By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
Attempts to defeat Peoria’s tax-related ballot items are gathering steam throughout the city as the Nov. 8 general election creeps closer.
But supporters of the two measures say the monies are necessary to fund the needs of a growing city.
With the city-backed Proposition 400, two Peoria-based Republican lawmakers have formed a political action committee against a proposed sales tax increase to pay for amenities such as open-space preservation and a fire house at Lake Pleasant.
Additionally, Legislative District 22 Committee Republican members have blanketed Peoria neighborhoods with yellow-colored fliers of ballot item endorsements, or a slate card — which they dubbed the Golden Ticket — that includes opposition to Proposition 400 and the Peoria Unified School District bond. The fliers also include the endorsement of various Republican candidates running for election.
On the other side, members of the PACs supporting the bond and proposition have gotten the word out through speaking events, advertising and social media.
Dist. 21 Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria and Dist. 21 Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria partnered to form the PAC No Forever Tax, No on Proposition 400, claiming the proposed projects funded by the tax are not equitable to all parts of the city and its lack of sunset unfairly burdens taxpayers.
Proposition 400 is asking voters to fund amenities, mostly in northern Peoria where population has grown considerably over the last decade. The tax would go to public safety, open space, recreation and other quality of life enhancements for about $146 million, through a 0.4 percent sales tax increase, equaling two cents on a $5 purchase.
Peoria’s 1.8 percent sales tax is one of the lowest in the West Valley, compared with 2.2 percent in Surprise and 2.9 percent in Glendale.
Mr. Rivero said the vast majority of revenue from the tax increase will go to improvements in the northern part half of the city — the wealthiest part of Peoria — rather than for public safety or new roads and repair. Mr. Rivero was a former Peoria councilman who represented the Acacia District in the southern portion of the city.
This is not fair, he said.
“Population growth is one thing, but to put this tax on the backs of our middle class and poor residents is not good planning,” Mr. Rivero said. “If this tax is truly necessary, why not increase property taxes. Why not go down that route?”
More than 10 public meetings were held on the sales tax and it was unanimously approved on July 5 by the Peoria City Council to put on the ballot.
MJ Johnson, Yes for Peoria Committee chairwoman, said Ms. Lesko and Mr. Rivero did not attend a single meeting nor did they submit any thoughts or concerns at any time during the process.
“As a member of Peoria’s Quality of Life Ad Hoc Committee, I can tell you first-hand that we were diligent in undertaking our effort to define what makes Peoria such a special place to live,” Ms. Johnson said. “It is so disappointing to see people who refused to be part of the process form a committee to smear and attack Proposition 400.”
The Golden Ticket
LD 22 Committee members have mobilized, distributing a slate of election choices they believe to be best and have distributed it throughout Peoria on what they are calling the Golden Ticket.
Chairman Eric Morgan said the flier is being distributed for two reasons — as an informative service to other Republican voters, and for personal relevancy.
The District 22 Arizona Republican Party political committee spent about $650 and received about $815 in the most recent filing period, Aug. 19-Sept. 19, according to campaign finance reports.
“The information on the Golden Ticket is selected by individuals from each precinct. The party is not producing the information, the people are,” Mr. Morgan said. “Everyone complains about how the money in politics drowns out the individuals’ voices, but we each have the power to overcome that by organizing to get our voices out. We have taken the time it takes to meet, talk to and learn about the candidates, and provided the results of that process.”
The Golden Ticket asks residents to vote “no” on Proposition 400 and the Peoria school bond, as well as “yes” on select candidates for local and state offices.
PUSD Governing Board candidate Jesse Caron was included on the slate card as well as two other candidates — Russell McConnell and incumbent Judy Doane, all of whom oppose the bond. Three of five seats are up for grabs in the non-partisan school board election.
Mr. Caron said LD 22 is using the Golden Ticket to express their support and to inform Republican voters.
LD 22 officials and other volunteers are delivering these cards to Republican, and sometimes Independent voters who live in their district, he said.
“The precinct committeemen of LD 22 voted to endorse various Republican candidates for elected office in November,” he said. “I happened to get endorsed by those precinct committeemen because I’m a registered Republican running for office and because I earned their support.”
The Golden Ticket has raised eyebrows among those in support of the school bond.
“I think it is very sad that a hyper-partisan group like the Republican precinct committeemen in LDs 20, 21 and 22 exert such influence over local, non-partisan elections. Especially when I don’t believe the extremist ideologues that orchestrate that group represent the moms and dads and teachers who are moderate Republicans and who love and support our neighborhood schools,” PUSD Governing Board member Kathy Knecht said.
Peoria Unified School District officials are asking voters to approve a $198 million bond to fund the future needs of students that include the construction of two new schools, improvements to existing buildings and transportation, as well as new technology. If approved, the bond would be paid for through an annual increase in property taxes of $102.48 on a $138,000 home.
But Mr. Morgan said the parents and grandparents of the district would rather see spending on things that directly improve education quality, like teacher pay increases, adding that VOTE4PUSDKIDS, the political committee supporting the bond, received $38,490 in donations in the most recent campaign finance reporting period, the majority contributed by construction firms, architects and vendors who will benefit from the passage of the bond.
The committee also spent about $48,000 during that period, mostly on campaign materials and consulting, according to a campaign finance report.
“(Parents) are very concerned about the lack of results that has come with their ever increasing tax burden,” Mr. Morgan said, “They keep spending money, yet the teachers are still dismally underpaid and parents have to provide copy paper to the schools, while they buy iPads for every student.”
Jan Wilson, VOTE4PUSDKIDS treasurer, said the organization was pleased to receive campaign contributions from many vendors, including the construction trades. But all contractors must go through a bidding process and they know there are no guarantees of receiving any work from the passage of the bond, she said.
“Please note that all vendors, including construction trades, have been supportive in all our election campaigns, including the three M & O overrides, and the monies for this portion of the budget have nothing to do with construction. Therefore, they have no chance to benefit from those campaigns, but still support them with their money, time, and efforts,” she said. “We are extremely grateful to them and our community in general for their support. Also, we have received contributions from competing firms in all areas of construction.”
The population of Peoria has grown by almost 50 percent since 2000, much of it in the northern part of the city.
Mayor Cathy Carlat said the city needs the proposition and the bond to keep up with that growth, and the opponents do not have a plan to help Peoria keep up with the growth or offer any amenities to the growing parts of the city.
In the past, cities were able to use impact fees from developers to keep up with growth. However, in recent years the state Legislature launched successful efforts to significantly reduce impact fees, she said.
“The state Legislature created an enormous hole in the city budget when it voted to remove the funding mechanisms that developers were once responsible for to ensure that growth pays for itself. There is no longer funding available to provide equal amenities and services for new communities. Proposition 400 is the citizens’ solution to a problem the state created,” Ms. Carlat said.