Arizona lawmakers hoping to take away some grand anti-tax, anti-government statement from the Prop. 100 election Tuesday were thwarted by voters' overwhelming approval of the 1-cent-per-dollar sales-tax increase.
Voters were willing to do what the Republican majority in the Legislature refused - accept that Arizona cannot cut its way out of this budget debacle. A new revenue stream is necessary, and voters decided to tax themselves to help reduce budget cuts to public education, public safety and public health.
As we've said before, the passage of Prop. 100 will not guarantee that these crucial services are not affected by the state's budget shortfall. But the roughly $1 billion the 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax is projected to generate in each of the next three years will offer some cushion.
Some 64 percent of Arizona voters approved of the sales tax. They sent a definite message.
Those who voted against it cited myriad reasons and some still deserve attention:
• A lack of trust that lawmakers would use the money as it's designated for education, health and safety. Voters have made their intention clear and it's not the cut-cut-cut anti-tax philosophy that drives many Republican lawmakers. The general anti-incumbent sentiment across the country would not necessarily be a bad thing in Arizona.
Lawmakers need to listen to the voters and use the money on public education, safety and health - and not cut the regular budget in those areas and then simply backfill with the new tax revenue. Arizonans must pay scrupulous attention to how this money is spent and how it fits into the jigsaw puzzle of the overall state budget.
• A desire to force the Republican majority to see the light, do what's right and raise taxes on their own. This is a non-starter. It didn't happen, and it's not going to. Lawmakers punted to the voters, who did the right thing.
• A recognition that the sales tax is regressive and hurts low-income people more than wealthier Arizonans. This is true. A sales tax is a terrible way to increase revenue - and a bad foundation for a state budget - but it's the only tool voters had before them on Tuesday.
• A hope that not passing Prop. 100 would force the Legislature to overhaul the state tax system to make it more stable and less reliant on sales taxes. This is wishful thinking. If Prop. 100 had failed, the Republican majority would interpret it not as a directive or indictment of their credibility, but as proof that they're right about slashing the state budget and government services into oblivion. Voters proved them wrong.
Despite the new sales-tax increase, however, Arizona is far from "fixed." The temporary boost will help to provide a floor under public education, safety and health, but it's not a cure-all. There will still be cuts, most likely, but they'll be less horrendous than they would have been without the tax increase. It's a matter of degree.
One curious note about the Prop. 100 results - it passed in Maricopa County by a slightly larger margin than in Pima County, according to unofficial returns from the Arizona Secretary of State's Office. Traditionally Maricopa County is the conservative stronghold, while Pima County leans Democratic.
The results are encouraging, however. If voters in conservative Maricopa County are willing to tax themselves, perhaps the majority legislators will get the message that Arizonans know we can't cut our way out of this budget hole and we must act on our own behalf as a state.
Arizona Daily Star