DALLAS - A proposed Arizona constitutional amendment that gives non-voters potential veto power over state spending initiatives could also threaten local bond proposals, opponents say.
Proposition 105 on today's ballot, known as "Majority Rules," would require approval of any spending measure brought to the ballot by a citizen initiative by a simple majority of registered voters. That means that no vote at all would count as a "no" vote. Essentially, a majority of non-voters could veto any spending measure that won a majority of the votes cast.
Opponents of the measure, organized under the banner of "Voters of AZ," claim that the amendment, if passed, could also curtail local government and school bond elections because Proposition 105 would amend the state constitution's provisions for both local and state voter initiatives.
"We contend that Prop. 105 applies to local initiatives, as well," said Kristin Greene, campaign manager for Voters of AZ and associate director of public affairs for political consultant Riester. "But even if it doesn't, what's to say the next stop isn't local elections?"
For that reason, she said, "we contend that the bond houses should be very concerned."
Another unanswered question is whether the proposition would pass muster under the U.S. Constitution. Even before it gets to the U.S. Supreme Court, if passed, Proposition 105 would likely get scrutiny from the Arizona Supreme Court, according to Greene.
"What we believe is that because it's so poorly worded, the Arizona Supreme Court would probably reject it," Greene said.
The proposition reads:
"To protect the will of the people of Arizona for fiscal responsibility through true majority rule, any initiative that imposes additional taxes or spending must have support from a majority of qualified electors in Arizona. Currently, initiatives that increase taxes or spending can pass with approval from only a minority of qualified electors. In the past, big money, special interest groups have pushed higher spending and taxes. Arizona now faces one of the largest deficits of any state in the country. We must protect the will of the people and let a true majority of the voters decide."
Proponents say the measure is aimed at special interest groups that seek to win passage of spending measures in elections that may see as little as 25% voter turnout.
"Arizonans have already voted to require that the Legislature pass tax increases by a two-thirds majority vote," said Michelle Clements, spokeswoman for the organization Majority Rule. "A similar threshold should apply to those who seek to raise taxes."
Proposition 105 "does not apply to initiatives at the city, county, and local levels of government," she said. "It only applies to statewide ballot initiatives that seek to increase taxes and spending."
Greene notes that all new laws require some amount of spending simply to implement and enforce and therefore could be subject to the proposition's rules.
Ty Clevenger, a Texas attorney who is not involved in the issue but who formerly worked in the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department, called Proposition 105 a "bizarre" issue.
"I don't see how that could withstand constitutional muster. It takes away the right of the non-voter to not cast a ballot," he said. "I think that would be thrown out on its face."
Oregon voters today will be deciding whether to jettison a somewhat similar measure.
Oregon's Measure 47, passed in 1996, requires a voter turnout of at least 50% in an election to increase taxes, regardless of the election outcome. In today's election, Oregon Measure 56 would return to a majority of votes cast.
In Arizona, opponents say that none of the voter initiatives of the past 40 years would have passed under Proposition 105. While small businesses and tax watchdogs banded together to promote the proposition, nonprofits, and groups such as the Arizona Education Association teamed up to oppose it.
"Everyone's concern was the same," Greene said. "This is an absurd idea that attacks the very act of voting."
Ironically, passage of the measure would not require approval by the majority of registered voters, only a majority of those who actually turn out.
A statewide poll last week by Cronkite/Eight showed that 51% of registered voters polled would vote no on Proposition 105.