What is on the ballot? Citizens, legislator offer opinions on props
PRESCOTT - A ballot proposition to change the way Arizona chooses its judges received the most opposition at a town hall in Prescott Friday about general election ballot issues.
The Arizona Secretary of State's Office conducts bi-annual town halls across the state to help voters understand ballot propositions.
Proposition 115 would give Arizona's governor too much power over the judicial branch of government, argued Sandra Goodwin of the League of Women Voters and Prescott attorney Bob Schmitt, a former state bar president who has served on state court selection committees.
The legislative referral would let the governor appoint 14 of the 15 members of the various commissions that make recommendations for new state appellate and Supreme Court justices, Schmitt said.
Two other people in the audience of about 75 also voiced opposition to Prop. 115, which features a long list of changes to the system that appoints state judges.
But Arizona Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, noted that the state bar and the Arizona Judicial Council are in favor of Prop. 115. The new law would make it easier to get rid of bad judges, she said.
Fann and her fellow Legislative District 1 elected officials, Senate President Steve Pierce of Prescott and House Speaker Andy Tobin of Paulden, all supported most of the seven propositions referred by the Legislature to this fall's ballot. The only exception was Prop. 117 since Pierce didn't cast a vote.
Fann attended Friday's meeting to help the audience understand the Legislature's intent on the ballot referrals.
"This is part of our economy and jobs bill program," Fann said of Prop. 116, which would increase automatic exemptions from the state's business property tax from $68,000 to $2.4 million worth of equipment.
The state could lose approximately $8 million in tax revenues each year by increasing the exemption, Assistant Secretary of State Jim Drake said.
Fann also voiced support for Prop. 117, urging voters to look at a proposition's list of supporters and opponents to help them gain insight into how to vote. The proposal would cap annual property value increases at five percent. Supporters include the Arizona Tax Research Association and the Arizona Association of Assessing Officers.
No one filed statements with the Secretary of State opposing Propositions 118 and 119 relating to state trust lands, Drake said.
He asked Fann to help explain Prop. 120 to voters. It would claim state sovereignty over approximately 25 million acres of federal lands in Arizona (excluding Indian reservations).
Fann said she didn't like the use of the phrase "state sovereignty" for Prop. 120.
"It sounds like we're trying to secede from the union, and that's not what this is about," Fann said. "Many residents in Arizona are frustrated with the federal government." She cited federal policy on forest health, mining and hunting as examples.
While some people have questioned how the state could take care of another 25 million acres when it can't cover the costs at state parks, Fann said revenues from logging, mining and hunting would help.
Opponents say Prop. 120 is unconstitutional, Drake noted. "There will be litigation" if voters approve it, he said.
The Arizona Farm Bureau and Arizona Cattlemen's Association registered support for Prop. 120, while conservation groups generally oppose it.
Two propositions, 121 and 204, got on the ballot through petition drives.
Joe Yuhas with "Yes on Prop. 121" attended Friday's town hall to explain why his group pushed for the change to a non-partisan open primary election with only one ballot, instead of the current system that features separate primary ballots for each party.
"Americans are clamoring for change in the election process," Yuhas said. "We need to have bipartisan cooperation."
An open primary would be similar to Prescott City Council elections where party affiliation isn't emphasized and candidates campaign for everyone's votes, he said.
But Fann warned against it. "I guarantee you are going to see more political backroom gerrymandering," Fann predicted with Prop. 121. For example, party leaders will get together in private and pick one party candidate to support so the party doesn't split up party votes in the primary, she said.
The other initiative-driven ballot prop is 204, which would make the one-cent statewide sales tax for education permanent. Most of the nearly $1 billion in annual revenues would go to education, with some also going to roads and human services.
It would make Arizona's sales tax one of the highest in the nation, one person in the audience said.
Proposition 204 would put the rate permanently at 6.6 percent. At the start of 2012, the only states with higher taxes were California (7.25); Indiana, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Tennessee (7); Minnesota (6.875); and Nevada (6.85, falling to 6.5 percent in 2013).