Arizona Legislature adjourns after Hobbs, Republicans cut a deal on Prop. 400

By Bob Christie/Capitol Media Services
Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2023 - 7:46am
Updated: Tuesday, August 1, 2023 - 11:48am

The Arizona Capitol Executive Tower
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
The Arizona Capitol Executive Tower in Phoenix.

A monthslong fight over whether to allow voters in Maricopa County to vote on an extension of a half-cent sales tax came to an end Monday, as a deal cut between Republican leaders of the Arizona Legislature and Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs passed the House and Senate.

Members of the group of lawmakers who call themselves the Arizona Freedom Caucus and a low-tax group known as the Free Enterprise Club that has influence among conservative Republicans came up short in a last-ditch effort to block the effort.

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Those groups' main gripe was the amount of money from the tax that would go to transit over the 20 years it will be in effect if voters approve it next year. Set at 37% of the approximately $20 billion in sales tax revenue, they argue that transit benefits only a few — perhaps just 1% of county residents.

“The voters of Maricopa County want some reasonable amount of additional funding for freeways,” Rep. Alexander Kolodin (R-Scottsdale) said before Monday’s House vote. “They do not want almost 40% of the tax that we are imposing on them used for transit.”

Kolodin said the measure gives voters no choice to reject the transit spending because it is a package deal: to get the dollars for freeways and major street improvements, they have to support funding for transit.

Despite concerns raised by Kolodin and other Freedom Caucus members, the House vote wasn't close: 17 of 31 Republicans joined all the Democrats in voting to send the measure to the ballot once Hobbs signs it. And it passed the Senate on a bipartisan 19-7 vote.

“This is a continuation of an ongoing tax (of) over 40 years that not we in this chamber are going to decide, but the voters in Maricopa County will decide,” said Rep. David Cook (R-Globe). He pointed out that the legislation simply authorizes a vote next year to extend the levy to 2045.

Democrats took a victory lap after lobbying for the measure all year.

“I look forward to a lot of new jobs,” Rep. Marcelino Quinonez (D-Phoenix) said. “It is time that we send this to the ballot so that Maricopa County voters can decide.”

GOP House Speaker Ben Toma put the extension of the sales tax up for a vote despite strong opposition from many of his fellow Republicans, and he defended the decision.

“We know that Maricopa County is one of the fastest growing counties in the United States,” the Peoria Republican said as he explained his yes vote. “We’re one of the fastest growing states in the United States, and that’s been due to good governance and low taxes.”

He said the money that has flowed to county highways, roadways and transit over the past 40 years has helped avoid “out of control congestion of many large cities. And that proactive approach must continue.”

Toma praised the deal Republicans negotiated with Hobbs, saying it puts major guardrails on the tax money by preventing its use to expand light rail, or to be directed to air quality efforts opposed by Republicans.

The bill also has a complete ban on light rail expansion set to be built near the Capitol. While that 1.4 mile line is already funded, Toma said he didn't want lawmakers to have to cross the tracks when going to their cars.

"In other words, it’s not coming around the Capitol,'' he said. Instead, it would have to be at least 150 feet from the Capitol complex.

Moving the line away from the Capitol would have at least an indirect effect on the approximately 7,700 state workers who would have to travel further to be able to use light rail.

The Legislature adjourned for the year after the votes.

Hobbs had vetoed an earlier version passed with just Republican backing, one that would have required separate votes on funding for freeways with a second vote on mass transit. Both House Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen said she would sign the new version they negotiated with her.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to an editing error, this story has been updated to correct the byline.

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