The Skinny

TAXING LOGIC: It appears voters might not have a chance to repeal the state income tax after all. The Arizona Taxpayer Association's Prop 107, which would have amended the state constitution to dump the state income tax, was booted off the ballot by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Cates last week.

Cates ruled that the measure modified too many sections of the constitution at once because not only did it repeal the income tax, it also required that any new or increased tax or fee had to be approved by voters. Thus, voters might have liked one provision but not the other, but they had to approve both. That's called "logrolling," and it's prohibited in the state constitution.

We say good riddance to bad rubbish. The income tax repeal was a populist pander that would have been of greatest benefit to those who need it least. Most of us pay a negligible state income tax, which is the only progressive tax in the state. According to 1997 numbers from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, the top 1.4 percent of earners pay 17.3 percent of the tax, the top 5.7 percent of earners pay 31.2 percent and the top 11.2 percent pay 42.7 percent. In fact, low-income families who earn less than $23,600 don't pay any income tax at all. All of which means repealing the income tax amounts to a tax cut for the wealthiest Arizonans.

As Lori Klein of the Arizona Taxpayer Alliance told The Weekly last April, the "little guy" the tax repeal was designed to aid is someone making $100,000 to $1 million a year--which accounted for 5.6 percent of the filers in 1997. (See "The Good News About Your Taxes," April 13).

Given that the legislature has virtually eliminated the state property tax, the state sales tax would have to rise to make up the lost revenue if voters had flushed the income tax. And, while it's only paid in pennies here and there, the sales tax hits average Arizonans harder than the income tax. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates that the average Arizona family of four with an income of $35,000 pays about $1,440 in sales taxes and only $515 a year in state income taxes.

The sales tax is a lousy tax to raise for another reason: It can be evaded with a click of a mouse--and an Internet sales tax is years away. Upward-creeping sales taxes increase the incentive to shop online, which in turn hurts local businesses. Think that's good for our consumer-driven economy?

And that's assuming the sales tax could have been increased, since under Prop 107 any tax hike would have had to pass at the ballot box. In all likelihood, voters would have shot down any steep increase in the sales tax. (The backers of the Taxpayer Protection Act know this. They set it up that way on purpose, because their main objective is to cut government back by starving it.)

Supporters of the repeal are promising an appeal to the state Supreme Court, but it appears they may face another hurdle. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless announced that a random sample of the signatures turned in by the Taxpayer Protection Alliance showed such inaccuracy that the group seemed to have only 97.2 percent of the 152,643 valid signatures required to put a constitutional amendment before voters. That means the petitions get kicked back to all the county recorders, who are bracing themselves for the counting chore ahead. And the Taxpayer Protection Alliance complains about government waste? Looks like it's triggering its share.

SMARTER JUDGMENT: The proposition drama continued this week, when Maricopa County Superior Court Susan Bolton tossed Prop 100 from the ballot.

This was the portion of the Growing Smarter package lawmakers had referred to voters in hopes of defusing the Citizens Growth Management Initiative on the November ballot. It would have set aside up to 3 percent of state trust land for preservation, instead of selling it off so we can be graced with more stucco homes and strip malls. Big deal--most of what ended up being preserved would have probably been mountaintops and washes where nobody could have built anything anyway.

Phoenix attorney Andy Gordon, who co-chairs the No Prop 100 political committee, argued that the referendum amended several sections of the state constitutions at once--the same logrolling argument that flushed Prop 107.

Even though Prop 100 wouldn't have conflicted with the Citizens Growth Management Initiative, lawmakers slapped it on the ballot, hoping voters would be satisfied with their growth-management efforts. Or at least end up confused on Election Day. If the decision survives appeal, that strategy is shot.

NO WONDER OUR RATES ARE SO HIGH: It's Arizonans for Consumer Choice and Fair Competition vs. Arizonans Against Higher Phone Rates and Poor Service. Whose side are you on?

We're talking about Prop 108. We're still not sure what it does, but we do know it cuts back regulation of phone rates and it's supported by the aforementioned Arizonans for Consumer Choice and Fair Competition, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Qwest (the telephone company formerly known as U S West), which had contributed some $800,000 to the campaign as of May 31. The company has poured another half-million bucks in since.

Now the opposition committee, Arizonans Against Higher Phone Rates and Poor Service, is up and running. This outfit got a check for $50,000 from AT&T on August 8.

HEAD OF STATE: Leave it to the National Enquirer to give its readers a heads-up on human weirdness this political season.

In its August 15 issue, the paper devotes a full page to charges that Prescott Bush, grandfather of Republican nominee George W. Bush, stole the skull of Apache warrior Geronimo from his grave at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The alleged theft occurred in 1911 when Prescott Bush was an army officer stationed at Sill. He and two fellow shovelers supposedly shipped the noggin to Yale's Skull and Bones club, an elite secret society that has counted the Bush men among its members.

The whereabouts of the head came to light when a disgruntled member of Skull and Bones heard that members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe were trying to get Geronimo's body moved from Sill back to Arizona.

This unnamed tattler violated the club's secrecy by informing Ned Anderson, a former tribal chairman, that what he was seeking was actually in a windowless clubhouse room at Yale called the Tomb.

He also explained that Prescott Bush and his friends had cleared the remaining hair and flesh from the skull with carbolic acid, and sent it to Yale with two other bones and Geronimo's stirrups.

The club's lawyer said they don't have the skull, but admitted that club history describes how Prescott Bush had stolen the skull. But the lawyer said it was "a hoax on the membership."

Anderson isn't giving up. "They desperately want to keep this sick scandal quiet--but we're never going to let it rest until they return the skull of Geronimo and let out great leader rest in peace," says Anderson.

We just love this kind of political skullduggery.

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