Originally Published: July 4, 2018 5:55 a.m.
PHOENIX — A California union has given up on its plan to ask Arizona voters to impose new service and cost restrictions on companies that perform dialysis.
Sean Wherley, spokesman for Service Employees International Union, said on Monday his organizations has decided to focus its efforts elsewhere.
Wherley said the SEIU already has filed petitions to get a similar measure on the ballot in California. And, he said paperwork is being turned in later this week in a bid to get Ohio voters to adopt a newly identical plan.
But the union’s decision is still going to leave Arizonans with lots of issues to decide in November.
The Arizona Association of Realtors was expected to submit petitions Tuesday to impose a constitutional ban on expanding the state sales tax to include services. That would take the possibility of revamping or reconfiguring what is now subject to the state’s 5.6 percent levy off the table even if there is a shift in the economy and what people buy from one based on goods, which are taxable, to one based on services, which would not be taxable under the plan.
Other initiative drives likely to file signatures by Thursday’s 5 p.m. deadline include:
•Putting an income tax surcharge on the top 1 percent of wage earners to pay for education funding;
•Requiring utilities to produce half their power from renewable sources by 2030, not including nuclear;
•Imposing a constitutional requirement for public disclosure of the people and organizations trying to influence elections;
•Legalizing possession of marijuana.
All those are in addition to two measures put on the ballot by lawmakers, one asking voters to undermine some of the powers of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission and the other a constitutional amendment to implement cost-of-living adjustments in pensions for retired corrections officers, elected officials and judges.
And voters also will get to decide whether to ratify or reject a measure approved last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature, which expands eligibility for who can qualify for taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.
The SEIU proposal sought annual inspections to check for compliance with laws and rules as well as how companies are dealing with potentially hazardous waste.
But the real key was to be a cap in the amount dialysis centers could charge patients at no more than 15 percent above their costs. Any profits that exceeded that amount would have to be refunded.
Wherley conceded the measure was aimed specifically at two firms: Fresenius Kidney Care and DaVita Kidney care. He said the two control more than 80 percent of the licensed dialysis centers in the state. Potentially more significant, Wherley acknowledged that both operate here without SEIU employees.
This isn’t the first time SEIU had started petition drives in its fights with employers.
Two years ago it crafted an initiative drive to cap the pay of hospital executives at no more than what the president of the United States is paid, or $450,000 a year. But after gathering what it said was more than 281,000 signatures — far more than needed — the union decided to scrap the effort in the face of challenges to the validity of many of those signatures.
But Wherley sidestepped questions Monday about whether the SEIU was simply using the Arizona initiative process for political purposes in the union’s ongoing battles with hospitals and health care employers.
“There’s only so many states that have ballot initiatives,’’ he said.
“So we look at them, where does SEIU have a presence, where can health care workers be benefited, where can patients be benefited,’’ Wherley said. “That’s kind of the calculus that decides where we introduce an initiative and where we submit signatures to qualify.’’
In the end, Wherley said, the union decided to not even try to collect signatures on the Arizona proposal.
The union isn’t the only organization to file the paperwork for to put a measure on this year’s ballot but fold it operation before the deadline.
Earlier this year the Humane Society of the United States pulled the plug on its initiative, which would have made it illegal to pursue, shoot, snare, net or capture any “wild cat.’’ That specifically would have applied to bobcats and mountain lions.
Organizers said the effort to gather the minimum 150,642 valid signatures by Thursday’s deadline were hampered by new Arizona law requiring “strict compliance’’ with all election statutes. They said that made signature gathering more difficult and made it more expensive to hire circulators.