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Higher taxes? Maybe so. Ignore voters? Absolutely not!

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

Gov. Jan Brewer reportedly is considering something that once was unthinkable to the conservative Republican: asking Arizonans to approve a tax increase.

Although we don’t generally support higher taxes, these are extraordinary times calling for extraordinary leaders who think outside traditional parameters. So a tax increase may be warranted – but only if the revenue is targeted for specific purposes and not dumped into the General Fund.

The Arizona Republic reported over the weekend that Brewer’s office is quietly making plans for a spring special election. At the election, voters would be asked to increase taxes and ease restrictions on funds directed to voter-approved programs.

Sections of government shut

While we cautiously support the former, we are diametrically opposed to the latter.

Brewer, a fiscal conservative, long has opposed higher taxes. But the Republic quoted an unnamed Brewer confidant as saying the alternative would be worse: “Complete, whole sections of government being shut down.”

There are several possible taxes. For example, the state gasoline tax has been locked at 18 cents per gallon for 19 years. Thirty-one states have a higher gas tax. But if the tax were increased, the money could be used only for road projects.

Corporate income taxes in Arizona are the 27th highest in the nation, property taxes are the 36th highest and the total tax burden as a percent of income is the 42nd highest. Those figures from The Taxpayers Network may help guide any tax proposals.

Education popular with voters

But if taxes are increased, the new revenue must be earmarked for specific purposes – such as education.

Arizona voters have shown a willingness to tax themselves for better schools. In 2000, a proposition to increase the sales tax by 0.6 cent per dollar with the money going to education was easily approved.

Any new ballot request for higher taxes must be part of an entire look at state revenues and services. Legislators are talking about making permanent a three-year suspension of the state property tax. They must not eliminate one tax while asking voters to approve increases in other taxes.

And they must also tell voters what services would be retained or expanded taxes are increased. They cannot continue to slash and burn essential services while asking for more cash.

Legislators can’t override voters

The other part of Brewer’s plan – to allow the Legislature to tinker with voter-approved measures – is off base.

Two-thirds of the state budget is immune from cuts – because they are programs approved by voters or are services required by federal, court or statutory mandates. So larger cuts are shouldered by a small number of programs, most notably higher education.

The Voter Protection Act, OK’d in 1998, requires a virtually impossible three-quarters vote of both houses of the Legislature before lawmakers can change anything approved by voters.

That protection is inviolable. Voters collect signatures, place a measure on the ballot and win passage because legislators refused to act. To give legislators the power to trump the clearly stated wishes of the majority of Arizona voters is plainly wrong.

The most relevant example of that is First Things First. In 2006, voters OK’d an increase in tobacco taxes to pay for early childhood education. The program has $230 million collected and legislators would love to take that money and spend it on programs of their own choosing. Absolutely not.

We would consider a tax increase if it is for specific needs and is part of a total examination of state programs and revenue. But we soundly reject any attempt to allow lawmakers to overrule the will of the voters.

If the Legislature asks voters to approve a tax increase, new revenue must be earmarked for specific needs.

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This blog page archives the entire digital archive of the Tucson Citizen from 1993 to 2009. It was gleaned from a database that was not intended to be displayed as a public web archive. Therefore, some of the text in some stories displays a little oddly. Also, this database did not contain any links to photos, so though the archive contains numerous captions for photos, there are no links to any of those photos.

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