EV Leaders Urge ‘No’ On Voucher, No-Tax Propositions - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

EV Leaders Urge ‘No’ On Voucher, No-Tax Propositions

November 6th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
EV Leaders Urge ‘No’ On Voucher, No-Tax Propositions

By Paul Maryniak

Executive Editor

The East Valley’s most prominent organization of business, education and community leaders has parted ways with the governor and a state Realtors group on two ballot propositions.

The nonpartisan East Valley Partnership board urged voters to cast their ballots against Prop 305, which would expand school vouchers, and against Prop 126, which the Arizona Association of Realtors has pushed to prevent state and local governments from enacting new taxes on services – such as real estate transactions.

The board also urged a “No” vote on Prop 127, which would amend Arizona’s constitution and require utilities to get 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, by 2030.

The Partnership’s 45-member advocacy committee and 65-member board is a who’s who of representatives from some of the biggest businesses and educational institutions in Arizona, ranging from Wells Fargo and Cox Communications to Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project. It also counts virtually all East Valley municipalities, ASU and both community colleges among its members.

While it never endorses candidates, it occasionally weighs in on propositions and other issues.

The board said its recommendations on all three propositions followed “presentations from both sides of the issues and thoughtful consideration.”

Its recommendations for votes against expanded vouchers flies in the face of Gov. Doug Ducey, who threw his support behind the controversial measure and was reported saying recently, “Prop 305 is fiscally responsible, improves accountability and transparency, prioritizes low-income students and families and does not raise taxes. When parents have options, kids win.”

That’s not the way opponents, including the Partnership, see it.

Opponents call the expansion a direct attack on public education funding, saying it would divert already depleted funding of public schools in favor of private educational institutions. State funding of public school districts depends largely on their enrollment count.

Supporters of the measure have been trying to deflect public attention from the proposition’s impact by avoiding – and at times even criticizing – the use of the term “vouchers.”

The proposition would lift restrictions on the state’s ESA empowerment scholarships, which provide financial assistance to public school students with special needs, those in foster care, children of military personnel or who live on an Indian reservation or have a parent who is legally blind or deaf.

About 3,500 students out of 1.1 million in public schools now get such aid.

But last year, the State Legislature voted to remove those restrictions – prompting a grassroots movement called Save Our Schools to get enough signatures to force a public vote on the move and sparking concern even among some voucher supporters that the neediest students for whom the program was intended would be shut out by well-to-do families who could use public funds to send their kids to private schools.

Supporters of voucher expansion lost a bitter court fight to keep the measure off the ballot.

The East Valley Partnership in a release said its “no” position on Prop 305 was an effort “to protect Arizona’s public education system.”

Education has been a pillar of the partnership’s efforts, partly in the belief that an educated work force will make Arizona attractive to out-of-state employers.

“We believe that the current ESA voucher program should maintain its focus on students with special needs, in foster care and in military families while preserving public education funding to support an educated workforce and a robust economy,” said partnership President/CEO Denny Barney, who also is a Maricopa County supervisor and Gilbert resident.

While breaking with Ducey on vouchers, the Partnership basically sides with him on Proposition 126 – which would prohibit state and local governments from enacting new taxes or increasing tax rates on services performed in Arizona.

“We believe this initiative would reduce the ability of the State Legislature to manage the budget and prematurely remove sources of funding for critical state and community services while creating an administrative burden for business owners,” Barney said.

The no-tax measure is financed by Arizona Realtors and their national parent organization, which secured sufficient petition signatures to get on the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment forever precluding the legislature from expanding the current sales tax base to services that are not already taxed.

They have built a war chest – $6.1 million as of the last campaign finance report filed in the middle of August – to get voters to approve.

For the moment, the campaign operating under the umbrella of Citizens for Fair Tax Policy, is the only game in town on the ballot measure. There is no organized opposition.

But the proposal has generated some resistance from an interesting and unlikely alliance, ranging from the Grand Canyon Institute which looks for ways to increase funding for public education, to Andrew Clark, the state director for Americans for Prosperity, a political action group funded by the conservative Koch brothers.

Even Ducey, who is campaigning for reelection on a pledge he will never raise taxes, does not think a constitutional ban on taxing services is a good idea.

“He does not believe that tax policy should be set at the ballot,’’ said press aide Daniel Scarpinato. “It’s permanent and unchangeable and he would encourage folks to vote ‘no.’

The Partnership’s third “no” recommendation put it in the bitter multi-million-dollar battle over Prop 127. APS and parent company Pinnacle West have already spent more than $10.4 million in its campaign to defeat it.

APS, like most other Arizona utilities, is under a directive from the Arizona Corporation Commission to generate 15 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025.

Prop 127 – financed by California billionaire Tom Steyer – would not only override the rules of the utility regulators but actually put that 50 percent mandate into the Arizona Constitution. Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action already has spent more than $8.8 million in its campaign.

APS contends that a 50 percent renewable mandate would raise utility bills and could even force the closure of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station as its power would not be needed during peak solar hours. Foes have their own economic impact projections and reject the idea that the future of the power plant west of Phoenix will be affected solely by this measure.

But the Partnership considers the proposition a costly one that should be defeated.

“In essence, this initiative would bring California’s expensive, burdensome and overreaching energy regulations to Arizona,” Barney said. “If approved, studies show that this onerous, costly proposal would double electricity for the typical Arizona family.”

The Partnership coincides with Ducey’s position on the prop. Earlier this year, he signed a law that says if voters approve the measure, the utilities can escape compliance by paying a fine of as little as $100.

-Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.