(The center Square) – Four initiatives may make it onto the ballot this fall in Arizona. Voters will be asked to consider measures that would raise taxes on higher wage earners to increase funding for schools, recreational marijuana legalization, sentencing reform and new regulations for hospitals and insurers.
Each campaign must make it through a review of qualifying signatures and legal challenges. All four petitions received more than the required number of signatures to get on the ballot. Efforts that were sidelined once the coronavirus pandemic hit and in-person signature gathering stalled included a measure that limited school vouchers and one that determines how anonymous campaign cash can be used.
The Invest in Education Act would impose a 3.5 percent tax surcharge on earners of more than $250,000 ($500,000 for couples), which would raise about $940 million per year for schools. Half of this tax would go toward raises for credentialed teachers, a quarter to raise wages for cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other support staff, and the remaining quarter to teacher training and vocational education.
Max Goshert, associate director of Grand Canyon Institue, told The Center Square that as a result of underfunding, Arizona's school districts and charters lack resources needed to effectively provide distance learning.
"While this act takes the important step of increasing funding for teacher salaries and instructional aid, it does not provide an opportunity weight for children from low-income families who are hit especially hard during this crisis," Goshert said.
Opponents of the measure say it would hut small businesses.
"We believe a well-educated workforce is essential to the livelihood of Arizona. However, implementing a funding mechanism that singles out a small sliver of taxpayers will have a negative, long-lasting effect on small businesses," Suzanne Kinney, CEO of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association's Arizona Chapter, said according to Ballotpedia. "Reinforcing the economic recovery post-COVID-19 will benefit our public education systems in the long run."
The Smart and Safe Arizona Act would legalize recreational marijuana use among those 21 and older. In addition to the regular sales tax, a 16 percent charge would be added to fund the government's administration of the program. Leftover funds would go toward community colleges, infrastructure, roads and highways, public safety and public health. People with minor marijuana convictions would also be able to petition to have their records expunged. The act also would clarify that people can be charged for driving under the influence of marijuana.
Cindy Dahlgren, communications and media specialist at the Center for Arizona Policy, said the Smart and Safe Act is neither smart nor safe.
"The ballot initiative does nothing to address the increased dangers on the roads, as witnessed by other states that have passed similar measures," Dahlgren told The Center Square. "The language in the initiative is, 'driving impaired remains illegal.' But it offers nothing more. And there is no reliable roadside testing to measure impairment like there is for alcohol."
Dahlgren said evidence from other states shows that when marijuana is legalized, more teens and kids use it. She also said the cost of legalization may outweigh the benefit – Colorado spends $4.50 on government administration for every dollar of marijuana tax revenue it generates.
The Second Chances, Rehabilitation and Public Safety Act would allow inmates to earn release credits and help cut sentences of those convicted of non-violent offenses by 15-50 percent. Mandatory sentencing for non-dangerous offenders would be left up to the judge's discretion. The initiative would bar those who committed multiple crimes in one series from being sentenced as repeat offenders, and it would allow some of those who are currently incarcerated to apply for resentencing.
"The public health crisis and the concentration of cases at Arizona's penitentiary systems highlight the need for Arizona to rethink its criminal justice policies," Goshert said. "We have one of the highest per-capita prison populations in the country and a recidivism rate of 40 percent. Failing to act would result in Arizona continuing to waste taxpayer dollars and squander the lives of thousands of Arizonans."
The Stop Surprise Billing and Protect Patients Act would prevent insurers from charging patients more if they have a pre-existing condition or use an out-of-network provider. Insurers would be required to reimburse providers at specific rates. It would also set a new minimum wage for those at private hospitals by requiring 5 percent raises per year for four years.
Of the four measures, three are opposed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It did not take a position on the sentencing reform measure. In the past, the chamber has sued to keep initiatives it opposes off the ballot.
“If these initiatives pass, they could change the entire fabric and future of the state,” Chamber CEO Glenn Hamer said according to Mojave Valley Daily News. “Between now and Election Day, we look forward to discussing with voters why rejecting each one of these initiatives is the wise decision.”