Anti-tax leader OK with sending hike to ballot - East Valley Tribune: News

Anti-tax leader OK with sending hike to ballot

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Posted: Friday, August 7, 2009 6:31 pm | Updated: 1:28 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The head of the organization that was able to convince a majority of Republican legislators to sign a "no tax" pledge gave his permission Friday for them to send a measure to the ballot asking voters to temporarily hike the state sales tax.

The head of the organization that was able to convince a majority of Republican legislators to sign a "no tax" pledge gave his permission Friday for them to send a measure to the ballot asking voters to temporarily hike the state sales tax.

Patrick Gleason, state affairs manager for Americans for Tax Reform, said that the organization's president and founder, Grover Norquist, will not consider the move a violation of their pledge. But Gleason said that allowance is conditional on future tax cuts remaining in the budget package, even if those are in separate pieces of legislation.

The action by Norquist, who has developed a reputation as perhaps the nation's No. 1 anti-tax crusader, could prove to be just what's needed to line up the votes for a deal to finally enact a budget for the fiscal year that began more than a month ago.

Time is running out: Secretary of State Ken Bennett said election officials need a final decision before Tuesday to put the measure on the Nov. 3 ballot. After that, lawmakers would need to schedule a special election.

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Though he operates out of Washington, Norquist's shadow has loomed large over the budget negotiations - and specifically the demand by Gov. Jan Brewer that any deal must include asking voters if they're willing to impose a one-cent surcharge on the state's 5.6 percent sales tax for two years and a half-cent for the third year.

The signed and witnessed statement Norquist crafted for incumbents and would-be lawmakers pledges to "oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes."

Brewer said the $2.5 billion the tax hike could raise would help the state weather the economic slump without making even deeper cuts in education, health and public safety programs.

The deal passed by the House includes that referral - but with a twist.

The same bill also includes permanent repeal of the currently suspended state property tax. That levy, which would raise $250 million a year, returns automatically this fall unless lawmakers act first.

It also includes a 30 percent cut in corporate income taxes and a 6.6 percent cut in individual income tax rates, both effective in 2011. Based on that, Americans for Tax Reform and the affiliated Arizona Free Enterprise Club told pledge signers they could safely vote for the bill without being accused of breaking their promise.

One of those who agreed to go along is Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix. In fact, Seel said he spoke to someone from Americans for Tax Reform "at length" before deciding what to do.

"They made it abundantly clear to me that, based on the structure of that bill, it's a net positive and would in no way, shape or form violate the pledge," Seel said.

Now, however, Brewer wants the issues "decoupled," with the tax referral on one bill and the tax cuts on another one. That move is necessary because, as a single bill, Brewer cannot get the 16 votes necessary in the Senate; as separate bills, however, both could pass.

If that happens, though, the revised plan goes back to the House, forcing Seel and other Republicans who took the pledge to cast a vote on a bill with the sole purpose of raising taxes.

Seel said that if there were two separate bills last time, he would have voted for the tax cuts and against the tax referral. And he said that if the bill is split now, "that's a recipe to kill the referral."

There isn't a lot of wiggle room: Even as a single bill, the measure had only 32 votes - all Republicans - one more than the bare minimum for approval in the 60-member House. The loss of just two votes not only kills the referral but, in all likelihood, blows up the deal, because Brewer won't sign the rest of the budget package - including the tax cuts - without it.

Gleason said Norquist believes the format of the deal should not change lawmakers' minds or, more importantly, endanger the tax cuts.

"It can happen in separate votes," Gleason said. But there are conditions.

"It has to be the same day," he continued. More to the point, it must be part of the "same budget package."

Gleason said that, for Norquist, it all comes down to the math.

On one hand, voter approval would raise $2.5 billion in new revenues.

But over five years, elimination of the property tax would save $1.25 billion. And even with the income tax cuts not taking effect until 2011, that saves another $1.6 billion over the same five-year period.

"We'll take that," Gleason said.

"That doesn't mean we endorse it or oppose it," he said of the deal. "It just means nobody is violating their pledge."

House Majority Leader John McComish, R-Phoenix, said Norquist's views should make it easier to line up the necessary votes for the new plan. He said the pledge is important to many lawmakers: Nine of 18 Republicans in the Senate took the pledge, as did 20 of 35 House Republicans.

McComish, however, was not one of them.

"I don't intend to raise taxes," he said. But McComish said sometimes there are situations that require more flexibility.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, took the pledge and said that like Norquist, he sees the deal as a good one.

"It's still part of the same overall package," said Kavanagh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

"It's just a matter of is it in one bill or two bills," he continued. "It's just really a grammatical issue and not a philosophical one."

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