A Way Forward: Initiative, Referendum and Recall

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

What are the disenfranchised voters of Arizona to do about a radical Tea-Publican Arizona Legislature that only listens to its radical fringe base?

Use the tools that Arizona's Progressive Founding Fathers gave us in the Arizona Constitution: initiative, referendum and recall. (When Arizona became a state its constitution was a model constitution of the Progressive era. Since the 1970s it has been bastardized by regressive amendments promoted by right-wing think tanks).

The citizen initiative is a most effective tool. Citizen initiatives enacted by the voters take precedence over acts of the state legislature. "We the People" are a super-legislature.

Here are two suggestions for citizen initiaves that are critical to long overdue tax reform and correcting Arizona's structural revenue deficit brought on by 20 years of Republican "trickle down" tax cuts.

Repeal of Prop. 108 (1992), one of those right-wing think tank inspired initiatives that required a two-thirds super-majority vote of both chambers of the legislature to either increase taxes or to reduce or eliminate tax exemptions or tax credits. An enacted initiative must be repealed by initiative.

Prop. 108 is essentially the Grover Norquist "tyranny by the minority" hold the government hostage over "no new taxes" ideology. Since it was enacted in 1992, the Arizona Legislature has not enacted any tax increases (voters have done so through initiatives and the temporary sales tax referendum in 2010).

So long as Prop. 108 remains law, it is effectively impossible to reform Arizona's tax code to alleviate the structural revenue deficit for which this proposition is largely responsible (once a "trickle down" tax cut is enacted, it becomes permanent). I'll throw out the suggestion that you call this the "Majority Rule" initiative.

Do you want a truly progressive income tax structure that is fair and is not weighted in favor of the wealthy and corporations? Then enact a progressive income tax structure by citizen initiative.

In 2010, the state of Oregon passed two tax measures that raised taxes on corporations and the wealthy to prevent further erosion of public schools and other state services. Oregon voters pass tax increasing measures by big margin:

The tax measures passed easily, with late returns showing a 54 percent to 46 percent ratio. Measure 66 raises taxes on households with taxable income above $250,000, and Measure 67 sets higher minimum taxes on corporations and increases the tax rate on upper-level profits.

The double-barreled victory is the first voter-approved statewide income tax increase since the 1930s.

I always say "think big." If you want to address income taxes by initiative, then draft a multi-tiered progressive income tax structure. Take it out of the hands of our regressive state legislature. I'll throw out the suggestion that you call this the "Citizens Tax Fairness" initiative.

There is widespread public support for taxing the wealthy and corporations, two-thirds of which pay no income taxes. Majority of corporations avoid federal income taxes – study – Aug. 12, 2008. An NBC/WSJ Poll from March 4, 2011 found:

81 percent call it "totally" or "mostly acceptable" to place a surtax on incomes over one million dollars, while 68 percent say the same of ending the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year.

You don't like the regressive laws that the radical Tea-Publicans are ramming through the Arizona legislature? Then turn to the "People's Veto," the citizen referendum. Arizona voters can "veto" any act of the Arizona Legislature by referring it to the ballot for an up or down vote.

There is a long list of regressive acts coming out of this Tea-Publican legislature that should be subject to a "People's Veto," but here are just a few of the tax measures designed to make Arizona's structural revenue deficit worse in a race to the bottom with states like Mississippi.

Let's start with Jan Brewer's corporate welfare tax giveaway plan, HB 2001, recently rammed through in a special session. Brewer, Republicans announce deal to give businesses huge tax cuts. The advantage here is that the biggest tax cuts – particularly the $200 million in reductions in the corporate income tax rate – will be phased in, but not until in 2014. This is pure faith based supply-side 'trickle down" GOP economics that more rational minds agree will worsen Arizona's structural revenue deficit indefinitely into the future. "This bill is estimated to cost $38.2 million in FY 2012, growing to $538.0 million in FY 2018, when all the provisions are fully implemented." JLBC Analysis.

Then there is what I will call the "Son of TABOR" package of bills approved by the Senate last week. Arizona lawmakers aim to rein in future state spending:

The bills include:

SCR 1019: The existing constitutional limit on state spending would be lowered to 6.4 percent of the total personal income of everyone in Arizona.

SCR 1026: The current constitutional limit on state spending would be eliminated. Beginning in fiscal 2014, a new limit would be set based on a new formula, using expenditures from the year before, adjusted for population and inflation.

The resolution includes provisions under which the spending cap could be temporarily suspended, such as in the case of an emergency, and grants taxpayers the ability to go to court if the Legislature tries to exceed the limit.

SB 1231: Beginning in fiscal 2013, spending would be capped at the level of expenditures for the previous year, with adjustments for population and inflation. ["Son of TABOR"]

SB 1408: Institutes new procedures for lawmakers should they decide to exceed set spending limits. Among other things, they would be required to hold a public hearing and take a roll-call vote.

The so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) was enacted in Colorado in 1992, as a constitutional amendment that limits annual growth using a formula based on population and inflation.

That means, for example, that if the inflation rate is 2 percent and the state's population grows by 1.5 percent, state expenditures can increase only by 3.5 percent. The state must refund the excess revenue to taxpayers.

Proponents say TABOR did what it was supposed to: restrain state spending.

But critics say its revenue limits give lawmakers no flexibility, especially given that certain groups – including schoolchildren, prisoners and the elderly – grow at far different rates than the general population and that they trigger a large portion of state expenditures.

Jon Shure of the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said TABOR-like restraints result in state agencies and services competing against each other for funding.

"It has a simplistic appeal as a way of shrinking government," said Shure, deputy director of the nonpartisan think tank's State Fiscal Project. "But it severely restricts a state's ability to respond to changing needs. You start fighting amongst yourselves for crumbs of a shrinking pie, and you can't make the pie bigger."

In 2005, voters in Colorado suspended TABOR for five years after massive budget cuts to public services such as education, health care, transportation and roads.

The ballot proposition allowed that state's government to keep a projected $3.7 billion over the next five years for essential city services, rather than refunding that money to taxpayers.

TABOR went back into effect in 2010.

Then there is the most simplistic, or should I say "simpleton" tax plan of all, the "flat tax" bill, HB 2636, passed by the House on Monday. Arizona House sends measure for flat income tax to state Senate:

Rep. Steve Court, R-Mesa, who crafted HB 2636, said it is designed so the state takes in just as much as it would under the current system. What that means, he said, is there will be winners — and losers.

Those "losers" would be you dear readers. A "flat tax" is antithetical to the progressive income tax.

If you add this "flat tax" to the other tax measures touched upon above, these radical Tea-Publicans will have achieved Grover Norquist's wet dream of defunding state government to the point that he can "drown it in the bathtub." Arizona will never recover from the combined destructive effect of these bills if they become law. It's game over.

So if you want to exercise your "People's Veto" over truly bad legislation, these bills would be a good place to start. I am sure there are going to be more bills equally deserving.

Finally, there is the "nuclear option" of recall. We may see this play out in the state of Wisconsin over the next few months where eight Republican senators who participated in Gov. Walker's coup d'etat over duly elected Democratic senators are the subject of a recall. Petition circulators already have collected almost half of the signatures they want to obtain after only 10 days.

The recalls in Arizona against Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. Russell Pearce are moving forward at a slower pace. But you can help by volunteering your time and effort to this cause. Recall Information. After 41 Republican legislators signed onto the "birther bill" earlier this year, The 41 Arizona Legislators Who Still Want to See Obama's Birth Certificate, I suggested Recall them all – Fight the Stupid! But recall elections have to be strategically fought.

Let's be honest, intiatives, referendums and recalls take a solid organization and lots of money and active volunteers to be successful. But what other alternative do you have?

Are you going to sit around feeling sorry for yourself and moping about being disenfranchised by teabaggers in Arizona? Or are you going to follow the advice of Howard Beale from Network (1976):

All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell -  'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!…

Then file a committee for an initiative or a referendum and start circulating those petitions. Volunteer for the recalls. You can stay down on the mat, or you can get up and fight back!

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