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

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.

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 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.


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 orders ban on ‘vaccine passports’

Immune passport. Coronavirus immunity certificate or vaccine passport on smartphone screen with doctor stethoscope, healthcare charts, syringe and medical equipment on hospital red background

Gov. Doug Ducey is blocking government agencies and some businesses from requiring customers to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid.

But the owner of your favorite restaurant or grocery store remains free to turn you away if you aren’t fully inoculated.

In the latest use of his emergency powers Monday, the governor issued an executive order barring any state or local government from denying access to any building, business, facility, location, park or other space simply because that person has not provided proof of vaccination. The same executive order says vaccination proof also cannot be required by government agencies as a condition of receiving any permit, service, license or work authorization.

Ducey also said that any business that has a contract with the state to provide services to the public is similarly prohibited from demanding documentation of vaccine status of customers.

“The residents of our state should not be required by the government to share their private medical information,” the governor said in a prepared statement.

But Ducey’s claim that he is banning so-called “vaccine passports” doesn’t hold up under closer examination.

His restrictions on what businesses can and cannot do covers only firms with state contracts. Companies that aren’t getting money from the state are unaffected and can shun unvaccinated customers, just as they now are free to require their patrons to wear masks despite the lack of any statewide mandate.

Potentially more significant, the order as crafted also does not affect what employers can require of their workers. Firms can decide to hire only those who are fully immunized.

And Ducey’s order also contains other exceptions to his ban on people having to produce proof of vaccination.

For example, hospitals, nursing homes and other congregate care settings still can deny access to patients, residents, employees or visitors.

It also leaves undisturbed the current ability of schools, child care centers and universities to demand a student’s vaccination records.

But those laws address the normal childhood diseases, things like measles and mumps. There is no current requirement for children to be vaccinated against other viruses, including Covid.

Finally, Ducey’s order does allow state or local health officials to require people to provide documentation of their vaccination status during any Covid outbreak investigation.

The issue of vaccine passports has become a political issue since the Biden administration said it was developing standards for people to prove they have been vaccinated against the virus.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said there will be no national mandate. But just the idea of it has raised fears that people might be asked for their papers.

It also comes nearly two weeks after the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an even broader plan. It would prohibit any and all businesses from demanding proof of vaccination for customers, regardless of whether they get money from the state.

HB2190, as currently written, also would bar businesses owners from making vaccination a requirement for employees. But Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said that language is likely to be removed if and when his measure goes to the full Senate.

The order also comes as Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, is seeking a legal opinion from Attorney General Mark Brnovich on whether private companies can make vaccination proof a condition of being a patron or employee.

Dr. Cara Chrst, the state health director, said earlier this month she supports the idea of “vaccine passports” but does not want them to be something that people would have to show to enter certain businesses.

“It would be nice to have an electronic format of some of that,” the health director said. “But we’re not looking here at the department at making that a requirement.”
Still, Christ said, this isn’t a question for her agency.

“Business owners do have the ability to implement mitigation strategies,” she said, ways to protect against the spread of the virus. And that is not limited to masks and social distancing.

The order comes as the latest figures from the state Department of Health Services show that just 37% of Arizonans have received one dose of the vaccine and only about 25% are fully immunized.

“While we strongly recommend all Arizonans get the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s not mandated in our state — and it never will be,” Ducey said. “Vaccination is up to each individual, not the government.”

The scope of the governor’s order drew a sigh of relief from Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“We appreciate that this order has been narrowly crafted and does not impose new mandates on private sector businesses broadly,” he said.

The new order also spells out that it does not limit the ability of people to access their own vaccination records as well as to have them forwarded to anyone else.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”