Why are Lawmakers Pushing Billions in Tax Hikes Despite Record State Revenues?

An interesting paradox has developed at the legislature this year. Even though state policymakers are sitting on record tax revenues and a robust Arizona economy, they seem more obsessed with tax increases than ever before.

So far this session there are efforts by Republicans to increase the sales tax by $600 million, raise the gas tax by $750 million, increase income taxes by $200 million, impose taxes on most internet transactions at a cost of over $250 million, retain the $190 Million VLT registration fee and allow political subdivisions to increase sales taxes at the local level. All together it would amount to over $2 billion in tax hikes, a mind-blowing amount that would dwarf any previous tax increase enacted in the State.

The arguments in favor of each of these tax hikes vary, but most surround the topic of additional funding for K-12 schools. This sentiment was understandable. As Arizona stumbled through eight years of job killing policies under the Obama Administration, there was mounting pressure to find new funding sources for education to address the state’s anemic revenue growth.

Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Between the change in administrations in Washington and a consistent focus on pro-growth policies here at home, our economy has taken off. Arizona now has the 3rd fastest growing economy in the country. People are once again flocking to the state, and the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity projects that 165,000 new jobs will be created by 2020.

This has created a gusher in new tax revenue, most of which is going to K-12. Lawmakers are in the process of funding Governor Ducey’s ‘20by20’ teacher pay plan and restoring District Additional Assistance, which combined will add over $1 Billion in new dollars for public schools by next year.
When fully implemented this will be the largest increase in K-12 funding in state history, and will push per pupil funding so high that lawmakers will be forced to override the education spending limit in the Arizona constitution. This is only the 2nd time in 40 years that such an override vote will be required, a fact that should please everyone that has worried that not enough emphasis has been placed on education funding at the legislature.

And here is the best news yet—even after this large infusion of cash into the classroom, Arizona will still have a projected $1 Billion dollar surplus for FY 2020. It proves that the problem was the need for more taxpayers, not tax hikes.

Yet our political class appears ready to go all-in on job crushing tax increases that will derail Arizona’s economic recovery. While this may excite states like Texas looking to poach our entrepreneurs and job creators, it is bad news for everyone else that wants to keep prosperity here in the state.

Lawmakers instead should be looking to embrace our success, maintain the course and continue to pursue pro-growth ideas that work. Now is not the time to surrender to policies or politics that will move Arizona in the wrong direction.

New Mexico’s Film Tax Subsidy Program Continues to Take on Water

Lawmakers in New Mexico are in a self-imposed quandary. They’ve adopted a lucrative tax credit program for the film industry they simply can’t afford yet can’t walk away from.

The Enchantment State dolls out 25-30 percent rebates for production related expenses up to $50 Million a year. This spending cap is one of the only mechanisms of restrain in the program which is financed straight out of the state’s general fund.

Pressure to uncap the program has mounted due to New Mexico owing $380 Million in backlogged credits. If these trends continue – this debt will grow to $700 Million by 2023 – and a film claiming a credit, then wouldn’t be reimbursed for up to 14 years.

Now Governor Lujan Grisham and lawmakers want to make a one-time payment to clear this backlog as well as remove the annual spending cap so they can have the ability to throw unlimited chum in the water to lure Hollywood sharks.

Only two other states in the country have uncapped their film subsidy programs: Illinois and Georgia. The irony of Georgia’s unconditional love for Hollywood is manifold. The state’s program is rife with abuse. Warner Brothers defrauded the state by charging them $600,000 for an airplane never used in the movie “Sully.” And yet this didn’t stop an award-winning display of hypocrisy when Hollywood stars called for a boycott of Georgia when a Republican Governor was elected. For a state that calls themselves “Y’allywood,” they were harshly reminded that despite spending $200 Million a year on extra caviar money for film stars, when it comes to the real insider VIP party, they’re not on the list.

States are tripping over themselves to throw money at the rich and famous for an industry whose loyalty cannot be bought. They will happily continue to jet-set around the world anywhere the highest-bidding government will pay them for honor of their appearance. The political ridicule they throw in for free.
New Mexico lawmakers are doing their best to pretend they aren’t completely owned by their starlet masters. Their bill also includes razzle dazzle “reforms” including tightening up for what expenditures can be reimbursed (a notoriously abused standard.) And what one would think is a laugh line, requirement for better acknowledgments of New Mexico in the film credits… A little more “limelight” is what New Mexico taxpayers are getting for the promise to dole out hundreds of millions to entitled movie makers.

Despite the flop of film tax credit programs around the nation, states continue to fall for this fool’s errand. Just this year a bill was introduced by Representative Bob Thorpe at the Arizona legislature to divvy out some of the state’s business tax credits to film production. Luckily the bill didn’t get traction.

However, if there is any lesson to be learned by lawmakers in Arizona from New Mexico – it is once you start feeding the lions – they become more voracious – it becomes harder and harder to stop. And for states that think that will keep the lions from biting – think again.

The Legislature Takes Aim at Election Integrity Reform

Every American, no matter their political party, should have a significant interest in the wholesale integrity of the election process.  And yet the business of ensuring citizens voting is honest, clean and untampered with, has been a fiercely partisan issue, dividing Republicans and Democrats into two camps: the party for election integrity and the party against “voter suppression.”

The integrity of the elections systems is two-fold: ensuring there are legal and procedural safeguards to maintain clean and accurate voting rolls and preventing, discovering and deterring fraudulent activity.

One would think that maintaining up to date voter rolls would be an innocuous issue.  After all, neglecting to do so all but guarantees records will be cluttered with deceased persons and those who have moved out of state. In a 2012 study, the Pew Research Foundation found that 24 million voter registrations in the United States were either invalid or significantly inaccurate – that is one in every eight registrants.  This vast vulnerability directly dovetails into susceptibility of election fraud.

The issue of election fraud is as old as elections themselves and take form in a variety of ways including – double voting, ineligible voting, and voter registration fraud, etc. Yet, this type of crime is notoriously difficult to catch, document, and enforce, which makes the problem significantly underreported.

Following the Arizona general elections of 2018, many voters voiced concerns over how specifically the Maricopa County recorder’s office conducted operations.  And given the thin margins in many of the state-wide races, a little bit of fraud can have a big effect.

As a result, several Arizona lawmakers have introduced legislation to insert more practical checks into the system to both scrub voter rolls and fills cracks where the system is susceptible to fraud.

The best batch of election integrity bills have been introduced by Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R) and include:

  • SB 1046 requires voters who receive a ballot by mail to return that ballot by mail. If they do not, they may vote in person on election day with a standard ballot.  Practically, this bill helps prevent the illegal practice of ballot harvesting.
  • SB 1072 requires voters to show identification when voting at an early voting location. This makes the identification requirements consistent across all methods of in-person voting.  And although Democrats want to claim the basic function of showing I.D is burdensome to voters, 76 percent of Americans believe such requirements should be mandatory.
  • SB 1188 requires a county recorder to remove a voter from the permanent early voting list and cease sending them early ballots if the elector has not voted in two consecutive primary or general elections.
  • SB 1090 requires electors voting at an emergency voting center to sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury that they did in fact suffer an emergency. Also requires the County Board of Supervisors to sign off on location, quantity and hours of emergency voting centers.

Given the reasonable proposals being suggested, one might be surprised by the very vocal fidelity of the left to the notion that 1. Fraud doesn’t exist, 2. When it does it is insignificant, and 3. Any legal framework that inserts predictable rules and guidelines into the system disenfranchises voters.

This is less surprising when you consider the bills drafted by Democrat legislators this year which take a free-for-all approach.  Their philosophy seems to be the more votes cast the better – even if those votes are duplicative, unverified, or non-citizens.  These bills include repealing the prohibition of ballot harvesting, same-day voter registration, and automatic restoration of voting rights for felons.

These election integrity bills are important steps to shore up weakness in Arizona’s election process.  Despite the left’s effort to diminish the relevance of the election integrity issue, the real disenfranchisement of voters comes from diluting the votes of honest electors. Allowing for the erosion of the system casts doubt into the minds of citizens as to if their vote even counts – and that is true voter suppression.