Arizona voters could get to decide this year if they want to throw a roadblock in their own path.

On a 6-3 vote, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a proposal which is designed to require a two-thirds vote of those showing up at the polls to approve any new taxes. A similar margin would be necessary to hike existing tax rates or to reduce or eliminate an existing tax deduction, exemption or credit.

The legislation has major implications for cities and school districts.

East Valley schools board members said they are concerned about the impact this initiative could have on school district budgets, and ultimately, students.

"It would be unfortunate for the schools and I certainly hope that's not what happens," said Gilbert Unified School District board president E.J. Anderson. The Gilbert district could be putting a district override on the ballot in the fall.

Mesa Unified School District board president Steve Peterson said the timing of this proposal is difficult when public education funding has already been cut, as have the funds to maintain buildings.

"It's coming at a time when the state is pushing more and more of the costs down to the cities. For us, it comes at a tough time. The state is funding less and less. So far, they haven't come up with a solution to fund our buildings' maintenance, so Mesa has not put in the money it has prior to this crunch," he said.

If school override and bond votes do end up requiring a two-thirds majority to pass, it will be "more and more difficult" to accomplish, Peterson said.

"We always go out to promote the bond. It would just take more of an effort to promote that the bond, so yes, it is concerning," he said.

The Mesa district planned to put a bond election on the ballot last fall, but changed course. Mesa voters could see a bond question on this November's ballot.

The language of the bill, in its current form, actually would be retroactive, effectively undoing any previously approved tax which did not get the required two-thirds vote. That would pretty much mean all of them: Even the popular temporary one-cent hike in the state sales tax approved in 2010 only passed with a 65 percent margin.

But Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, said he would remove that language when HCR 2043 goes to the full House.

Approval came over the objections of the Democrats on the panel.

Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said it's hard enough to get even the bare majority for most measures. And Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said the measure was little more than a thinly disguised effort to preclude any future locally approved taxes at the ballot.

"It really shows a mistrust of the public," he said.

But Rep. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, said all that misses the point that the new requirement would not be imposed unless a majority of those who vote in the upcoming general election give their approval.

Rep. Ted Vogt, R-Tucson, pointed out that two-thirds approval requirement is the same that voters imposed on lawmakers themselves before they can hike a tax or eliminate a tax credit.

Vogt said he's not convinced those kinds of hurdles make sense for the Legislature - or would for voter-approved measures. And he said he doubts that voters will agree to bind their own hands when it comes to future tax hikes.

"But the people ought to have a say," Vogt said in agreeing to put the issue on the ballot.

• Tribune writer Michelle Reese contributed to this story.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.