Senate President Bob Burns is making a last-ditch effort to stitch together the votes for a Nov. 3 election to temporarily hike the state sales tax.
Burns said Tuesday he still does not have the firm commitment from 16 of his 18 Republican senators to support the legislation. He needs votes from his own party, as no Democrat to date has offered to cross party lines for the plan.
And even if Burns had the votes, there's a logistical problem: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, is on a cruise in the Caribbean through the end of this week. Burns said, though, he probably could get Gray back to the Capitol on an emergency basis if necessary.
About the only good news Burns said he got Tuesday was that the Secretary of State's Office gave him a few more days to line up his votes.
Last week, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Drake said Thursday is the drop-dead deadline for meeting all the legal and procedural hurdles. Burns said, though, he now has been told he has until Monday, when Gray is scheduled to be back.
The push to line up the votes came as Sen. Pamela Gorman, R-Anthem, who had been serving as majority whip, resigned from that position. Gorman is one of two Republicans who has made a firm commitment to oppose sending the tax measure to the ballot, putting her at odds with both Burns and Gray, the other members of the leadership team.
"I believe our ideological and philosophical differences on important issues like taxes and spending make it necessary for me to resign my position,'' she wrote in her e-mail to Burns. "I simply cannot support Senate leadership s position on the sales tax and the budget when I continue to believe that raising taxes in a recession is the wrong thing to do.''
The proposal to seek voter support for temporarily higher sales taxes has been a non-negotiable demand of Gov. Jan Brewer. She said the only way she can agree to the spending cuts being pushed by GOP leaders is if voters get a chance to reverse some of them through the tax hike.
Her plan calls for a one-cent surcharge on the state's 5.6 percent sales tax to be in effect for 2010 and 2011, dropping to a half-cent addition in 2012 before going away. Brewer estimates a full penny could raise up to $1 billion a year, though the soft economy and reduced consumer spending could bring in a lot less.
Gorman and Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, the two GOP senators who have publicly announced they will not vote for the tax referral, are not the only ones who believe that tax hikes are a bad idea. But others have agreed to go along, albeit for reasons of their own.
Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said he assumes voters to reject the plan.
"You've got the Obama nation, they're printing money faster than they can spend it, with no backing for it,'' he said. "Families (are) already hurting, record foreclosures, a 26-year-high in unemployment, I can't imagine them passing an additional tax on themselves.''
The state is expected to take in only about $7.1 billion this fiscal year. But actual spending is closer to $9.6 billion.
Part of that is made up with federal stimulus dollars and spending cuts. But part of that is being "managed'' through borrowing and budget maneuvers.
Any additional revenues from a sales tax hike would let lawmakers minimize the cuts.
Pearce said, though, what's needed is for voters to reject the measure at the ballot to send a message.
"You've got a governor who isn't listening very careful, you've got a Legislature that isn't willing to cut significantly,'' he said. "We've been very reckless in our spending policies.''
The other reason some Republicans are supporting the vote referral is that it is part of a package.
The same legislation which sends the measure to the ballot also permanently repeals the state property tax. That hasn't been levied since 2006 when it was suspended as part of a political deal between the Republican controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano.
But unless lawmakers act, that suspension lifts this fall and the tax, which would raise $250 million a year, will return.
The legislation also includes a 30 percent cut in corporate income taxes, effective with the 2011 tax year, a move that would save businesses $200 million a year. And it also has a 6.6 percent cut in individual income tax rates, cutting another $200 million in state revenues.
Backers contend that lower taxes creates a more favorable business climate to encourage firms to locate or expand in Arizona.