Most of this year's props came from the state Legislature, which wants to tweak the Arizona Constitution in all kinds of fun ways--and in most cases, you're the only ones who can stop 'em. Thank God for those safeguards.
It's a lot to wade through, though, so here are our picks.
THIS PROP ALLOWS cities and towns to increase the amount of money they can borrow through bonding for transportation projects. Tucson doesn't currently bond for much of its transportation budget, so this one won't affect us much one way or the other. But bonding is a generally useful tool and voters still have to approve the projects. Go ahead and vote YES.
THINK LAND SWAPS between the government and developers are a swell idea?
The federal General Accounting Office recently reviewed land exchanges from 1989 to 1999 and concluded that, somehow, taxpayers ended up getting the short end of the deal. In one appalling example, a developer grabbed a parcel for $763,000 and flipped it the same day for $4.6 million.
Now Prop 102 asks voters to amend the Arizona Constitution to allow similar swaps of state land. Arizona has somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 million acres in something called the State Land Trust, established when we became a state way back in 1910. The federal government gave the state this land, set aside in a rather haphazard checkerboard fashion with little regard to natural resources, to the state with the proviso that it be used for the highest and best use to build trusts to primarily benefit education. That's mostly meant leasing or selling it at public auction for ranching, mining and development.
In 1990, the Arizona Supreme Court said swaps of State Trust Land violated the state Constitution. Since then, voters have been asked four times to allow land swaps--and voters have said no every time. Now lawmakers are back again with the same question, under the phony guise of increasing funding for education.
Sorry, but we just don't think there are enough safeguards in place. What we really need is a comprehensive review of state land policy that includes a reasonable plan for setting aside land for conservation, not this piecemeal effort. Vote NO.
RISING PROPERTY VALUES generally mean rising property taxes--which can be a real burden on seniors living on a fixed income, particularly if they see their home as a roof over their heads rather than just an investment.
Two years ago, voters approved a provision to allow low-income seniors to freeze the value of their property for tax purposes. Unfortunately, the poorly worded prop had county assessors using different thresholds for the program if more than one senior owned the home.
This prop would clarify that the program is meant for a household with an income of 500 percent of the Social Security benefit rate for individuals, or $32,700 this year. That's a reasonable limit on the program.
Because it clears up that confusion, we say vote YES.
IT'S HARD TO COME to the defense of rapists and child molesters. But we're still not going to support Prop 103, which would deny bail to anyone accused of those crimes. The key word there is "accused." Until they've been convicted, they're not guilty.
Do judges make bad calls regarding bail sometimes? Yes, but they usually make good decisions based on evidence from both prosecutors and defense attorneys. They should continue to have discretion in these cases. Vote NO.
WHEN VOTERS APPROVED an increase in the state sales tax two years to benefit education, a slight detail was overlooked: the amount schools can spend is limited by state law. This prop would take care of that wrinkle, allowing those new sales-tax funds to be considered exempt from that spending ceiling.
This is a housekeeping measure that allows the state to spend dollars already approved by voters. Vote YES.
THE FIRST OF THIS year's trifecta of gambling initiatives, Prop 200 is offered by the Colorado River Indian Tribes, who run the Blue Water Casino in Parker. This prop would essentially deregulate gambling in Arizona, allow the tribes to expand far beyond the current limits, and share 3 percent of net profits with the state.
Although we're not that crazy about casinos in the first place, we can live with the tribal operations, given the appalling conditions on the reservations. But this prop allows way too much deregulation, which is why even most of the tribes in Arizona oppose it. Vote NO.
THE SECOND ENTRY in the gambling arena is Prop 201, coming from the local dog and horse tracks. We're sympathetic to the shriveling industry, but we're still not going to support Prop 201, even though the tracks will cut the state in for a piece of the action, including 40 percent of the take each day at the new racinos. If we start allowing private interests to run slots off the reservation, we're taking another step down a slippery slope. No hidden message here. Vote NO.
THE THIRD TIME'S the charm. Prop 202, sponsored by a 17-tribe alliance, is the best deal on the ballot. This limits gambling to reservations, although it expands the number of slots, as well as allowing blackjack and poker tables. It stiffens regulation by the state to guard against funny business and offers up to 8 percent of the gross take on a sliding scale. Vote YES.
THOSE WACKY RICH guys--George Soros and John Sperling--are back with yet another reeferendum in the war against the War Against Drugs.
Prop 203 would decriminalize possession of less than two ounces of pot, pot paraphernalia and plants for personal use. Violators could be subject to a civil fine of $250 for a first or second offense and a $750 fine for a third offense. A judge could waive the fine if the violator agreed to undergo a drug education program.
It would also require that the state convict somebody of a crime before seizing their money and property--a reasonably reform of the state's forfeiture laws.
Admittedly, this prop has some wack provisions. Having the Department of Public Safety in charge of distributing seized marijuana to anyone who gets a doctor's note is a straaaange notion. But the feds won't allow that to come to pass.
The law-enforcement crowd is up in arms over this one, but we don't think its passage would be the apocalyptic event they're warning about. And if the state would make any kind of effort toward a decent medical marijuana program, this prop wouldn't even be necessary.
We think pretty who are sick and dying shouldn't be harassed if they want to smoke a joint to ease their suffering. Vote YES.
PROP 300 IS another housekeeping measure to ensure that education funding remains intact. The Arizona Legislature has passed a law ensuring that education funding that comes from the State Land Trust supplement rather than supplant current funding so that lawmakers wouldn't just reduce the amount being spent by the general fund. Prop 300 ensures that the law is voter-protected so that future legislatures don't welsh on the deal. Vote YES.
PROP 301 EXTENDS the state lottery for another decade, through July 1, 2012.
When you come right down to it, the lottery seems like a pretty bad idea. The government is essentially levying a tax on poor people who are bad at math.
But the money is targeted for public transportation, historic preservation, environmental conservation and other good things that would go unfunded otherwise. And nobody is forcing anyone to buy a ticket. So we say sure, vote YES. And best of luck with the Fantasy Five this week.
THIS PROP COMES courtesy of the Arizona Legislature, which is attempting to undercut the aforementioned Prop 203. Some members of the law-enforcement community complain that under the pot decriminalization laws supported by voters in recent election, judges can't lock up people who fail to complete treatment programs. This would revoke the possibility of probation for chronic drug offenders who fail to get treatment.
This one goes overboard in trying to correct a minor problem. We say vote NO.
THOSE POOR SMOKERS. First they couldn't smoke in airplanes. Then they couldn't smoke in restaurants or even at ball games. Now they're being asked to prop up the collapsing heath care system in Arizona.
Prop 304 would more than double the state sales tax on a pack of cigarettes from 58 cents to $1.18. (Cigar taxes would increase as well, on a sliding scale.)
The money would used for insuring low-income Arizonans, to subsidize the level-one trauma care we're in danger of losing in Tucson and to pay for medical research and tobacco prevention programs.
Increasing the tobacco tax will do two things: decrease the number of smokers and increase the money available for health care. We say vote YES.
STATE LAWMAKERS WANT a raise, from $24,000 to $36,000. Given the state's financial freefall, we're just going to have to tell them what our bosses are telling us: We just can't afford to increase your salary by one-third.
Sure, $24,000 isn't a whole lot of money, but this is a part-time job--and besides, with a little paperwork, lawmakers can cash in big-time on per diem and mileage, anyway. And most of 'em are working some kind of action on the side, whether in real estate, consulting or some other gig.
Vote NO. And by the way, why is it we never get a chance to vote on whether to cut lawmaker salaries?
AS IF OUR PROPERTY taxes weren't already high enough, Pima Community College wants a budget override.
We're still dismayed that PCC has the money to launch a football program, but needs more to handle the day-to-day education of students. But the college does provide an affordable opportunity to folks who want to learn a trade, who are returning to school or who aren't yet ready for university courses. With the state cutting back funding, PCC's job is just getting harder. We say vote YES.