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Ban on Service Taxes Soars; School Vouchers Getting 'F' From Voters

Ban on Service Taxes Soars; School Vouchers Getting 'F' From VotersEXPAND
Gage Skidmore

A permanent ban on taxes for services like auto repair or personal training appears to have won, but whether it means Arizonans will pay less taxes overall is uncertain.

Prop 126, sponsored primarily by the Association of Arizona Realtors, was ahead 66-34 with 1.2 million ballots counted as of 8:45 p.m.

"It's a little bit disappointing," said Carlos Alfaro of Americans for Prosperity and the Libre Initiative, which opposed the measure. "The margin is too big."

The realtors association didn't return a message.

The proposition, should its lead hold, will change the state constitution to ban lawmakers from taxing services like auto repair or housecleaning. Polls over recent weeks showed the prop had a serious uphill battle to win — and it looks like it made it.

Alfaro's groups and the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, whose director is David Lujan, a former Democratic state lawmaker, argued that the measure would eliminate options for lawmakers in times of need and force an increase to state sale tax rates.

Alfaro said voters that opposition group members spoke with during the campaign seemed to understand the initiative wasn't what appeared, once it was explained to them. It's not just a tax break, it's a tax "carve out" for a special-interest group, and it's "cronyism," he said.

Prop 126's language would be protected under the 1998 Voter Protection Act, meaning it can't be altered without a three-quarter vote from the Legislature, and even then an alteration must enhance, not detract from, the spirit of the law.

"It could be 50 years and we'll still be under this law," Alfaro said, adding that a recent study showed that limiting such taxes could have "huge implications for school funding."

Meanwhile, a move to dip into precious education funds as part of a nationwide conservative movement to undermine the public school system appears to have failed.

Prop 305 was losing 67-33 with more than 1.2 million ballots counted as of 9:15 p.m.

Anger helped put the measure on the ballot.

It all began last year, when Republican lawmakers moved to expand the controversial Empowerment Scholarship Account voucher program made available in a previous law that was only available to disabled students. The vouchers take money that would otherwise go toward the state's miserly public school budget and give it to parents who can use it for home schooling or private school tuition. The program was tolerated in its current, limited, form, but Republicans wanted to expand the criteria so that any K-12 student could apply.

Even though the new law capped the program at 0.5 percent of total student enrollment in Arizona, incensed education advocates launched a movement called Save Our Schools Arizona and began collecting signatures. That successful effort became Prop 305, a voter-referred referendum of the law.

Dawn Penich-Thacker, Save Our Schools spokeswoman, said she would let someone else call the race, but "we're feeling pretty good."

The early returns reflect what the anti-Prop 305 campaign had been hearing from voters in the past few weeks — namely, that most planned to vote no, she said.

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The apparent defeat of Prop 305 sends a "national message" that Arizona rejects the proliferation of voucher programs that take money from public schools, she said. Trump's Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is a big voucher proponent, for example. A win in Arizona by the initiative, on the other hand, would have been proof that Arizonans don't care about public education, she added.

As an article by Phoenix New Times writer Joseph Flaherty notes tonight, Prop 127, the "clean energy" bill sponsored by California billionaire Tom Steyer appears to have been defeated.

As of 9:15 p.m., Prop 125 was leading, but still too close to call at 53-47. It would reform the pension system for corrections officers and elected officials by replacing permanent pension increases with a cost-of-living increase dependent on the economy. Police and fire department employees have already moved to a similar system without much pain.

Voters also seem to like Prop 306, which would make changes to the Citizen Clean Election Commission rules. If it passes, a candidate who receives public money for his or her campaign through Clean Elections could not transfer that money to other politicians or political groups who'd use it to promote the candidate. Chances looked fairly good at 9:15 p.m., with the prop ahead by a margin of 56-44.

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