people can differ about the best way to describe a principal provision, but a court should not enmesh itself in such quarrels,” Timmer said. “Applying the reasonable person standard, the trial judge should ordinarily decide the sufficiency of a description without expert witness evidence.”

That last reference is to the fact that Coury did allow the attorneys for business foes of Prop 208 to bring in an economist to argue what is the definition of a “surcharge.”


Survey says voters support modest tax hike for education

Jar for coins

A new statewide survey shows that a majority of voters are willing to hike sales taxes for education — but not by as much as some are seeking.

The poll done by Data Orbital also finds that a majority want “results-based funding,” what the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which sponsored the survey defines as tying increasing dollars to improved academic performance. And it finds strong public support for the plan crafted by Gov. Doug Ducey and enacted by the Legislature to boost teacher salaries an average of 20 percent by 2020.

The survey comes as the Helios Foundation is working to craft a measure that would raise $1.5 billion a year for education through a combination of increased sales and property taxes. Foundation officials are hoping to present a plan to lawmakers who would put it on the 2020 ballot.

But adding property taxes to the mix could prove fatal, with the survey finding using that as a source of revenues far less popular than not just sales taxes but also income taxes.

It also comes as the Center for Economic Progress is coming up with its own plan to ask voters to pump more money into education.

Last year the organization attempted to put a measure on the ballot for an income tax surcharge on the most wealthy Arizonans. That plan drew immediate fire from the state chamber, which filed the successful lawsuit that kept it off the ballot.

David Lujan, the group’s executive director, said the form the 2020 initiative will take is still being decided, with ongoing research to find something that would be acceptable to voters.

But Lujan said it could be similar to last year’s plan which sought to hike income taxes on individual earnings of more than $250,000 a year, a plan that would raise $690 million a year without costing the vast majority of voters a penny.

“What we found is it had strong support from Arizonans,” Lujan said of that proposal.

The chamber’s poll, however, asked only whether voters prefer sales, income or property taxes to fund education and never inquired about a plan to tax just high earners.

Chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor told Capitol Media Services that despite the opposition to last year’s bid to raise money for education through an income tax surcharge on the most wealthy that his organization isn’t necessarily opposed to putting more dollars into K-12 — and even doing it with some sort of tax hike.

“But we’ve also supported the idea that results should be valued and proper investments should follow those results,” he said. Taylor said, though, any academic improvement results used to put new dollars into classrooms should include special financial consideration for schools with “obstacles,” such as a high percentage of students in poverty.

Of note in the survey is how much more voters are willing to tax themselves.

Of the 550 people questioned in the telephone poll last month, 57.7 percent said they would support taking the current 0.6-cent sales tax now dedicated for education and raising that to a full penny. That parallels a plan crafted by Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

But there are others, like Sen. Andrea Dalessnadro, D-Green Valley, who have argued, however, that the approximately $473 million the tax hike would raise is nowhere near enough to make up for the funds that were cut from education during the recession.

There is, however, a risk of going bigger: The survey shows a drop of support, to 45.2 percent, for a plan to take that 0.6-cent levy and increase it to 1.5 percent to add $1 billion a year in funding.

One survey question may be an indication of the depth of public support for more education.

The chamber has Data Orbital point out that the Legislature put an additional more than $600 million into education this past year, though the question did not inform respondents that figure includes not just new money but also what the state is required to fund for both inflation and student population.

And then the survey goes on to state that current K-12 funding amounts to about $5.5 billion of the $11.8 billion state budget.

Yet even with those prompts, 52.4 percent of those questioned still believe that more funding for education is necessary.

“It’s not a runaway on that question,” Taylor said. “But still a majority, even when given the details of recent budget deals, still believe that more dollars are needed.”

The survey has a margin of error of 4.2 percent.

Tax on rich, legalized marijuana take lead in early ballots

Marking A Tick Box

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that will be updated as more results become available. This story was first published at 8:52 p.m., and last updated at 9:35 p.m.

Arizonans are on track to approve ballot measures to tax the rich to fund public education and legalize adult-use recreational marijuana. 

Voter approval of Proposition 208, the education tax hike also known as Invest in Education, would be a major defeat for Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who has made it his mission to only cut taxes while he runs the state.

While there are still hundreds of thousands of ballots left to count statewide, Prop. 208 leads 54.4% to 45.6%. The marijuana initiative, also known as the Smart and Safe Act, is ahead 60% to 40%. 

Backers for Prop 208 declared victory at around 8:30 p.m. and the Associated Press called the race for Prop 207.

Arizona saw record turnout across the board in this election surpassing the previous record from 2016 from early ballots alone. And many races saw a record amount of cash pouring in in the form of independent expenditures committees, which predominantly were used on advertising. 

Invest in Education, which will add a surcharge of 3.5% on taxable income for individuals who earn more than $250,000 a year or $500,000 a year for couples, is promoted as an annual infusion of about $940 million for K-12 in the state. About half of that will be for schools to hire teachers and classroom support personnel. The measure spawned out of the Red for Ed movement in 2018 with teachers and educators frustrated over the state’s low teacher pay and high student-to-teacher ratio. 

The yes group raised roughly $21.6 million – mostly from national education groups with local ties – and spent more than $16 million.

The no group, which was backed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and former appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera, has spent $13.6 million.

First reported in the Yellow Sheet Report on Oct. 30, Prop 208 backers complained about the Chamber  spending $16 million or so on TV advertising, but only reporting $5 million across three groups. The day after our sister publication posted the story, the Chamber reported an additional $8.6 million, which was several days after the deadline for the Pre-General campaign finance report. 

Prop 207 would make it legal to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, and allow people previously convicted of marijuana crimes to have their records expunged by the courts. The sale comes with a 16%  excise tax.

Backers spent the better part of the past four years after a narrow defeat in 2016 picking up support while also watching its opposition diminish. Money reflects those changes and apparently so did the early results. Backers received and spent more than $5 million, slightly less than 2016. Opposition hasn’t cracked $1 million in fundraising, which is a far cry from 2016 where it spent more than $6 million.

It did receive a generous contribution from the Chamber as well in the waning days of the election. The Chamber gave $100,000 after putting in more than $1 million in 2016 and vowing to not partake in the race –– at least financially.

When it’s all said and done, the Chamber would have spent roughly $10 million to defeat two ballot measures only to suffer two defeats of its own.

The CEOs speak

We asked a handful of company CEOs and business leaders one question: What can the state do to make sure the K-12 system is graduating students who can adequately fill Arizona’s current and future workforce needs? Here are their answers.

Mark B. Bonsall is Chief Executive Officer and General Manager of Salt River Project

Mark Bonsall
Mark Bonsall

SRP’s dedication to delivering safe, reliable water and power requires Arizona’s workforce to be well-educated and prepared for the challenges of a modern economy.

Arizona’s economic development depends on the availability of quality employees who are collaborative, conscientious and creative problem solvers in an evolving industry.

In order to ensure the state graduates students from the K-12 system, it should seek to ensure teachers and students thrive in a classroom environment that inspires and equips tomorrow’s workforce with these critical talents.

Providing adequate resources to attract and retain teachers is a critical ingredient to a complicated recipe for student success.

These resources include not only the provision of reasonable financial rewards but also enlisting the support from school administrators and the community who recognize and value classroom instructors for their proven ability to harness the best from our children.

Achieving a balance of resources that drives student performance is perhaps the state’s greatest challenge in the next few years.

SRP has a long history of doing its part to ensure a vibrant state economy, and stands ready to assist Arizona’s policymakers in this critical endeavor.

Wyatt Decker
Wyatt Decker

Wyatt Decker, M.D., is vice president of Mayo Clinic and CEO of Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

As Arizona’s premier destination for health care, we are pleased to attract top talent to our health care ranks. We recognize the importance of the K-12 system as a pipeline for future doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.

In particular, we value the growing number of private-public education partnerships. We’ve seen this benefit firsthand through our involvement with Paradise Valley High School/Health Care Academy, which provides work-based learning experiences at Mayo Clinic to juniors and seniors.

Additionally, our Young Volunteer Summer Program gives high school students the experience of working directly with patients and attending educational sessions about health care careers. These types of collaborations are an optimal way to encourage students to enter key career areas, such as in the health sciences, which are developed in a way that supports students’ future interest and career goals while also fulfilling employer and community needs.

Similarly, the development of health science classes as part of an integrated curriculum that meets graduation standards is important. The key strategy is incorporation of career education at an early age and consistently thereafter throughout a student’s K-12 education. Career education collaboration benefits the educator, employer and the student.

Glenn Hamer
Glenn Hamer

Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Arizona’s economy requires a K-12 system that ensures as many students as possible have access to a high-quality school, regardless of zip code. To reach that goal, the state must invest in proven results.

Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature in 2017 enthusiastically embraced the belief that we should seek to sustain and replicate quality by adopting a results-based funding model that directs additional dollars to Arizona’s high-quality classrooms, with a special emphasis on those great schools serving low-income areas. It’s an approach to funding that offers Arizona the most likely and fastest opportunity we have to grow excellence for more students.

We know what works. According to the Nation’s Report Card, Arizona leads the nation for the most significant achievement gains in math, science, and English Language Arts. We have a culture that has emphasized choice and rigor. We are home to five of the Top 10 public high schools in the country.

Now the focus must turn to expanding access to the high-quality educational choices currently available to some to the many. Results-based funding takes a giant leap in that direction.

Focusing on success over failure is not a novel concept in the business world, and it shouldn’t be in education either.

Dave Howell
Dave Howell
Chad Heinrich
Chad Heinrich

Dave Howell is director of state government affairs for Wells Fargo. Chad Heinrich is associate vice president for state government affairs for University of Phoenix.

As the co-chairs of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Education & Workforce Committee, we believe the answer to meeting Arizona’s workforce needs doesn’t just rest on K-12.

The K-12 and post-secondary systems have a shared responsibility to build a modern onramp to work and post-high school education. Whether it’s a trade school, college, or structured on-the-job training, our high schools and post-secondary system must be designed to prepare every graduate with the training that leads to an industry certification or credential, or that leads to a degree opportunity.

Though there are some jobs for high school graduates without additional training – particularly graduates who participated in formal Career & Technical Education – at some point shortly following their exit from high school, these students will need to update or advance their skills to remain employable.

This will require an extremely diverse system of public and private colleges and vocational training opportunities that meet the needs of in-demand jobs. Program approvals, financial aid, and public incentives, such as workforce dollars, should align with and reinforce quality programs that give graduates employable skills.

Sandy Gibson
Sandy Gibson

Sandy Gibson is president and interim-CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.

To be prepared for the workforce, Arizona’s students need various competencies – teamwork, written and presentation skills, and problem-solving. Academically, STEM skills and a second language will give them an edge. And just as important, graduates require life skills like dependability, financial acumen, appropriate risk-taking and perseverance.

A strong education system that can handle this responsibility starts with a capable and stable workforce of teachers. That’s why we must address our teacher shortage and give schools the tools they need to increase teacher pay and better manage workloads.

Moreover, employers need to be able to count on qualified graduates from schools and districts statewide – not just from a few top schools. That’s why Arizona should adopt policies and budgets that strengthen public education for children across our state. In particular, we need to address our state’s achievement gap that leaves students from low-income families behind, keeping them out of the workforce. Policies should be designed to give these students the opportunities and educational services they need.

And lastly, we need to leverage private and federal dollars to support high-quality early childhood education, because we know the return on that investment is greater academic success throughout the K-12 years.

Dawn Grove
Dawn Grove

Dawn Grove is corporate counsel for Karsten Manufacturing Corp., the parent company of PING. She chairs the Arizona Manufacturers Council and chairs the Workforce Arizona Council.

Let’s all embrace each other’s gifts and roles to ensure our students are prepared for tomorrow’s workforce. We’re connected, after all, as schools educate the skilled workers businesses need, and businesses help fund schools and provide the salaries, benefits, and dignity that support Arizona families, allowing our economy to thrive.

Businesses, let’s welcome school leaders – teachers, guidance counselors, board members – into our modern manufacturing plants and let them experience the careers available making cutting-edge products that improve people’s lives. Let’s generously provide schools with ambassadors who can help show real-world application of classroom studies, engaging students’ imaginations for future innovation possibilities.

School leaders, please take opportunities to further educate yourselves on the workforce needs of the local job creators who will eventually hire, continue to educate, and provide for most of your graduates, and work with policymakers to assemble data that include the numbers of graduates gainfully employed in business and manufacturing careers in addition to how many attend college.

Arizona government leaders, please ensure policies and laws strengthen schools with positive educational and workforce outcomes, and encourage outstanding job creators to thrive and grow here.

When we work together nothing is impossible. Let’s see what we can accomplish together.

Steve Macias
Steve Macias

Steve Macias is president of Pivot Manufacturing and is chairman of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

As the president of Pivot Manufacturing, I am on the front lines of the effort to hire and retain qualified workers. As a parent, I’m on the front lines of wanting to do all I can to ensure my kids are going to be one of those qualified workers (in any company!)

Part of the challenge we face is shifting large education and workforce training systems to meet a modern and constantly advancing definition of “qualified.” This is one of the reasons I and many of my colleagues fight against either-or solutions.

We don’t need work-ready or college-ready students; we need students who received a rigorous K-12 education, who are able to experience relevant coursework, such as Career and Technical Education, and who are prepared for post-secondary education and training.

Additionally, students won’t just need training after high school or later, but likely both, as technological advances – particularly in my field of defense and aerospace manufacturing – make skill upgrades a necessity for most 21st century jobs.

A stronger partnership with ongoing communication between schools, job trainers, and employers about current and evolving workplace needs is the best solution to keeping K-12, and whatever comes after, relevant for students and employers alike.

Only nimble organizations can adapt to the rates of change we experience today. We expect our education outlets to be up to the task.

David Martin
David Martin

David Martin is president of Arizona Chapter, Associated General Contractors of America.

The construction industry is finally beginning to recover from the Great Recession. Labor-force scarcity is becoming a bigger challenge for contractors. The K-12 system and many of its counselors do not promote construction as an excellent and rewarding career track. Too many times, our youth are led to believe the only path to success is a college degree, yet construction workers’ pay in Arizona averaged $49,400 – 4 percent more than the average for all private sector employees in the state.

The state can help by more aggressively supporting Career and Technical Education (CTE) as a respectable track for students who may not be interested in acquiring a college degree. In CTE programs, students actually apply what they learn in the classroom while simultaneously learning a craft that will pay them a living wage. CTE student success is also well documented. For example, the graduation rate for West-MEC students who completed a CTE program was 98 percent compared to 76 percent for all students in Arizona; the total enrollment of all five West-MEC campuses was 1,293, with an 88 percent retention; and, all West-MEC students who graduated last month acquired a recognized industry credential and who wanted to go to work had a 100 percent placement rate.

Ugenti-Rita defends seat against spectrum of detractors

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, shares a laugh at the Arizona Technology Innovation Summit at The Duce on March 20, 2019. Detractors of the 10-year incumbent include both sides of the abortion divide and fellow Republican lawmakers as she defends her seat against a well-financed primary opponent. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Bright yellow signs blasting Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita as “ethically compromised” litter roads in Scottsdale, where the 10-year incumbent seeks to fend off a primary challenge from a well-funded opponent.

It’s the most intense primary yet for Ugenti-Rita, one of the Senate’s most conservative Republicans, who swept into office in 2010 as a first-time candidate riding a Tea Party wave of activism. From that first race on, Ugenti-Rita has been a maverick unafraid of upsetting her own party — a stance that wins plaudits from constituents when it results in wins like an early repeal of a controversial vehicle license tax, but that also generates conflict at the Capitol, where legislative leaders prize “team players” above all else.

As she seeks to defend her Senate seat, Ugenti-Rita must deal with a social conservative lobby that doesn’t think she takes a sufficiently strong stance against abortion, skeptics of the #MeToo movement angry about Ugenti-Rita’s role in expelling a colleague she said sexually harassed her and voters troubled by sexual harassment allegations against Ugenti-Rita herself.

While rumors that Ugenti-Rita and her husband, former Governor’s Office staffer Brian Townsend, sexually harassed a lobbyist have circulated the Capitol for years and appeared in campaign materials from her 2018 primary opponent, the lobbyist’s sworn court deposition made public earlier this year put those claims in stark, occasionally graphic terms.

Alex Kolodin
Alex Kolodin

Ugenti-Rita’s primary opponent, Scottsdale attorney Alex Kolodin, is all too happy for voters to continue thinking of Ugenti-Rita laying on a bar for body shots and having her now-husband solicit a threesome, as the lobbyist alleged in her deposition. In campaign mailers, social media ads and sly asides during interviews, Kolodin calls out Ugenti-Rita’s “issues with lobbyists” and describes the incumbent as “scandal-plagued.”

“Everybody who is familiar with politics in Scottsdale, the people who are really actively involved, know the backstory and know the scandal,” Kolodin said. “It’s become a known thing among the electorate. I want to be represented by somebody who makes me proud as a constituent, and that’s certainly one of the reasons that I wanted to run.”

Ugenti-Rita has assiduously refused to acknowledge the allegations against her, ignoring questions from reporters and avoiding forums and debates where they could arise. Her Senate colleagues closed ranks around her in February, after the Arizona Capitol Times and other media organizations obtained copies of the court filings.

She is currently embroiled in a defamation lawsuit against former lawmaker Don Shooter, who was expelled from the state House after Ugenti-Rita and several other women complained that he harassed them. And if Kolodin continues discussing sexual harassment allegations leveled at Ugenti-Rita, she may sue him as well, her lawyer said in a letter sent to Kolodin last week.

“I am well aware that the days of civility for most people in political campaigns are well behind us in America, but that does not give you a license to harm Ms. Ugenti-Rita’s reputation with false and defamatory statements about her,” attorney Mark Goldman wrote. “I hope that you will rise above your current obvious inclination to defame Ms. Ugenti-Rita. Do you really want this type or conduct to be part of your political legacy in Arizona?”

Shooter, meanwhile, is invested in making sure Ugenti-Rita loses, and has offered Kolodin campaign advice — though he said Kolodin doesn’t need and hasn’t asked for his help.

“He’s not a stupid man,” Shooter said. “He’s not listening to me.”

Ugenti-Rita still maintains broad support among members of Arizona’s conservative political establishment. One of her seatmates, Republican Rep. Jay Lawrence of Scottsdale, repeatedly refers to himself, Ugenti-Rita, Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills and Congressman Dave Schweikert as the “LD23 Dream Team.”

Her hard-line stances against tax increases and laser focus on election legislation earn praise from conservatives. More recently, her stalwart opposition to Gov. Doug Ducey’s assumption of power during the COVID-19 pandemic — including drafting legislation to immediately overthrow his state of emergency and protesting attempts to end the legislative session — won admiration from the conservative wing of the party.

And while Kolodin appears on first glance to have outraised Ugenti-Rita in the last two quarters, nearly all of the $135,000 he collected by July 1 comes from loans he gave his campaign. Ugenti-Rita brought in just over $88,000, all of which came from contributions from individuals and political action committees.

Influential Republican groups have split on endorsements in the race, with the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and the Free Enterprise Club picking Ugenti-Rita and the Center for Arizona Policy siding with Kolodin. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry endorsed neither.

Following the Center for Arizona Policy’s snub of Ugenti-Rita, freshman Republican Reps. Shawnna Bolick and Walt Blackman announced their own endorsements of Kolodin. Bolick’s teenage son, Ryne, is also managing Kolodin’s campaign.

Their endorsements mark a new area in which Ugenti-Rita has had to go on the defensive: while supporters of abortion rights have long criticized her record, she’s now targeted by abortion rights opponents as being too “pro-choice.”

The main issue the Center for Arizona Policy and Kolodin cited was Ugenti-Rita’s support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Over the past several years, she and two other Republican women, Sens. Heather Carter of Cave Creek and Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix, have voted for and sponsored resolutions to ratify the constitutional amendment, which guarantees equal rights regardless of sex.

Cathi Herrod
Cathi Herrod

Critics of the amendment portray it as enshrining the right to obtain an abortion in the Constitution, and supporting it earned Ugenti-Rita, Carter and Brophy McGee the ire of the Center for Arizona Policy and its influential leader, Cathi Herrod. Ugenti-Rita and the center also tangled over a CAP-backed bill to provide state funding for centers meant to dissuade women from obtaining abortions, as Ugenti-Rita questioned the need for aspects of the bill.

Blackman said his support for Kolodin stems from his belief that Kolodin will try to outright ban abortion instead of continuing to regulate it, as Republican majorities have done for the past several decades. Arizona still has an abortion ban on the books – it just can’t be enforced because of Roe v Wade.

“We need legislators that are going to fight [for] this cause, and I endorsed him because that’s what he wants to do. He wants to end this epidemic,” Blackman said.

The winner of the August 4 Republican primary will face Democrat Seth Blattman, an ASU graduate and political newcomer who runs his family’s furniture manufacturing company.

Unemployment skyrockets


The number of Arizonans applying for jobless benefits jumped by a factor of seven this past week, providing the first clear indicators of the effect COVID-19 is having on the state economy.

New figures from the state Department of Economic Security shows there were 29,333 initial claims for unemployment insurance for the week ending March 20. That compares with 3,844 the week before and 3,357 the week before that.

And all this occurred before the Legislature adopted an expanded definition of who is eligible for benefits to include not just those laid off but also to waive requirements for people to go out and look for work to get the weekly checks. That provides relief for those who expect to go back to their original jobs once their employer reopens.

More significant, it protects those who are either infected themselves or live in a home where someone has COVID-19.

Glenn Hamer
Glenn Hamer

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said those are precisely the people who should not be out going from job site to job site.

On top of that, Gov. Doug Ducey has issued an executive order waiving the existing one-week waiting period after being out of work before someone can collect benefits.

All that portends even higher numbers of people out of work − and looking for benefits − in the weeks ahead.

In a new report, the Economic Policy Institute estimated that the state will lose nearly 280,000 jobs in the private sector due to COVID-19.

Not surprisingly, many of these will come in the leisure and hospitality industry, what with the shuttering of bars and a prohibition against in-restaurant dining in the counties with confirmed cases.

Losses also are projected in retail trade.

What makes that important is that one job out of every five in private industry is in those two sectors.

And there’s a hit to the larger economy.

The most recent figures from the state Office of Economic Opportunity − from January, before the outbreak − show 2.54 million people employed in the state’s private sector. The losses projected by the Economic Policy Institute amount to about 11.1 percent of the total.

If the organization is correct, the change will boost the state’s jobless rate from 4.6 percent to close to more than 12 percent by this summer. That’s higher than not only what it hit during the Great Recession but even higher than records going back nearly a half century, with a peak of 11.5 percent in December 1982.

Less clear is the financial implication on all of that to employers.

By law, jobless benefits are paid for from a trust fund financed by a tax that all companies pay on the first $7,000 of each worker’s salary. Rates can range from less than 1 percent for employers who have the best job history − meaning the fewest number of workers let go − to 5.4 percent for those with the highest number of layoffs.

The average this year, according to DES, is 1.6 percent, down from 2.4 percent following the recession.

Arizona’s standing as the state with the best rate of improper payments of jobless benefits in 2012-2013 is a sharp change from two years earlier, when the state’s improper payment rate of 20 percent was among the highest in the country. (Photo by Bytemarks via flickr/Creative Commons)
(Photo by Bytemarks via flickr/Creative Commons)

More to the point, that trust fund is supposed to be self-leveling.

Both the measure approved by lawmakers and the governor’s executive order contain provisions saying that an individual company’s experience in having to let go of workers due to COVID-19 will not affect their premiums. But the fact remains that as the fund drains down, it will have to be replenished.

That’s precisely what happened after the Great Recession where the fund, which had been at over $1 billion, actually went into the red by $600 million.

And that forced the state to actually borrow money from the federal government. All that meant not only higher premiums but an actual $42-per-employee surcharge approved by the Legislature to pay off the note.

What happens this time depends on several factors.

It starts with the trust. The most recent figures show a balance of more than $1.1 billion.

But then there’s the question of how long the downturn lasts.

Hamer said there’s a big difference between the recession of the last decade and what’s happening now. He said that one was the result of structural weakness in the economy, something that took years to overcome.

By contrast, Hamer said, the state and nation was on sound structural footing until the outbreak. And he said the worst of the virus could be over by the summer and employers could start rehiring then.

One thing Hamer does not want to do, at least not now, is entertain calls by Democrats to raise the benefits.

By law, those who are fired through no fault of their own are entitled to collect half of their salary, generally for up to 26 weeks. But each state is entitled to decide its own maximum.

For Arizona that is $240 a week, a figure that is higher than only Mississippi at $235 — and a figure that has not been updated since 2004 when the minimum wage here was $5.75 an hour and not $12 as it is now.

Lawmakers urging an increase argued that people cannot live on that.

Hamer, for his part, is not necessarily disagreeing. But he said this isn’t the time given that more money being paid out would lead to higher premiums for companies.

“We have to look at it, as we look at that benefit, the effect it’s going to have on employers that are hemorrhaging cash, particularly for smaller businesses that are facing liquidity issues as we speak,” Hamer said.

But he acknowledged that his organization has never argued for boosting the benefits. And that leaves the question of, if not now, then when?

“We’re open to looking at all aspects of the program,” Hamer said. “We want it to remain competitive.”

He said there might be some opportunities for “flexibility” at some point in the future.

Young people exempt from minimum wage under Republican bill

Insisting it will be good for young people, a House panel voted Monday to let employers pay students who are part-time workers just two-thirds as much as they do anyone else.

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, said he believes that if companies can pay some of their part-time workers less than the voter-mandated minimum, currently $11 an hour, they will hire more young people. He said the higher wage deters employers from bringing on people and training them.

“Ultimately, if this passes, I believe this will actually increase the number of jobs that are available and get more people in the workforce and help lower that youth unemployment rate,” Grantham said.

And Jon Riches of the Goldwater Institute, told members of the House Committee on Regulatory Affairs that getting someone a first job is important for character development and work ethics.

HB 2523 would say that employers could pay as little as the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour, to those who are full-time students younger than 22 who are working fewer than 20 hours a week.

Monday’s 4-3 party-line vote by the Republican-controlled committee came despite questions about whether lawmakers even have the power to carve out the exception.

Brenda Munoz Furnish of the William E. Morris Institute for Justice pointed out that Arizona voters created the first minimum wage in 2006. A second public vote in 2016, approved by a nearly 2-1 margin, will boost that to $12 an hour by 2020.

That, she said, means it is subject to the Voter Protection Act, a constitutional provision that bars lawmakers from tinkering with anything voters have approved.

“The Legislature cannot and should not undermine the will of the voters,” Munoz Furnish said.

But Riches argued that, technically speaking, nothing in the legislation affects what voters approved.

He said both ballot measures simply spelled out how much employers have to pay to their employees.

What it did not do, Riches said, is define who is an “employee.” And, that, he said, allows lawmakers to decide that some people do not fit that definition.

That’s precisely what HB 2523 does, creating a new definition in statute of employment “on a casual basis.”

Anyway, Riches said, the 2016 initiative was dubbed the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act. That, he said, meant it was being sold to voters as a way of supporting full-time workers.

But Rep. Raquel Terận, D-Phoenix, who worked to get the 2016 initiative approved, said that ignores the fiscal realities of many families.

“I come from a district of the median income being $29,000,” she said. And what that means, Terận told colleagues, is that a student who is working a part-time job while going to school is contributing to the total income of that household, just as much as are the adults.

Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, also questioned why the measure was crafted to exempt part-time workers through age 21, given that the U.S. Constitution considers people to be adults at age 18.

More to the point, Shah said he was not buying the argument by supporters that lower wages for some is actually good for them.

“If the minimum wage were not there, it is possible that perhaps more people would be employed,” he said.

“However, as a society, we’ve also said that when those wages are set at a certain level it practically allows folks that do apply and get positions to then be able to support themselves and live lives that we feel are adequate for the circumstances,” Shah continued. “So that’s a societal decision that we’ve made.”

And Shah said even if it could be shown that the Legislature could redefine who is and is not eligible to be paid the minimum wage, this measure violates the intent of what voters approved.

But Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, said he has no problem with the Legislature tinkering with the minimum wage law in this way.

“It’s government’s job to protect equal opportunity,” he said. “It’s not government’s job to provide equal things.”

Nor was he sympathetic to complaints by some students who testified that this creates a hardship.

“At times we have to do things that require extra work, like doing extra jobs or do two jobs,” Blackman said.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said she sees it differently.

“Forcing Arizonans to live in poverty doesn’t do our communities or our state any good,” she said. And Powers Hannley said even if it only affects students, she sees no benefit in forcing them to take on more debt.

The legislation, which now needs approval of the full House, also is being supported by other business groups including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business. Both groups opposed the 2006 and 2016 initiatives to pay anyone more than the federal minimum wage, with the chamber even trying to block the voter-approved change through litigation.