We've forgone endorsing candidates in favor of concentrating on ballot propositions, which are your chance to participate in direct democracy by making law with your vote. Some people dislike the proposition process because they feel that state legislators are elected to make law. We've got three words for those critics: alternative fuel program.
There are 15 props on the ballot for Pima County voters (17 for Tucsonans). You're facing questions about the environment, health care, redistricting, taxes, telephone competition and even a raise for lawmakers. (Yeah, right.) For those who complain that we're facing too many propositions: Don't blame the initiative process. Only six of the 17 props facing Tucson voters were placed on the ballot by petition drives. You can thank the Arizona Legislature and the Tucson City Council for the others.
If you're wondering what brain trust is doling out all this advice, it's the usual gang of idiots: Dave Devine, Jim Nintzel, Margaret Regan, James Reel and Tim Vanderpool.
PROP 100: LAND FRAUD
PROP 100 SURE looks good at first glance. Or at least harmless.
It sets aside up to 3 percent of state trust land for conservation. It allows school districts to use state trust land for schools. And it allows land swaps with other governments for conservation purposes.
But it's opposed by 70 conservation groups across the state, including groups like the Nature Conservancy and the Sonoran Institute, which normally shy away from political controversies.
The executive director of the Sonoran Institute, Luther Propst, is leading the opposition in Southern Arizona. That's significant because Propst was the lone environmentalist on the state's Growing Smarter Commission, which was supposed to find ways to cope with the costs of our state's clumsy development.
The commission worked hard to resolve issues related to state trust land. But once those recommendations got into the legislature, they were simply butchered. And when Prop 100 emerged, Propst was so disgusted he took a key role in trying to defeat the proposal.
There are plenty of reasons it's a lousy plan. It caps the amount of open space that can be preserved at 3 percent of state trust land, which is a pittance. The first acres earmarked for preservation include mountaintops and lakebeds that couldn't be developed anyway. And the process to nominate new parcels is way too complex to be meaningful.
Lawmakers put this lousy referendum on the ballot primarily as an alternative Prop 202, the Citizens Growth Management Initiative. They wanted to fool voters into thinking they were doing something to deal with the many problems associated with growth.
Don't be fooled. Vote NO on Prop 100.
PROP 102: TWO THIRDS IS TOO MUCH
OPPOSED BY MANY hunters and all environmentalists, this measure would require that any future ballot initiatives concerning wildlife would need approval by two-thirds of voters, rather than a simple majority. Prop 102 supporters contend it would keep well-heeled national environmental groups from messing with Arizona's wildlife policy through initiatives. But there's snakepit of hypocrisy here. Pushed by the ranching industry, shepherded by backroom Phoenix powerbrokers and heavily funded by the NRA, this measure would essentially strip voters of their democratic right to effect intelligent, progressive wildlife policies, as voters did when they banned leghold traps a few years back. Vote NO on Prop 102.
PROP 202: THE GROUND WAR
LET'S FACE IT: We've done a rotten job of planning our communities.
Our subdivisions spring up wherever a developer happens to own the land. Our schools are overcrowded. Our roads are thick with idling cars. Our wildlife is vanishing. Our tax bills continue to rise. Our public transportation is pathetic. Welcome to miracle of rapid growth.
Time is running out. Our unique Sonoran desert is vanishing beneath the bulldozer's blade and once it's gone, it's gone for good.
Prop 202 is not perfect, but it's the best chance we've got to maintain our quality of life and the open spaces we're chewing up every day.
Gov. Jane Dee Hull and the Arizona Legislature want you to believe they've done something about sprawl with Growing Smarter Plus. Hogwash. In some instances, Growing Smarter Plus has actually made it harder to control growth. In general, it's just toothless.
Prop 202, The Citizens Growth Management Initiative, offers a new way of doing business: letting people, through a public process, decide the future of the place they live. Is that really so radical?
Under Prop 202, we the people would finally decide there are some areas we don't want to see developed for the next 10 years. And developers would pay real impact fees that ease the burden of building roads, schools and other infrastructure.
Similar urban growth boundaries exist in other communities. In Oregon, urban growth boundaries are credited with revitalizing Portland. The economy there seems to be doing just fine. The jobs sure pay a lot more.
Opponents of Prop 202, with more than $4 million in stuccodollars at their disposal, have conducted an outrageously shameful misinformation campaign. They've had slick television commercials that have twisted Prop 202's impact. They hired sympathetic developers and university professors to write reports predicting doomsday if 202 passes--reports they've turned around and exaggerated. Remember when they said passage of the initiative would result in the loss of 1.2 million jobs? Even they couldn't stand by that whopper.
Don't listen to their lies. Vote YES on Prop 202.
IN 1996, BY an overwhelming 3-to-1 margin, the voters of Arizona approved the Healthy Arizona proposition, which was designed to provide healthcare coverage through the state's AHCCCS program to everyone who earned less than the federal poverty level. That was a generous decision, because previously only those who earned one-third of the poverty rate--or a whopping $2.75 an hour for a family of four--could qualify for AHCCCS.
But our benevolent state legislature decided against funding the program, complaining that the state couldn't afford it at the same time lawmakers were doling out tax cuts to businesses left and right.
Then the major tobacco companies, facing the possibility of losing an endless stream of liability lawsuits, decided to compromise and reached a settlement with 46 states, including Arizona. Our little corner of the country is in line for more than $3 billion from the cancer-causing companies over the next 25 years.
With that money available, supporters of the original measure are returning to the ballot with Proposition 204, Healthy Arizona 2, to pay for the extension of AHCCCS coverage. Being practical, those backing the proposition want to use the state funds to leverage federal health care money. The result will mean we end up paying only about one-third the total cost of providing health care for an estimated 130,000 uninsured poor people.
Sounds smart to us, but some naysayers believe the federal government won't chip in and Arizona taxpayers will be stuck for the entire amount. We don't buy that argument. The Arizona program is being modeled after one in Wisconsin that the feds have already approved, so why shouldn't Washington help us out, too?
We think Arizona should provide healthcare coverage to all of its poorest citizens. We think passage of Proposition 204 will allow us as a state, for once, to get off the bottom of the nation's social-service barrel. Vote YES on 204.
PROP 200, THE Healthy Families Healthy Children initiative, is a more narrowly focused approach to the same issue. This measure would use only the tobacco-settlement money without counting on any handouts from the feds. Consequently, the programs it would fund are far less sweeping. Poor kids and their parents would benefit, but not adults without children at home.
Still, Prop 200 would channel millions of dollars into a long list of worthy family-health programs. It would also build a $30 million state medical lab and a $75 million state mental health facility that the legislators couldn't be bothered to fund on their own.
Critics complain that Proposition 200 is too limited and, in many respects, amounts to corporate welfare for the existing hospital/HMO system. But actual human beings could benefit from its passage, too. And if both healthcare propositions pass, programs from both of them could be implemented as long as the money lasts. Unfortunately, if Prop 200 gets more votes than 204, its poison pill clause would kill the competing measure. Bearing that in mind, those who favor a more fiscally cautious approach should vote YES on Prop 200.
PROP 108: BAD CALL
WHEN US WORST became Qworst a few months ago, all that changed was the name. The company still provides crummy customer service.
Now the company is telling us it wants to encourage competition for itself. Does anyone really believe Qworst has dropped more than $2 million on a ballot initiative because it plans to lower phone rates? The only outcome from this is a higher phone bill.
While competition is good in general, and is definitely on the horizon in the local telephone business, Proposition 108 doesn't promote it. Instead, it sets up a scheme by which Qworst will be able to charge whatever rates it wants in areas it determines. At the same time, it will remove Arizona Corporation Commission oversight from the company in these same areas.
When a large monopoly is the major supporter of something labeled "Consumer Choice," we think the voters need to be extra-special wary. Vote NO on Prop 108.
PROP 103: BODY WORK
AS THE PUBLIC body with regulatory power over our utility rates, the Arizona Corporation Commission has a lot of power over our lives. Since statehood, the commission has had three members serving six-year terms. A 1992 proposition limited commissioners to just one term.
Now a referendum from the legislature proposes to expand the commission to five members each serving a maximum of two four-year terms.
We like the idea of expanding the commission. Recent years have shown that with just three members, the commission can easily get bogged down in personality conflicts. With five members, a blood feud between two members won't paralyze the commission's functions.
Trimming the term by two years and allowing commissioners to run for re-election once also serves a useful function: It keeps commissioners responsive to the public, at least for the first four years. Vote YES on Prop 103.
PROP 104: VALUE JUDGMENT
SUPPOSE OUR WACKY state legislature came up with a tax break that applied exclusively to right-handed, red-haired Republicans. Given the crazies in Phoenix, maybe it's not that far-fetched a possibility, but most people would scream foul. So why is it OK to propose a property tax break only for low- and middle-income seniors?
Proposition 104 would allow any couple, 65 years or over with a yearly income of less than $30,700, to apply to have their home's assessed valuation frozen. That would result in a small annual savings on their property tax bill.
Many of us at The Weekly wish we could earn $30,000 a year, but we still have to pay our property taxes. Plus, seniors already have another property tax alternative, which is more financially desirable for many of them.
Age discrimination by any other name is still discrimination. Vote NO on Prop 104.
PROP 105: A GRAVE MATTER
IT MAY BE because election day is only one week after Halloween, but the "Don't Tax Graves" tombstone-shaped campaign signs leave us cold. This proposition purports to prohibit collecting property taxes on individual graves, a truly gruesome thought if you're the one dying to collect.
According to Pima County Assessor Rick Lyons, however, only vacant land at cemeteries, not graves, would be taxed. We could be dead wrong, but that sounds fair to us. Vote NO on Prop 105.
PROP 400: THE BED BUGS BITE
IMAGINE YOU WERE part of an Arizona business group that never had to worry about collecting membership fees. Then imagine your group got to spend much of the tax money its members gathered for the government, not to pay for typical services like police and fire protection, but on attracting more business for the group's members. Finally, imagine the group could do this by spending a large chunk of that tax money outside the state.
In general, that is what Proposition 400 does. It will raise by 1 percent the current hotel tax of 7.5 percent in Pima County and 9.5 percent inside the Tucson city limits. That tax increase is expected to generate about $2 million in annual revenue to add to the $3.5 million already available. This money would go directly to the Tucson Convention and Visitor's Bureau, which would spend it promoting Pima County tourism with glossy ad campaigns in other parts of the country.
We think that if the members of the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau want to increase their budget, they should do so the old-fashioned, non-socialistic way. Either increase the number of members of the bureau, or raise membership fees on a voluntary basis. But don't use the government to collect your promotional budget for you.
We could support a higher tax on hotel beds if it went to pay for Pima County's Tucson Electric Park or the Rio Nuevo project. But this tax will ultimately help the big resorts, which should have the financial muscle to pay for their own promotion. Very little trickles down to the smaller hotels that will collect the bulk of the tax. We here at The Weekly believe in the free enterprise system, not government-sponsored membership drives. Vote NO on Prop 400.
PROP 203: TONGUE-TIED
THIS PROPOSITION IS deceptively titled English Language Education for Children in Public Schools, a moniker that falsely implies that children in Arizona schools are not learning English now. Imported to Arizona by a wealthy Californian, this prop is an attack on bilingual education, wherein immigrant kids learn their academic subjects in their own languages while they begin to learn English. In fact, it makes it virtually illegal to use those devil foreign tongues in red-blooded American schools. All the non-English speakers would be put in a one-year English immersion program instead, recalling for older Tucsonans the bad old days when Mexican-American pupils were punished for speaking Spanish at school.
Lord knows the bilingual education bureaucracy in a big district like Tucson Unified can be a nightmare, and there's certainly room for debate on the best way to teach new languages. (Our public schools do a spectacularly poor job of teaching "foreign" languages to our Anglo majority.) But what Prop 203 does is narrow the options. There's nothing stopping districts now from implementing a variety of teaching methods. English immersion, English as a Second Language and bilingual ed should all remain educational tools that teachers and parents can choose.
And there are legal ramifications as well. This proposition makes a particular teaching method basically a criminal activity, and it imposes a dictate on districts throughout the state, giving the lie to the long tradition of local control in education.
Prop 203 mainly targets Arizona's large Spanish-speaking population, but it will also aim a devastating blow at Indian schools struggling to teach their endangered tongues. Vote NO on Prop 203.
PROP 301: DOLLARS FOR SCHOLARS
OK, WE ADMIT, a sales tax is a regressive tax, disproportionately slamming the poor and the middle class. And this prop would raise the state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.6 percent (that's apart from the local sales taxes cities like Tucson add on). In an ideal world, we'd give adequate support to public schools, community colleges and universities out of the general fund, and we wouldn't need to jack up the sales tax. But Arizona, with its yahoo, anti-education, can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees legislature, is hardly an ideal world.
In fact, we always trail among the states in education funding--thank God for Mississippi, which usually keeps Arizona out of dead last place. And our stinginess shows. Public school teachers are underpaid and disillusioned. Kids who need more attention than they're getting are crammed into classrooms with too many other kids. Those who manage to go on to our state universities are bewildered to find themselves in large lecture hall classes, taught by overburdened profs who are increasingly being lured away to institutions in more generous states.
If it passes, Prop 301 would give an extra $440 million each year to education. Fully 87 percent ($384 million) would be spent K-12, and none of the money would go to administration. Local school districts would get a big say in how they use the extra cash, spending it on such things as reducing class size, upping teacher pay or doing prevention work among potential dropouts. The universities and community colleges would get 13 percent ($55 million) to hang onto good professors and to improve buildings.
Prop 301 may be the last, best hope for Arizona's schools. Vote YES on Prop 301.
PROP 300: NO WAY ON PAY
TWO YEARS AGO, voters gave lawmakers a raise to $24,000, with the stipulation that their healthy per diem payments would be trimmed. After the measure passed, lawmakers scurried to Attorney General Janet Napolitano, who ruled they could keep the pay raise without taking a cut in the per diem. In other words, voters were the victims of a bait-and-switch scheme.
Now they're begging for another 25 percent raise, from $24,000 to $30,000. (When was the last time you got a jump in pay like that?) With a base of 30K and per diem, some of these guys would be pulling in $50,000 a year for a part-time job. We say fuhgedaboutit. As political piranha Emil Franzi has pointed out on numerous occasions, they pay 'em a lot more in California, and all they get is bigger crooks. Given the recent revelations about the $400-million-dollar alternative fuel screw-up alone, it's clear these guys don't deserve a raise. In fact, we'd vote to cut their pay, if it were on the ballot. Vote NO on Prop 300.
PROP 106: LINE DRIVE
REPUBLICANS IN Arizona outnumber Democrats by only a small margin. Yet five of the state's six congressional seats are held by members of the GOP. Is that just because the Arizona Democratic Party is so incompetent?
Not bloody likely. One of the main reasons for the disparity is the way the state legislature rigged the boundaries the last time district lines were redrawn, in 1991.
While they were at it, the members of the legislature also managed to come up with districts for themselves that were almost challenger-proof. Sure, there are a few competitive races, but the ballot in too many races this year seem to have only Green candidates as the lone alternative to major-party incumbents.
Is the fix in on drawing district boundaries? Of course it is, and as long as the state legislature is involved it will be the worst sort of political gerrymandering. To change that, this proposition would set up a five-member committee to determine the boundaries for legislative and congressional districts. They would consider things like geography and city limits, not the political future of incumbents.
While we have some trouble with a few of the finer points contained in this measure, in general it is an improvement over the way things are done now. We may not be able to take the politics completely out of the redistricting process, but this is a start. Vote YES on Prop 106.
PROP 101: A SLIGHT EDIT
THIS ONE IS the least controversial measure on the statewide ballot. It merely cleans up some statutory language in the state constitution, such as changing the terms "insane, blind, deaf and mute" to "persons who have mental or physical disabilities." Prop 101 has drawn fire from gun enthusiasts who see a conspiracy in changing state militia membership from "able-bodied male citizens" to "capable citizens." (Speaking of mental disabilities...) Vote YES on Prop 101.
PROPS 401/402: NO BIG DEAL
IT TAKES A newspaper page filled with very fine print to describe the proposed 25-year franchise renewal agreement between the City of Tucson and Tucson Electric Power Company. Approval of the agreement is the subject of Proposition 402.
Eliminating the need for franchise elections to cover telecommunications companies, and saving the cost of the election at the same time, is the subject of Prop 401. Rather than requiring a public vote, the measure would turn final approval over to the City Council. While we usually oppose taking any power away from the voters, the issues in these cases are so legally mundane as to be of interest only to lawyers. Vote YES on 401.
While competition is already here for telecommunication companies, it is also coming for the electrical business. We're not looking forward to that, since it will mean more of those annoying phone solicitations imploring us to pick this company or that. But competition isn't here just yet, so TEP has to renew its franchise agreement with the city. Prop 402 is no big shocking deal. Vote YES on 402.