Steller: Why Huckelberry floated doomed sales-tax idea

2014-08-07T21:30:00Z 2014-08-08T14:51:27Z Steller: Why Huckelberry floated doomed sales-tax ideaTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Anybody could have predicted that County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry‘s proposal to establish a half-cent sales tax was dead on arrival.

Just how dead, and why it might have been worth proposing anyway, is a bit more surprising.

In an Aug. 1 memo, Huckelberry laid out a case for the new sales tax, half of the revenue going to roads and half going to property-tax relief. Since the county’s terrible roads are an approximately $300 million problem, and a quarter-cent sales tax would raise about $30 million a year, that would allow the county to fix the problem over 10 years, Huckelberry argues.

The political problem with the proposal: It needs to pass the Board of Supervisors by a unanimous vote to become reality.

It’s predictable that Huckelberry’s nemesis on the board, Republican Supervisor Ally Miller, would not vote for the proposal and could kill it on her own. Less predictable: If the vote were held today, Huckelberry couldn’t even win a simple majority of three votes.

Fellow Republican Ray Carroll told me Thursday that he continues to oppose the idea of a sales tax, which he called “regressive.” More surprisingly, Democratic Supervisor Richard Elias also told me this week he opposes the idea at first blush, in part because it asks for more than is needed to address the road problem.

“If you need a quarter-cent (sales tax), why are you asking for a half-cent?” Elias said.

Fellow Democrat Ramon Valadez told me he supports the idea, and board chairwoman Sharon Bronson, also a Democrat, said she’s open to discussing it and other proposals.

“Today, the people who come into this community, if they don’t own property in this community, they’re not paying to maintain our infrastructure,” Valadez said. “Homeowners and business owners are tired of footing the bill.”

Miller reiterated to me Thursday that she opposes both the sales-tax idea and the idea the board majority endorsed last year, of raising the tax on gasoline. An amendment she helped push in the Legislature last year should force more state gas-tax money to be spent on road repairs, she said, but Huckelberry disputes her interpretation of the amendment’s impact, so it’s unclear if that will come true.

He and the rest of the board say we need a new source of money to catch up with our road repairs and get on a sustainable maintenance schedule. Considering that most of the state, and much of the country, is having a similar problem, I agree a new source of money is necessary.

A federal or state-level solution makes the most sense. But since the Legislature declined even to entertain letting counties establish their own gas tax or of putting a statewide increase to the voters, we are left for now with Huckelberry’s DOA sales-tax proposal.

With that idea floated, “I’ve exhausted every local option I have to fix the roads,” Huckelberry told me. But he acknowledged the idea “is really to get a conversation started.”

That’s probably the greatest value of the sales-tax idea.

Election director takes notice of club’s spending

On Wednesday, I reported how a group calling itself the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, perhaps backed by Arizona Public Service Co., is pouring money into the Arizona Corporation Commission race.

So far this election season, the “club” has spent $1.2 million on Arizona races, giving special support to two candidates for that commission and to Justin Pierce for secretary of state.

Now, the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office is investigating whether the Arizona Free Enterprise Club and four other dark-money groups playing in the current elections are doing so against state law.

In a July 23 letter, state Election Director Christina Estes-Werther questioned whether the club is “primarily engaged in influencing elections.” If so, it must register as a political committee and would be forced to disclose its donors.

The Secretary of State’s Office is asking the same question of groups called Save Our Future Now, Friends of Arizona, Arizona Business Coalition and 60 Plus Association.

The common-sense answer to Estes-Werther’s question — whether the club is primarily engaged in influencing elections — would be, “Well, duh, we do that and hide money.”

But of course the group has more artful responses that lay out a line of defense. Attorney Michael Liburdi wrote on Monday: “There is no guidance in Arizona law, nor has your office provided any guidance, regarding how an organization’s ‘primary purpose’ is determined.”

Here’s a little guidance for Mr. Liburdi: Show us the activities on which the “club” has spent anywhere close to the $1.2 million it has shelled out in just six weeks on this election. And don’t backdate the receipts.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is running for governor, told me Thursday afternoon that once his office gets responses from the groups, they’ll evaluate whether more than half of the groups’ activities are actually dedicated to nonelectioneering conduct.

Then I’m guessing the club will stall and resist disclosure at least until the general election is over.

Endorsement litmus: Medicaid expansion

Gov. Jan Brewer‘s endorsement Thursday of Scott Smith for governor fell along the same line as her other endorsements: the Great Medicaid Fault.

Smith, the mayor of Mesa, supports the Medicaid expansion Brewer pushed through the Legislature last year with the help of moderate Republicans and Democrats.

Since then, conservative Republicans and the establishment GOP have continued fighting the Medicaid battle in race after race. Establishment Republicans who supported the Medicaid expansion have even recruited candidates to run against GOP legislators who didn’t.

I talked with one new GOP legislative candidate, Jo Grant in Legislative District 11, on Wednesday evening about Medicaid and her chances against two conservative rivals for the district’s House seats. She expressed her support for the Medicaid expansion and a bit of disappointment that she hadn’t got the governor’s endorsement.

On Thursday, she called me back, happy to say the governor had just endorsed her.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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