Ballot pamphlet loaded with tax-hike backers - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Ballot pamphlet loaded with tax-hike backers

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Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010 7:03 pm | Updated: 3:53 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

If the number of arguments submitted for the upcoming special election is to be believed, four times as many Arizonans want higher sales taxes than those who do not.

If the number of arguments submitted for the upcoming special election is to be believed, four times as many Arizonans want higher sales taxes than those who do not.

But there is less there than meets the eye.

More than a quarter of the 94 statements in support that will be in the ballot pamphlet mailed to voters were paid for by Citizens for 100, the committee formed to convince voters to approve the temporary one-cent hike in the state's 5.6 percent sales tax.

Some were submitted electronically, at a cost of $75 each, while some were only on paper, which costs $100.

Who is paying for all that won't be disclosed until the first campaign report is due March 19.

But public records already available show three groups each already have donated $25,000 apiece: Magellan Health Services, which provides mental health services under contract for Maricopa County; the Friends of ASU, which is linked to the university's foundation; and HighGround, a lobbying firm that is running Gov. Jan Brewer's campaign to win a full four-year term of her own in November.

Among those who didn't pay for their own submissions is Brewer herself, who championed the tax hike. She had asked lawmakers to enact the levy themselves but, when that failed, convinced them to put the question on the ballot.

"This tax is temporary but necessary," the governor wrote. "Funding will go to our universities and community colleges to keep higher education affordable. It will keep felons locked up, and it will provide Arizona's poorest families the basic help they earnestly need."

Others whose arguments were paid for by the committee range from the presidents of the three state universities to officials from the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Yavapai Community College and Sundt Construction.

Another nine arguments, including those from members of the Board of Regents, were paid for by Solutions through Higher Education, whose board include those involved with private foundations supporting state universities.

Campaign spokesman David Leibowitz said there's nothing unusual about campaigns paying for arguments. He noted that a majority of the statements submitted in favor of a 2008 measure to bar taxes on the sale of homes were paid for by the Arizona Association of Realtors, including arguments by some legislators.

In the current campaign, just two legislators had their pro-tax statements paid for by the campaign committee. But Senate Minority Leader Jorge Garcia, D-Tucson, paid $75 for his own statement.

Arguments against the tax hike were submitted by four current lawmakers, one under the banner of Ax the Tax, a committee formed just this past Thursday by Sens. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, and Russell Pearce, R-Mesa. They openly worried about a low turnout for the May 18 election where "the sky-is-falling propaganda from public employee unions, AHCCCS providers (companies that contract with the state agency to provide free care for the poor), and other progressives' interests could persuade uninformed voters."

The list of those who submitted statements in support does include many who advocate on behalf of the poor like the Children's Action Alliance and the United Way of Northern Arizona, unions like the Arizona Highway Patrol Association and the Arizona Education Association, and others who might have an interest in state spending like Associated General Contractors of Arizona, whose member companies are involved in major projects like highways, bridges and public buildings.

But there are others with a broader economic development interest like Southern Arizona Leadership Council, Arizona Public Service and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The National Federation of Independent Business, however, prepared a statement in opposition, as did Tim Lawless, president of NAIOP Arizona, which represents owners of commercial and industrial property.

Buz Mills and Dean Martin, two of Brewer's foes in the Republican gubernatorial primary, also took advantage of the ballot pamphlet to submit statements in opposition, both of them specifically criticizing the incumbent's support of the plan.

There were, however, some individual submissions.

Phyllis and John Wassenberg of Tucson spent $75 to point out that the state gave $55 million in tax credits to those who give money to help students attend private and parochial schools. And they said there also are dollar-for-dollar state credits to help pay for extracurricular activities at public schools "where the parents are more affluent."

"We see no reason to increase the sales tax which will cause a disproportionate burden on the poor," they wrote.

University of Arizona economist and professor Marshall Vest, in an argument in support, said a higher sales tax is not the preferred method of raising money "since it is a regressive and narrow tax on which the state is overly dependent."

"However, it is the only option that can be implemented immediately - state government is desperate for a cash infusion," he wrote.

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