A plan to kill the payday loan industry has folded.
Rep. Marian McClure, R-Tucson, said Monday there is no way she can get the more than 153,000 signatures by July 3 to put her measure on the November ballot. In fact, McClure conceded her all-volunteer campaign to make payday lending illegal has produced only about 30,000 signatures.
McClure instead has decided to join forces with Sen. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, who is leading a campaign to defeat a separate, industry-sponsored initiative. The key element of that proposal would amend state law to make payday lending forever legal in Arizona; without that change, the practice becomes illegal on July 1, 2010.
Both sides in the political dispute agree on one point: The outcome of the vote in November will turn on the question of whether voters believe Arizonans should have the option of taking these short-term, high-cost loans.
Stan Barnes, spokesman for the industry-backed campaign, said the small number of signatures McClure and her allies gathered shows that more people want to keep that option available than those who want to foreclose it.
But McClure said the failure may be due more to apathy "because everyone seems to think that someone else is going to step up to the plate and do the work."
McCune Davis acknowledged that many Arizonans do take advantage of the short-term, high-interest loans even though the effective annual percentage rate tops 400 percent. That compares with the cap of 36 percent under state law for all other types of loans.
She said if payday lending becomes illegal, that won't be the end of the world. McCune Davis said some people have a good enough credit rating to borrow money at 36 percent.
"There are others who will find family and friends to borrow from," she said. "And there are some who probably won't (be able to borrow money) but perhaps shouldn't."
McClure said the state does have a role in helping protect people from unfair interest rates.
Payday loans - technically "deferred presentment transactions" - were permitted by legislators eight years ago as an exemption from state usury laws.
Under that law, an individual can borrow up to $500 by writing out a check for that amount plus up to $17.50 for each $100 borrowed. The lender agrees not to cash the check for up to two weeks.
But lawmakers concerned about fees made the law temporary to see how payday lending worked. That authorization expires July 1, 2010.
The industry-sponsored initiative gets rid of that expiration date. But the Arizona Community Financial Services Association also agreed to put some limits in payday lender operations into the measure to garner voter support.
One would spell out that customers who cannot repay the loan at the end of its term would be given an extension for up to four paydays, or four months if the person is unemployed. The borrower would owe no additional interest if each payment is made on time.
And the effective interest rate also would drop slightly: The fee would be capped at $15 for every $100 borrowed, versus the current $17.65 limit.
McClure said that still amounts to an annual percentage interest rate of 391 percent, a figure she believes is high enough to shock voters to reject the initiative.