Tax and bond questions on the ballot throughout Southwest

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Voters across the Southwest will consider ballot issues Tuesday that could affect state and local budgets.

In Arizona, voters will decide Proposition 305, essentially expanding a school voucher program that redirects public tax dollars to private schools, home schools and other uses.

A “yes” vote would allow Senate Bill 1431 to go into effect, gradually increasing for four years the percentage of students in kindergarten through twelfth grade eligible to receive a voucher called an “empowerment scholarship account” that could be used for private school, home schooling or any authorized education expense.

A “no” vote would kill SB 1431, which was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in April 2017 but would maintain the existing law.

Arizona was the first state to establish an ESA system.

The original ESA program allowed parents or guardians of students with disabilities to sign a contract to opt out of public and instead receive an ESA from the Arizona Department of Education that could be applied to private education, homeschooling, or other non-public education. The ESA is funded at 90% of what the state would have paid for the student in a district or charter school. Between 2011 and 2017, the program was expanded to cover students meeting other criteria.

An organization called “Save Our Schools” that got the proposition on the ballot called the SB 1431 a “500% expansion of a program that siphons existing tax dollars out of the public education budget and uses them to subsidize private school tuition and other personal expenses with virtually no accountability or transparency.”

Supporters say they favor expanding school choice.

Another Arizona measure, Proposition 126, would ban any level of government in Arizona from increasing or enacting taxes on services such as salon treatments, pet grooming, amusement, fitness activities, financial-oriented activities, real estate transactions, banking, investment management, healthcare-oriented activities, and doctor visits.

Proposition 125 would modify pension benefits for correctional officers, probation officers, and surveillance officers in Arizona. Senate Bill 1442 would require corrections officers hired on or after July 1, 2018, to enroll in a defined-contribution retirement plan known as the Public Safety Personnel Defined Contribution Retirement Plan. The bill would also establish a cost-of-living adjustment, rather than a permanent benefit increase, for members hired on or after July 1, 2018.

Proposition 127 would require that electric utilities obtain half of their electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030 with the percent required steadily increasing each year.

In Arkansas, voters will consider Issue 5, which would increase the state’s minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2021, indirectly affecting state tax revenues.

Colorado voters will consider two transportation bond measures worth a combined $9.5 billion. Proposition 109 would authorize $3.5 billion in bonds to fund statewide transportation projects, to be repaid from the state's general fund with no new revenue to fund the payments. Opponents say the measure is designed to draw money away from other general fund spending areas.

Proposition 110 would increase the sales and use tax to 3.52% from 2.9% for 20 years ending in 2039. It also authorizes the issuance of $6 billion in bonds. The measure directs that 45% of the revenue goes to the State Highway Fund and 40% to Local Transportation Priorities Fund. The remaining 15% goes to the Multimodal Transportation Options Fund.

The proposed Colorado Amendment 73 would create a graduated income tax and increase income taxes on incomes above $150,000. It would also increase the corporate income tax by 1.37%.

The revenue from the taxes would create the Quality Education Fund, which would be exempt from the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) revenue limit, supplement the general fund, and adjusted each year for inflation, to a maximum of 5%. The fund would be used to increase the funding for the per-pupil basis, special education, preschool, English language, and gifted students and increase kindergarten funding to provide full-day school.

New Mexico voters will consider about $158 million of bonds, including $128.4 million for higher education, special schools and tribal schools. Another proposed $12.9 million would go toward school libraries, and $6.13 million would be authorized for school buses.

Oklahoma’s State Question 800 would set aside 5% of the state's oil and gas revenue into the Oklahoma Vision Fund designed to protect the energy-dependent state from the wild swings in revenue in recent years. The revenue would be invested by the Oklahoma State Treasurer using the prudent investor rule. Then, each year, 4% of the average money in the fund would be allocated to the state's general fund.

Oklahoma State Question 801 would allow local school districts to use their building funds for operational expenses such as teacher salaries. Opponents see the measure as a way of passing education funding responsibilities from the state to local districts. They also see widespread disparities arising from the difference in wealth between districts.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin placed the proposal on the ballot in an attempt to address complaints about low pay for teachers in the state.

Voters across Texas will consider about $8.7 billion of local bond proposals.

Utah voters will decide a number of issues, including Medicaid expansion and legalization of medical marijuana. They will also provide their opinion on raising the state’s fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon.

Like other Republican-controlled states, Utah refused to expand Medicaid to the working poor when the Affordable Care Act became law took effect in 2010. Eight years later, the state is asking voters whether Medicaid should be expanded to include persons under the age of 65 and with incomes equal to or below 138% of the federal poverty line. The measure would also raise the sales tax to 4.85% from the current 4.7% to cover the state's portion of the Medicaid costs.

The fuel tax increase question is non-binding but could allow lawmakers to take action on the proposal. Passage would mean that voters favor a 10-cent per gallon increase that would raise about $100 million per year for education and local roads.

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Bond elections Sales tax Transportation industry Arizona Arkansas Colorado New Mexico Oklahoma Utah