By Ben Beckhart |
In January, Arizona’s 55th legislature will convene with new challenges. Republicans managed to maintain slim majorities in both chambers, but what can we possibly accomplish with a Democratic Governor? It will certainly be more difficult to get pro-liberty legislation signed into law, but there are still tangible goals worth fighting for. We just have to be realistic and narrow down our agenda.
The Republican Liberty Caucus of Arizona has published its top five priorities for the 2023 legislative session. These are pragmatic ideas to advance the principles of individual rights, limited government, and free markets, even under a Democratic Governor. Several of these goals were included in Senate President Warren Petersen’s plan to help Arizonans combat rising prices, which we fully support.
The first priority is the same for every legislative session: kill the bad bills. Moderate legislators will be looking for ways to compromise with our new Governor by promoting legislation that will expand the size and scope of government. Our primary focus will be to fight these bills in the legislature, preventing them from reaching the Governor’s desk.
Our second priority is one of Senate President Petersen’s priorities: to repeal the municipal rental taxes on residential properties. These are taxes imposed on residential rental properties by cities and towns. The cost of housing has skyrocketed in recent years, especially in Arizona. As many municipalities sit on massive surpluses, they should be looking for ways to cut taxes and alleviate the cost of housing. Sadly, few cities have done this. It’s time for the legislature to change Arizona statute by revoking the cities’ authority to tax residential rental properties. Rep. Shawnna Bolick ran a bill last session to repeal this tax, and it passed the House with bipartisan support. With support from multiple Democratic lawmakers, this is something Governor Hobbs might sign.
Priority number three is also one of Senate President Petersen’s priorities: eliminate the food tax. One of the reasons why cities are seeing record high revenues is because inflation forces people to spend more. This means more sales tax revenue. Food is a necessity and a tax on food is a regressive tax that especially hurts the middle and lower class who are already struggling with inflation. Some Republicans might object to a repeal of food sales taxes because sales taxes are less invasive than income or property taxes. While we agree a reduction to income or property taxes would be preferable, we should be looking to cut any and all taxes wherever there is a consensus for it. By amending statute to prohibit municipalities from taxing food, we would compel local governments to address the rising cost of living by cutting an unnecessary, regressive tax. We can try to pass this as a normal bill, but if the Governor vetoes it, we could also pass it as a referral that goes to the ballot for the voters to decide, bypassing the Governor’s pen. High inflation has decreased the appetite for taxes, as seen by the rejection of Proposition 310 and many failed bonds and overrides. If placed on the ballot, a repeal of the food tax would likely pass.
Our fourth priority is to prohibit the Governor, or any state agency, from shutting down private businesses under the guise of an emergency declaration. Last session, Governor Ducey signed Sen. Warren Petersen and Rep. Leo Biasiucci’s bill to ban cities and counties from shutting down private businesses. Now we must ensure that the state government cannot impose lockdowns. The Governor would surely veto this bill, but the legislature can instead pass a measure to put this on the ballot in 2024. Once again, this would allow the legislature to go around the Governor. It’s unclear if the voters would pass this measure, but with a leftist Governor, we must do all we can to reign in the powers of the executive branch. We cannot allow our private businesses to be shut down by petty tyrants.
Finally, priority number five is a criminal justice reform that would allow simple drug possession offenses to remain undesignated, allowing the court to designate the offense a misdemeanor upon completion of probation. This is not soft on crime because it would only apply to first-time, victimless drug possession charges, and the offense would still be designated a felony if the individual fails to complete probation. By giving people a chance to avoid a permanent felony, this would be a huge incentive for first-time drug offenders to complete probation and become productive, law-abiding citizens. The end result would be reduced recidivism and less taxpayer spending. This bill was sponsored by Rep. Neal Carter last session, and it passed the House unanimously before getting stuck in the Senate. With new committee chairs and bipartisan support, this reform has a real chance at passing.
This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the top five priorities of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Arizona heading into 2023. This legislative session will look different, but there is always work to be done to advance liberty. We must remain vigilant as we fight to keep Arizona a free and prosperous state!
Ben Beckhart is the Vice-Chair for the Arizona chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus and the Secretary for the national Republican Liberty Caucus board.