By Francie Payne
Though nearly five weeks remain before we cast our ballots in the General Election, most of us know who has our vote. What is likely not so cut and dried is where we stand on the nine propositions on the ballot. The first eight propositions listed below would amend the state constitution, if passed. The ninth would amend cur-rent state law. Some are simpler than others, but all are important as they will help shape Arizona’s future.
Dubbed the Crime Victims Protection Act of 2012, Proposition 114 would protect crime victims from liability for damages suffered by a person who was injured while committing or attempting to commit a felony against the victim if passed. If it does not pass, current law which generally provides that the right to recover damages for death or injury may not be limited will stand
Proposition 115 is much more complex. If passed, it would increase the terms of Arizona Supreme Court justices, Appellate Court and Superior Court judges to eight years; raise the retirement age for justices and judges from 70 to 75; change the membership of commissions on appellate and trial court appointments, and the procedures for appointing justices and judges; require the Supreme Court, Appellate Court and Superior Courts to publish decisions online; require the Supreme Court to send the legislature a copy of the judicial review of each justice and judge up for retention; and allow a joint legislative committee to take testimony on justices and judges up for retention.
Proponents of Prop. 115 say it will improve Arizona’s merit selection system; that it will improve the ac-countability and transparency of judicial selections; that it will help assure fair and impartial courts.
Opponents of the measure say the current merit selection system of justices and judges is working well, and that passage of Prop. 115 would give future governors and legislators almost complete control in appointing members to judicial nominating committees, thus allowing politicians control over the judicial process.
Known as the Small Business Job Creation Act, if passed, this measure would set the amount exempt from annual taxes on business equipment and machinery purchased after 2012 to an amount equal to the combined earnings of 50 Arizona workers.
Proponents of Prop. 116 note that such an exemption would give businesses money to buy needed equipment and/or hire more employees; and that it would help level the playing field with most other states that do not tax equipment and machinery as Arizona does.
No arguments against Prop. 116 were submitted to the Secretary of State’s office.
If passed, Prop. 117 would set a limit on the annual percentage increase in property values used to determine property taxes to no more than five percent above the previous year and establish a single limited property value as the basis for determining all property taxes on real property beginning in 2014.
Proponents of this measure argue that it would limit growth in property valuations, protect taxpayers from dramatic increases in tax bills due to real estate market volatility and simplify one of the most complex property tax systems in the country.
Opponents of Prop. 117 say it does nothing to limit your property tax bill or annual tax increases, and that it would allow unfair and inequitable taxation.
Since the arguments are diametrically opposed, it may help to check the credentials of those submitting the arguments. Proponents of Prop. 117 include the Arizona Tax Research Association, the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, the Arizona Chapter of NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association, the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association and several individuals. Opponents include the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, former general counsel for the Arizona Department of Revenue and former Chief Tax Administrative Law Judge for Phoenix and Mesa, and three individuals.
Passage of Prop. 118 would change the distribution formula for the State Land Trust Permanent Endowment Fund, which funds public institutions such as schools, to 2.5 percent of the average monthly market values of the fund for the immediately preceding five years. This would be in effect from 2012-13 to 2020-21. After that, it would return to the current formula, which takes the average total rate of return for the previous five years, less the percentage change in inflation, multiplied by the average market value over the previous five years.
Proponents say passage of the measure will simplify the formula for education funding, provide more reliable funding for schools without new taxes or additional general fund spending, and bring predictability to the distribution of revenue from the state land trust fund.
No opposing arguments were submitted.
If passed, the exchange of state trust lands will be authorized if it is related to either protecting military facilities or improving the management of state trust lands. The process for such exchanges would include two independent appraisals and analyses, public hearings and approval by public vote.
Proponents of Prop. 119 say it provides for accountable and transparent state trust land exchanges by requiring approval by voters, that it helps protect the corridors surrounding military installations, and that it tells the U.S. Department of Defense that Arizona is serious about protecting and preserving our military installations.
No opposing arguments were submitted.
This measure seeks to repeal the state’s disclaimer of all right and title to all right and title to public lands within the state, except Indian reservations, as well as Arizona’s consent to provisions of the Enabling Act.
Proponents argue that the federal government retained land in each of the western states in violation of federal law, federal control and interference in state affairs inhibits Arizona’s ability to provide for the welfare, health and safety of its people, and public lands in Arizona have been mismanaged by the federal government.
Opponents of this issue submitted more arguments this time, including that Prop. 120 would destroy the state’s iconic public lands heritage; state parks are being closed due to budget constraints, what would happen if national parks and monuments also became the sole responsibility of state taxpayers; and protections provided by federal law that guide public land management would be undermined. They also note that rather than emphasize Arizona’s sovereignty, Prop. 120 would make public lands that all Americans enjoy vulnerable to sale and exploitation for private gain.
Titled the Open Elections/Open Government Act, Prop. 121 is better known as the Top Two Primary initiative. If passed, it would replace the current party primary election with a top two primary in which all voters, regardless of party affiliation vote in a single primary, and the top two vote getters for each seat move on to the general election. It would not apply to the election of the U.S. President or elections in which no party affiliation appears on the ballot.
This measure drew an abundance of arguments, both for and against.
Proponents argue that Prop. 121 will allow every voter the right to vote in every election, it will level the playing field for independent candidates, it will provide more opportunities for moderate pro-business candidates within any party, and it will require winning politicians to talk to people in the other party, as well as in-dependents, thus making the state’s political climate more moderate.
Opponents note that Arizona’s Independent voters already have the right to vote in any election by choosing a party ballot in a primary election; the Top Two can create one-party controlled general election ballots; small parties lose any platform to advance their opinions and ideas; and Independents are not likely to win a place on the general ballot. In addition, while the state would likely spend less money on primary elections, the cost to counties would increase by $440,000 to $2 million, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. Opponents also note the high possibility of sham or ringer candidates to manipulate the election’s outcome, and an increase in identity theft and voter fraud because anyone could request and receive a copy of personal voter registration identification.
Passage of Prop. 204 would permanently increase the state sales tax by one cent per dollar, effective June 1, 2013, to help fund educational programs, public transportation infrastructure projects and human services. It also forbids reductions to current K-12 and university funding levels, as well as reductions to the current state sales tax base.
This is likely the longest initiative on the ballot, and drew many, many arguments from both sides.
Proponents of the Quality Education and Jobs initiative say it will allow Arizonans to exercise their constitutional right to determine exactly how their tax dollars are spent; it will restore a portion of critical basic needs services that have been cut; it will fund needed investment in education; and it guarantees the state’s investment in transportation infrastructure.
Some opponents refer to this as California, union-style budgeting. They point out that this is an additional tax, as the current one-cent increase approved in 2010 has not expired. State leaders have set aside $450 million in case it is needed when the sales tax expires. They note that the state does not need more budgeting by the ballot box, nor do citizens need to further hamstring the legislature. Under the state constitution, the governor and legislature are required to balance the budget and every permanent earmark makes that job harder.
It won’t be hard to decide where you stand on many of these propositions, but the remainder deserve some study. Though it will take some time, citizens are urged to read through the propositions, and to study the arguments for and against the tougher ones. If you did not receive a copy of Arizona’s General Election Guide, call the Secretary of State’s office at 1-877-843-8683.
By Francie Payne