Senate Transportation Approves Tax Bill With Discretionary Spending Backdoor

Senate Transportation Approves Tax Bill With Discretionary Spending Backdoor

By Corinne Murdock |

Maricopa County residents may be called to a vote this November to determine the continuance of a transportation tax, according to a bill approved unanimously by the Senate Transportation and Technology Committee on Monday. The bill, SB1356, was described by its proponents as an emergency measure and not an additional tax for constituents.

SB1356 would be considered an updated extension to Proposition 400, a voter-approved transportation tax of half a cent — up to ten percent of the state transaction privilege tax. This latest legislation would have the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) collect an advanced version of the 2004 transportation tax beginning January 1, 2026, when Proposition 400 sunsets, and lasting 25 years; in addition to collecting at a rate up to 10 percent of the state transaction privilege tax, the new tax would collect at a rate up to 10 percent of the jet fuel excise tax rate and the energy consumption rate for customers subject to use tax equal to the state transaction privilege tax.

However, Arizona Free Enterprise Club Vice President Aimee Yentes asserted that the tax was, in fact, an increase because the previous one was set to expire. That wasn’t Yentes’ biggest contention with the bill, however, calling it “grossly unaccountable to taxpayers” based on the language and true layout of funds allocation.

Prior to Yentes’ comments, Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers and Mesa Mayor John Giles insisted in their presentations that the bill contained many compromises which left none of its creators overly pleased. The language of the bill tells a different story. Yentes declared that the bill relies on nebulous terms when eliminating the previously-established 67 percent of funds for freeways and roads to “virtually zero” by consolidating three funding buckets into two focused on major arterial streets as well as undefined “regional programs” and “implementation studies.” Ultimately, Yentes explained, that language assures that funds may be siphoned to virtually anything: bike paths, trails, and even public service announcements to encourage more walking.

“We cannot stress enough that the way this bill is drafted, zero percent of the funds have to be spent on roads and freeways. That is a big backdoor where all of the money can just go to God knows what,” said Yentes. 

Yentes warned that SB1356 was likely the largest piece of tax policy to come before the legislature in several decades. Yet, Yentes pointed out that these private groups and local leaders wanted to have the legislature pass this bill without questioning it.

“I’m a little dismayed because I keep hearing almost a lamenting that this policy has to go before the legislature. What I’m hearing is that the insiders have already brokered this deal, it’s fully baked, it’s done with, and your job is to just push the green button. Quite frankly, I think the legislature has a very important role to play in authorizing this legislation,” said Yentes. “I think that you guys represent a more accountable body, even more so than the cities and towns — I say that on behalf of sitting on a city council — and this process is a more transparent one.”

Weiers claimed during his presentation that those opposed to the bill decided not to engage throughout the three years they spent developing the bill, warning that those who change the bill were “monkeying around” and would cause it to “blow […] up.” Yentes asserted that wasn’t true, that this bill was the first some were hearing of this intended tax. 

Yentes also criticized that money would be pulled from the roads fund to “basically rig the election” on the subject, by requiring election offices to mail out publicity pamphlets about the tax. She added that it wasn’t comforting that the creators of the bill included their own ballot language rather than allowing for independent creation, which she called “egregious.”

That wasn’t the worst of it, according to Yentes. She lambasted the drafters for setting aside unlimited funds for political consultants, lawyers, election officials, information to voters about the tax, and assistance for conducting the election.

“In effect, the tax extension will function as a multimillion dollar get-out-the-vote effort paid for by taxpayers to drive supporters to the ballot box in support of the tax. It’s kind of like the new twist on Zuckbucks, I guess,” said Yentes. 

Majority Leader Rick Gray (R-Sun City) insisted that the legislature has a duty to address potential concerns and tweak the bill accordingly. State Senator Sine Kerr concurred, indicating she had asks of her own.

“As we’re looking at the negatives, we’re not trying to derail — no pun intended. We’re not trying to just be a problem, a bump in the road, but I do think it behooves us as legislators to look at all the opinions. If there’s a way that we can, again, refine and develop and get consensus on that so that we don’t sabotage it but improve it, I think that’s necessary,” said Gray. “We just want to make sure we get the best plan possible because it will last 25 years.”

Giles told the committee that this bill wasn’t their “only chance to bite at the apple.” He warned that the county’s resources were dwindling and growth was only increasing as they spoke. Giles said that their county could address immediate needs, such as the freeway traffic congestion and extend State Route 24 in Pinal County. He concurred with Gray’s point that the bill would be the key to finishing State Route 30. 

“We just literally cannot entertain the idea of stopping investing in transportation at this time,” said Giles. “[This bill] will be Maricopa County’s gift to the state, frankly.”

In response to a question from State Senator T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge) about whether the bill would bring more tourists and visitors out of Phoenix to areas like his, Giles confirmed and added that the bill wouldn’t penalize non-Maricopa County Arizonans through revenue-gathering initiatives like tolls. Giles added that they’d essentially made the impossible happen, likening their work to fitting 20 pounds of flour in a 10-pound sack.

State Senator Rosanna Gabaldon (D-Tucson) requested that they consider including trucker rest stops in their bill; Giles said her request wasn’t mutually exclusive. Shope further questioned whether there would be definitive consideration of truckers, especially in light of President Joe Biden’s supply chain crisis. 

Giles insinuated in his response that Gabaldon and Giles were siding with groups that were attempting to prioritize their special interests. He noted that the trucking industry, specifically Swift Transportation, had a seat at the table for the past three years in developing this bill and ultimately voted in favor of it. Only recently did they reportedly rescind their support. 

“My understanding is that the trucking industry has asked for 10 percent of this with really no specific plan as to how that would be spent,” said Giles. “This is an idea that is a wonderful idea that deserves merit, deserves to happen; but if everyone who contributed to this plan decided now that, ‘Oh wait, I’m now king for a day and I can withdraw my support and get my priorities put back in here after we’ve gone through a lengthy negotiation.’ That’s not a constructive way to going forward. That’s not how this body could get anything done.”

Arizona Trucking Association President and CEO Tony Bradley clarified that not all trucker groups agree with or speak for one another, saying he doesn’t speak for Swift Transportation. He argued that the bill wasn’t feasible.

“Blow it up and put it back together for something that works,” said Bradley. 

Arizona State Mine Inspector Paul Marsh issued support of the bill and agreement with both Weiers and Giles’ presentation. Marsh insisted that the bill would ensure efficient transportation required to deliver needed items to customers and producers. 

“With the current state in which we have traffic in Phoenix, without having additional infrastructure this will affect the ability to move products within the city and within the county,” said Marsh.

State Senator Tyler Pace (R-Mesa) responded that there was nothing stopping their legislature from tackling the other problems outside the bill, like truck parking. He insisted the senators should flip their concerns into budget bills rather than modifying this bill.

“Everything that we change in this bill changes something else,” said Pace. “We can fight all day and say we can change some, or we can say, ‘You know, that’s really important. I’m going to make that my budgetary ask for the general fund, because I think we should do that. I think we should expedite that plan.’”

After the committee approved the bill, Pace congratulated the members for their bipartisanship.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

Senate Transportation Committee Approves Green New Deal-Esque Bills

Senate Transportation Committee Approves Green New Deal-Esque Bills

By Corinne Murdock |

The Arizona Senate Transportation Committee devoted their entire agenda on Monday to discussing four bills advancing electric vehicle initiatives. The four bills were introduced by Minority Whip Victoria Steele (D-Tucson), with two of the bills cosponsored by State Representative Jennifer Jermaine (D-Chandler).

SB1150 would prohibit municipalities or boards of supervisors from awarding residential, single-family building permits unless the structure would have an electric vehicle charging station. Manufactured homes or residences under 1,000 square feet, without off-street parking, or with electric services that would exceed 200 ampere with an electric vehicle charging station would be exempt. Proposed changes to the bill would have the state reimburse builders up to $1,000 for the cost of electric vehicle charging outlet installation. SB1150 passed 6-3; Majority Leader Rick Gray (R-Sun City) along with State Senators Paul Boyer (R-Glendale) and Sine Kerr (R-Buckeye) voted against it while Minority Leader Rebecca Rios (D-Phoenix) and State Senators Steele, Rosanna Gabaldon (D-Tucson), Lisa Otondo (D-Yuma), Tyler Pace (R-Mesa), and T.J. Shope (R-Phoenix) voted for it. This was the only Green New Deal-esque bill that Boyer voted against.

SB1151 would direct the Arizona Department of Housing (ADOH) to conduct a two-year program funded with $500,000 from the state’s general fund. State agencies could request the department to cover any electric vehicle charging station installation costs. Steele’s bill would also make Arizona greener in more than one sense of the word. If passed, private companies could turn a profit from this endeavor — the bill would grant private entities to establish fee-based electric vehicle charging stations at the legislature, any state agency, and any Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) university property. SB1151 passed 7-2, with Gray and Kerr voting against it, and Boyer, Gabaldon, Otondo, Rios, Steele, Shope, and Pace voting for it.

SB1152 would redefine “zero emission vehicle” (ZEV) to mean that which doesn’t emit exhaust, gas, or other pollutants, and require the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) to establish interstate and intrastate zero emission vehicle corridors, and install zero emission vehicle infrastructure. ADOT would be required to submit a draft ZEV plan to the governor and the presidents of the state senate and house six months after the bill’s passage. Gray and Kerr voted against it, and Boyer, Gabaldon, Otondo, Rios, Steele, Shope, and Pace voted for it.

SB1154 would establish a “Transportation Electrification Study Committee” to review current state laws inhibiting electric transportation expansion; issue propaganda; and coordinate with local governments, electric utilities, environmental groups, the transportation industry, and the community to determine the best route for transitioning from regular to electric vehicles. If passed, the committee would submit its report by July 1, 2023 before its dissolution in September 2024. SB1154 passed 7-2, with Gray and Kerr voting against it, and Boyer, Gabaldon, Otondo, Rios, Steele, Shope, and Pace voting for it.

The bills resemble a similar policy enacted by the Tucson City Council last summer. Tucson now requires electric vehicle charging outlets on all new constructions of one- and two-family dwellings. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

Arizona Fourth in Job Recovery, Per Federal Report

Arizona Fourth in Job Recovery, Per Federal Report

By Corinne Murdock |

Arizona ranked fourth in the nation for job recovery according to the latest report from the Department of Labor’s (DOL) statistics department. The state had 331,500 jobs lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but 345,900 jobs recovered through last December — an addition of 14,400 jobs, or over 104 percent. 

Utah, Idaho, and Texas, in that order, outranked Arizona for job recovery. All three surpassed 100 percent job recovery, while the remainder of the states in the top 20 fell anywhere between 99 and 81 percent recovery.

16 out of the top 20 states in job recovery have Republican governors, as pointed out by the Republican National Committee (RNC) research team. The four states with Democratic governors to rank within the top 20 were North Carolina at 10th place, Colorado at 13th place, Washington at 16th place, and Kentucky at 20th place. However, both North Carolina and Kentucky have a Republican majority in their state legislatures. 

According to DOL mapping on their report, states with the highest unemployment rates as of last December were California, Nevada, New York, and New Jersey.

In a press release, RNC spokesperson Ben Peterson asserted that Republican policies were stronger enough to offset the negative impacts of the supply chain crisis, inflation, and overall economic downturn prolonged or ushered in by the Biden Administration’s policies.

“Arizona is a beacon of Republican leadership that has delivered a strong economic recovery in spite of significant headwinds like crushing Bidenflation and the supply chain crisis,” said Peterson. “While Democrat-run states try to shut down free enterprise, Republican-led states like Arizona are building strong economies and helping everyday people to get ahead.”

Reuters reported last week on DOL numbers reflecting the third straight week of an increase in unemployment claims. The Census Bureau reported that 8.8 million people reported not going to work between December 29 and January 10 due to COVID-19, likely related to the omicron surge. 

In its press release, the DOL said that 48 states reported a decrease in jobless rates from the previous year, 42 states reduced their unemployment rates in December, and eight states maintained stable job rates in December.

Last week, Governor Doug Ducey’s office announced that the state had added over 400,000 new jobs since 2015 and attained the lowest unemployment rate since 2007 despite two years of a pandemic: 4.1 percent.

Ducey indicated last December that Arizona would boast one of the highest rankings in job recovery nationwide based on state reports. The Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) at the time reported that the state had recovered 101 percent of jobs lost during the pandemic, compared to the nation’s 83 percent recovery at the time. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

Gilbert-Based Horne Auto Group Acquires Nissan Dealership In Yuma

Gilbert-Based Horne Auto Group Acquires Nissan Dealership In Yuma

By Terri Jo Neff |

Gilbert-based Horne Auto Group has added another automotive dealership to its list of holdings.

Last month, the family-owned and operated company completed its purchase of Sonora Nissan in Yuma. The dealership, which has been rebranded as Horne Nissan Yuma, is the company’s second Nissan dealership.

The acquisition brings roughly 34 more employees under the Horne Auto Group umbrella, for an all-location employee total of 474. 

Horne Auto Group’s other dealerships are Champion Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of Nogales, Horne Auto Center Featuring Chevrolet in Show Low, Horne Cadillac in Show Low, Horne Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Globe, Horne Ford of Nogales, Horne Freedom Ford in Thatcher, Horne Genesis of Apache Junction and Mesa, Horne Kia in Gilbert, Horne Lincoln of Nogales, Horne Mazda in Tempe, Horne Subaru in Show Low, Robert Horne Ford in Apache Junction, Horne Hyundai in Apache Junction, and Horne Nissan in Globe.

The company also owns Horne Collision Center of Show Low, Horne Motors in Mesa, and Horne Motors in Show Low.

The Horne family has been in Arizona for over 140 years, when Henry James Horne settled in Mesa in 1880. His grandson, Gail B. Horne, co-founded the Henry and Horne CPA Firm in 1957, which was later joined by Gail’s son Robert C. Horne.

In 1991, Robert C. Horne purchased a small Chevrolet dealership in Show Low. From that small start, he and sons Aaron, Adam, Andrew, Michael and son-in-law Martin P. Jones have grown the company into what is now Horne Auto Group.

Arizona AgFest 2022 Draws Lawmakers’ Attention To Vital Industry

Arizona AgFest 2022 Draws Lawmakers’ Attention To Vital Industry

By Terri Jo Neff |

Several state lawmakers spent last Wednesday afternoon attending the 2022 Arizona Farm Bureau AgFest on the lawn of the House of Representatives.

The Arizona Farm Bureau is the state’s largest farm and ranch organization, and serves as the industry’s voice. The Jan. 19 event showcased the state’s $23.3 billion agriculture industry to legislators.

Among those attending was Sen. Sine Kerr, who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Energy, and Water.

Kerr is no stranger to the Ag business. She grew up in rural Buckeye and with her husband now owns a large dairy farm.

“Agriculture is essential to Arizona’s prosperity,” Kerr said at the event. “We all depend on the work our ranchers and farmer are doing for our state and country, and I will do my absolute best to always advocate for them at the state legislature.”

Some of the other lawmakers who attended AgFest were House Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham, as well as Reps. Leo Biasiucci, Frank Carroll, David Cook, and Joel John. Senate President Karen Fann was also on hand, as well as Sen. TJ Shope.

Members of the University of Arizona Collegiate Young Farmers and Ranchers, which has its own Arizona Farm Bureau chapter, also took part in the event.

In other Arizona Farm Bureau news, it was announced earlier this month that the organization earned the American Farm Bureau Federation’s New Horizon Award, which honors the most innovative new state Farm Bureau programs.

The New Horizon Award recognized the Arizona Farm Bureau’s partnership with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service last year to launch a conservation agriculture mentoring program. Stefanie Smallhouse, president of Arizona Farm Bureau, accepted the award during the Federation’s annual convention in Georgia.

Arizona Farm Bureau also won in all four Awards of Excellence categories for demonstrating outstanding achievements in Advocacy, Coalitions & Partnerships, Engagement & Outreach, and Leadership & Business Development.

U.S. Commerce Trade Agency Adds To Arizona Staff, Announces International Trade Missions

U.S. Commerce Trade Agency Adds To Arizona Staff, Announces International Trade Missions

By Terri Jo Neff |

One of the riskiest business plans for U.S. business owners is entering a new global market or contracting with an international trade partner. But the process does not have to be fraught with stress if you know what to look for, which is where the U.S. Commercial Service comes in. 

The U.S. Commercial Service (USCS) is the promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. The agency has trade professionals in more than 100 U.S. cities, including Phoenix and Tucson, as well as U.S. embassies and consulates to help American companies get started in exporting and to support other companies hoping to increase global sales.

On Feb. 2, the USCS is hosting a free webinar about the ABCs of export due diligence. The no-obligation event will provide useful tools which business owners can utilize to quickly and confidently screen prospective international partners. 

Then in late March, the U.S. Commercial Service is hosting a Central America Trade Mission & Business Conference in Guatemala for American businesses ready to expand into -or ramp up- business far south of the border.

The conference will explore markets in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama, and will include region-specific sessions, market entry strategies, export compliance, legal, logistics, disaster resilience and recovery, and trade financing resources.

Attendees can also prearrange one-on-one consultations with officials of the U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service or the U.S. Department of State with expertise in commercial markets throughout the region. More information on the Central America Trade Mission is available at

In May, USCS is hosting Trade Americas – Business Opportunities in the South America Conference held in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The conference offers U.S. companies the opportunity to explore eleven South American markets: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Uruguay.

According to USCS, the South America region’s nearly 400 million potential customers make the area a natural commercial partner for U.S. companies due to its close proximity and closely-tied history and culture. In addition, several trade agreements between the U.S. and various South America countries aim to enhance cooperation on trade and investment.

Information about the May conference is available at

The USCS office in Phoenix recently added a new member to its team of trade professionals. Colin Hudson joins USCS following several years with FedEx, where he held multiple roles in international business development. 

Hudson, who is originally from England, has lived and worked in Asia-Pacific and Latin America. He relocated to Arizona from Florida, and brings experience to USCS in assisting clients from different sized companies and industries in managing and growing their global presence. In his most recent position as a FedEx Worldwide Account manager, Hudson helped companies open new markets in diverse locations such as India and Poland. 

Personalized assistance is available to Arizona companies engaged in global trade or considering an expansion into an international market.  The USCS staff is assigned based on industry or location:

Leandro Solorzano (Director) Industries: General Services, Franchising, Travel and Tourism.

Christina Parisi (Tucson office) All Industries in Southern Arizona

Fernando Jimenez  Industries: Aerospace & Defense, Safety & Security, Sporting Goods, Textile, Chemicals, Advanced Manufacturing, Automotive, Transportation

Ruth Soberanes Industries:  Education, Energy, Environmental Technology, Information & Communication Technology, Marine Technology

Colin Hudson Industries: Architecture / Engineering / Infrastructure, Design and Construction, Processed Foods, Agribusiness/ Processed Foods, Cosmetics, Healthcare, Consumer Goods, Mining