In a rare split, nine Republican Senators voted Wednesday against a bill sponsored by a member of their own caucus, with one senator calling on Gov. Doug Ducey to veto the bill if it hits his desk.
Voters approved the one-half cent sales tax for transportation funding back in the early 1980s and again in 2004 as Proposition 400. It is set to expire at the end of 2025 unless voters approve an extension that will general billions over the course of the proposed new extension.
To understand the money at play, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee projects the current Maricopa County transportation tax will generate in $754 million in annual revenue in 2025 alone.
Senate Bill 1356 was introduced in January by Sen. Tyler Pace as the vehicle to get the choice in front of voters. It contains an emergency clause, so if signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey then the extension option will appear on the 2020 General Election ballot.
Voters in Maricopa County would then have a chance to say aye or nay to another extension. They will also have a good idea for how the tax revenue would be spent during the next two decades thanks to a draft spending plan from the Maricopa Association of Government.
But it appears the rush to get the matter on the ballot this year was more of an objection to those senators voting against the bill than the extension itself.
For Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, putting the matter before voters in 2022 does not make sense considering the sales tax extension can go on the 2024 ballot.
“We have some members that are requesting that we suspend the 18 cents gas tax,” she said in explaining her no vote. “We’re sending mixed messages. There’s no reason we need to do it now. We can do this in 2024.”
Ugenti-Rita pointed out that Republicans have been touting tax cuts the last several years and are now asking voters in Maricopa County to approve a tax increase that cannot be undone for 25 years.
“Coming up on an election, this is the worst thing Republicans can do, is mandate a historic tax increase be placed on the ballot,” she added while calling on Ducey to veto the bill if it gets that far.
Joining Ugenti-Rita in voting against SB1356 were Senators Nancy Barto, Sonny Borrelli, David Gowan, Vince Leach, JD Mesnard, Warren Petersen, Wendy Rogers, and Kelly Townsend.
For Mesnard, the inclusion of funding for “intolerable” light rail projects was the primary reason for his no vote even though he applauded Pace for the effort put into the legislation.
“The thing that I have just wrestled over is when I look now down 25 yeas in the future, what is transportation going to look like?” Mesnard said on the floor. “And so I have been uncomfortable with the idea that we would spend what I think is hundreds of millions, billions of dollars, on light rail.”
SB1356 also makes several changes to the distribution of the tax revenues, while modifying the budgeting process for the Maricopa Association of Governments which will have to create a Transportation Tax Plan. And it increases the tax period from 20 to 25 years.
Gowan explained his no vote is also tied to the inclusion of so much money for light rail projects, saying he thought the money would be better spent on the construction of freeways and maintenance of existing highways and streets.
“I think it is a better fit for those dollars that we would get for light rail to actually go into the roads…the highways that we all travel,” Gowan said Wednesday. “I do believe, no pun intended, it’s a bridge too far to go with the light rail. And that is why you see me voting no today, Madame President.”
SB1359 still passed out of the Senate on a 21 to 9 vote, securing the two-thirds votes required of an emergency clause. It has been transmitted to the House where its passage is not assured due to the two-thirds requirement of the 60 representatives.
UPDATE: At approximately 8:30 p.m., the Senate passed the primary budget bill and worked until 2:30 a.m. to pass all of the 11 budget bills including the tax cut.
Arizona lawmakers are nearly halfway toward approving what Sen. JD Mesnard calls a “once in a lifetime overhaul” of the state’s tax system, but whether the other half get approves this week is still in question.
As of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Senate had passed 8 of the 11 budget bills on a 16 to 14 margin in a marathon day of amendments, commentary, and votes which was continuing as of press time. Among those eight were appropriation bills for higher education, criminal justice, health, environment, capital outlays, and transportation.
It also included the tax omnibus and revenue bills which are two of the three priorities of the legislature’s majority Republican caucus. And among the legislation were several amendments offered by senators which matched a variety of bills that failed to pass earlier in the session.
One amendment offered to the health budget bill, SB1824, came from Senate President Karen Fann to codify Gov. Doug Ducey’s recent executive order prohibiting COVID-19 vaccinations for community college and university students. It appears, however, that the prohibition is only valid while those vaccinations are offered under “emergency” approval.
That is one of the amended bills the State House is expected to consider on Thursday. None of the budget bills were discussed by the House on Tuesday because 28 of the 29 Democrats in the chamber failed to show up.
The maneuver by the minority party caused a lack of quorum due to the fact four of the 31 Republicans were participating remotely. House rules allow members to vote remotely but for purposes of determining a legal quorum there must be at least 31 representatives present on the floor or in their official House office.
In explaining his support of the budget bills, Mesnard cited several features, including an appropriation toward paying down state pension liabilities. He also noted income taxes will be cut “at a significant amount” which in turn will put Arizona in a positive competitive position.
Throughout Tuesday’s floor session, most of the 14 Democrats in the Senate proposed numerous amendments for how to spend Arizona’s $2.3 billion surplus. Many of the options involved additional funding for lower income residents but were voted down on a 16 to 14 margin.
And some supporters of the Democrats’ amendments suggested the tax cuts contained in the budget bills were disproportionately beneficial to higher income residents.
Sen. Sonny Borrelli said he took many of the Democrats’ comments “as contempt for the rich.”
Earlier in the day the House Committee on Government & Elections gave due pass recommendations to two bills, including SCR1010 which would promote a three-day States’ Convention in September. All seven Republicans on the committee voted for the Sen. Kelly Townsend sponsored bill but indicated they would likely vote against it on the floor.
However, the bill never made it to the full House due to the lack of quorum. The same problem affected Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s attempt via SB1431 to bring changes to the citizen advisory committees utilized by flood control districts.
Ugenti-Rita explained there is currently no restrictions on who sits on those committees, which has allowed city officials to hold seats on what is supposed to be a citizen committee. The bill would also mandate all counties with a population of 1.5 million or more must have a citizens committee; the only county which would be impacted by that provision is Maricopa County, even though Pima, Pinal, and Yuma also utilize citizen committees for their flood districts.
While some Arizona voters remain focused on last November’s election, dozens of candidates for state and federal offices in 2022 are already vying for voters’ attention and their dollars, even though early voting for primary contests won’t begin for 13 months.
The November 2022 General Election will bring major changes to Arizona’s executive branch, as Gov. Doug Ducey is termed out and Attorney General Mark Brnovich has announced his run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Mark Kelly. There will also be a new Arizona Secretary of State as current officeholder Katie Hobbs is seeking the governorship.
Hobbs announced her candidacy earlier this month, but faces a tough Democratic primary race with Marco Lopez Jr., a former mayor of Nogales and prior Chief of Staff for U.S. Customs & Border Protection. They currently have two other primary challengers, Steven “Paco” Noon Jr. and Trista DiGenova-Chang, although State Rep. Aaron Lieberman is rumored to be considering tossing his hat in the ring.
On the Republican side, 10 candidates are currently vying to get past the Aug. 2 primary and onto the Nov. 8 General Election ballot. Among the first to announce their candidacy were Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee and Karrin Taylor Robson, who is the secretary of the Arizona Board of Regents.
Former Phoenix-area television news anchor Kari Lake has also announced a run for the Republican nomination, along with Ameer El Bey, Kelly Garett, David Hoffman, Michael Pavlock Jr., Julian Tatka, Paola “Z” Tulliani, and Wayne Warren.
Meanwhile, two Libertarians -Bill Moritzky and Steve Remus- have already filed a Statement of Interest for governor.
With Hobbs giving up her position as Secretary of State, the Arizona Republican Party is pushing hard to take back the office in 2022. Five candidates, including Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Rep. Mark Finchem, are expected to be on the primary ballot, along with Remo Paul, Mark Sarchet, and Wade Wilson.
In addition, Rep. Shawnna Bolick, also a Republican, is expected to announce her candidacy for Secretary of State at a June 21 “Campaign Kick-off” event.
Whichever Republican clears the primary will likely take on Democrat Adrian Fontes, the former Maricopa County Recorder. Fontes informally announced on social media last week his interest in running for Secretary of State.
One of the state’s most influential offices is up for grabs in 2022 now that Brnovich is running for Congress. One Democrat -Diego Rodriguez- has filed a Statement of Interest, as have two Republicans- Andrew Gould and Tiffany Shedd.
Gould recently stepped down from the Arizona Supreme Court to announce his candidacy.
The U.S. Senate seat currently held by Mark Kelly is expected to be one of the most contested federal races in 2022, although the Republican primary to determine who takes on Kelly will be just as intense.
In addition to Brnovich, the Republican nomination is being sought by 15 other candidates as of June 12. They include recently retired Arizona Adjutant General Michael “Mick” McGuire and Fortune 500 executive Jim Lamon.
Other Republicans vying for the nomination are Wendy Acuna, Craig Brittain, David Buechel, Dan Butierez Sr., Ronald Coale, Eric Corbett, Mark Fisher, Vlad Hermann, Josh McElroy, Rob Paveza, Thomas Tripp, and Chad Yosick. They are joined by Kelly Garett, who also filed a Statement of Interest for governor.
But the Republican primary for Kelly’s seat in Congress could get even more crowded, as Blake Masters of the Thiel Foundation and Christopher Landau, who recently served as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, are rumored to be considering a run.
As for Kelly, he appears to have only one Democratic Party challenger at this time- Trista DiGenova-Chang, who also filed a Statement of Interest for Governor.
Independent candidates still have several months to submit a Statement of Interest, which must be filed by a candidate before collecting the petition signatures needed to get on the ballot. However, a Statement of Interest is not a formal declaration of candidacy – which is done by filing a nomination paper.
While some politicians have called in the past for boycotts or buycotts of specific companies, Rep. Reginald Bolding (LD27) has raised the subject of whether the National Football League should consider pulling the February 2023 Super Bowl out of Arizona in response to the state’s new election laws.
Bolding, the House Democratic Leader, broached the issue in a May 11 letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the same day the Senate passed SB1485, a bill which could remove more than 100,000 names from the early voting list of voters who continually fail to utilize the early ballot option.
The NFL announced in May 2018 that the Super Bowl LVII would be returning to Arizona in 2023 with a week-long list of activities culminating with the championship game. But in his letter, Bolding reminded Goodell the NFL reneged on its plan to hold the Super Bowl in Arizona in 1993 after legislators opted to not recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday.
“I am respectfully requesting that you add your powerful voice to a chorus of folks from a broad political spectrum to urge Governor Doug Ducey to veto this reprehensible legislation,” Bolding wrote to Goodell, adding “it is time for organizations like the NFL, the NCAA and the College Football National Championship to get off the sidelines and take a stand like Major League Baseball.”
The MLB reference relates to last month’s announcement that the All-Star Game was being moved from Atlanta to Denver after Georgia lawmakers made changes to the state’s election laws.
What Bolding didn’t know when sending his letter to Goodell was that Ducey signed SB1485 less than one hour after the legislation was transmitted to his desk.
Since then, Bolding’s suggestion that the NFL could consider pulling a premier sporting event has been heavily criticized for its negative impact on Arizona’s tourism and hospitality industries still reeling from the last 15 months of COVID-19 restrictions.
An economic study released after last year’s Super Bowl LIV in Miami showed that visitor spending -including spectators, media, teams, and NFL – brought in nearly $250 million to the Greater Miami area. There were also millions in short term labor income, and a $34 million bump in local and state tax revenues connected to the event.
Bolding’s letter to Goodell referred to a decision by Michael Bidwell, owner of the Arizona Cardinals, to join a few dozen Arizona business leaders to oppose some election-related legislation, including SB1485.
But Ducey made it clear when signing the bill that he found nothing nefarious about making changes to the state’s elections law.
“Arizona has for years continuously improved and refined our election laws —including intuitively renaming ‘absentee’ voting to ‘early’ voting— and constantly seeking to strengthen the security and integrity of our elections,” he said. “SB 1485 ensures Arizona remains a leader for inclusive, accessible, efficient and secure election administration.”
Bolding has continued to attack SB1485, although he has not repeated his panned comments about the NFL’s option to pull the Super Bowl from Arizona. The February 2023 game would be the fourth time the Super Bowl is held in the state.
What promised to be Republicans’ most impactful state election integrity bill of the legislative session did not get voted on Monday, despite being on the calendar for a final reading in the State Senate.
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s SB1485 has the potential to drop more than 207,000 inactive voter names from the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL). Removal would not happen if a voter responds to a written notice about the impending change, which in no way alters or impacts a voter’s registration status.
Arizona’s 15 county recorders would collectively save tens of thousands of dollars each election through reduced printing and postage costs. But the biggest selling point for SB1485 is its election integrity benefit of ensuring 207,000 early ballots are not put into the U.S. mail system if voters do not intend to use them.
Getting Ugenti-Rita’s bill to Gov. Doug Ducey had been considered a sure thing due to Senate Republicans holding a 16 to 14 majority. That certainty ended last month when Sen. Kelly Townsend announced she will not vote for any election-related legislation until the Senate’s audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 General Election is complete.
Townsend has expressed displeasure with Ugenti-Rita’s lack of support for getting many of Townsend’s 18 election bills out of committee this session. As a result, Ugenti-Rita was forced into the embarrassing position of voting against her own bill to preserve any chance of revoting on SB1485 during a future Senate floor session.
That revote was set for Monday, but Senate President Karen Fann held the bill without further comment. The Senate is tentatively scheduled for daily floor sessions through Thursday but as of press time the PEVL legislation has not been added to any of those calendars.