Though the November 2020 election is over and the results a foregone conclusion, the pervasive distrust of the U.S. elections system continues to linger. After all, when voters are given $25 gift cards in exchange for their votes like they were in Nevada, a judge is caught taking bribes to stuff the ballot box in Philadelphia, and a woman is hired in California to run voter registration drives and is caught forging signatures and changing their party affiliations, there should be a consensus that voter fraud is real.
Something needs to be done. And though Arizona may not be the worst offender, our state still has plenty to do to improve our elections and rebuild trust.
The Arizona legislature has convened once again, and Republican lawmakers have seemed to hear their voters loud and clear – address election integrity and address it now. Dozens of bills have been introduced, attacking reform from different angles and reacting to the frustrations of Arizona voters in November. With so many competing ideas, it is necessary to prioritize reforms that offer the greatest security to our election system and are feasible to implement.
For the legislature to claim victory on election integrity for the 2021 legislative session, they must focus their reforms in four key areas:
- Maintain Clean and Current Voter Rolls
Once fraud is in the election system, it is extremely difficult to prove and root out. Ensuring voter rolls only contain current, legal residents who are qualified to vote is critically important. Currently, there is no standardization across all 15 Arizona counties to scrub voter lists of deceased persons, citizens who have changed residency, or duplicative voter files. Equally important is an independent audit of this practice to ensure it is actually being done. Though legislators may trust every county recorder to follow the law, good policy ensures verification.
- Protect Mail-In Ballots
Mail-in voting is inherently more vulnerable to mistake, mishap, and mischief. Due to the delay and distance of a voter receiving their ballot and the tabulation of that ballot, extra security measures are necessary to protect this method of voting.
No doubt, early mail-in voting is popular in Arizona and efforts to eliminate the system are impractical and unnecessary. However, additional verification for early mail-in ballots is a good idea and lawmakers should focus reform in this area.
- Ensure Legislative Oversight
Election integrity is a matter of statewide concern and therefore is a legislative concern. Many Arizona voters were understandably frustrated at how seemingly little power the legislature had to intervene and require an audit of the 2020 election results.
Not only should election procedures be standardized across all counties in Arizona, but the legislature needs to be empowered to oversee election practices, results, and compliance.
- Prohibit Outside Influence
In the past, election officers have been permitted to use internal or external resources to sway the outcome of an election. These practices aren’t illegal, but they should be. Whether that is using taxpayer money to target voter registration activities, using third party lists to target potential voters, or accepting money from outside organizations with a political agenda, this must be eliminated. Curing voter distrust includes ensuring government can’t put their thumb on the scale of election results.
Election integrity is a top priority of Republicans at the legislature this year. But success will not be measured by the volume of election integrity bills that get passed, but by their quality. Bills concentrated in each of these areas of reform will help improve the credibility, transparency, and security of our elections.
Year after year, legislators in the Arizona House and Senate introduce bills advertised as jobs producers and the solution to affordable housing: tax credits for banks, investors, and insurance companies to finance development projects. Because bad ideas never die as long as there are lobbyists hired to push them, this year the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) bill is back again as HB2562 sponsored by Representative Regina Cobb and SB1327 sponsored by Senator David Gowan.
The Arizona program allows for $8 Million a year of tax credits that can be matched with the subsidies offered through the federal program. The bills mirror the federal LIHTC percentages and can be carried over for 5 years. Banks sell these tax credits to investors who make up a pool to finance the project. This mechanism is supported by layers of middlemen who add to the cost of building these projects. As a result, the program is lucrative for investors, very costly for the taxpayers, and results in fewer units being produced.
The LIHTC program also lacks transparency and oversight making it fraught with fraud. In 2018, Wells Fargo made an over $2 Billion dollar settlement with the Department of Justice for purported nation-wide collusion to devalue these tax credits. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been siphoned from the program which led to a report by the Office of Government Accountability, noting poor oversight and wide variations in per-unit building costs.
There are many legitimate ways the legislature can address affordable housing that don’t include swampy D.C handouts to banks, investors, and insurance companies. Here are three:
- Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) which are tenant-based subsidies, not developer-based ones. Instead of incentivizing profiteers to supply housing – HCVs empower individuals and families to access housing in places they desire to live.
This approach allows low-income families to move to higher income places which often gives them access to better jobs and school districts and affords children of low-income families’ greater opportunities to succeed. Because the LIHTC programs provide greater incentives for building in designated areas of greater poverty, it has the direct effect of actually concentrating poverty and segregating poor people.
- Direct appropriation of the Arizona Housing Trust Fund. The appropriation process forces lawmakers to set their priorities based upon available revenues and balance their decisions with the tradeoffs presented. The appropriations process is more transparent as it is revisited each year (unlike tax credit programs) and the body responds to environmental changes in the state and shifting priorities. Projects are chosen by representatives who know the needs within their districts instead of developers who decide based upon the potential for maximized profits. Additionally, development with public monies goes through an open bidding process, ensuring taxpayers get the best bang for their buck.
- Address the underlying tax and regulatory structure responsible for nearly a third of the cost of development. A study conducted by the National Association of Homebuilders concluded that 32 percent of the costs associated with building housing are attributable to regulations, mostly land-use and development hurdles by local governments. In Arizona, the state allows the cities to charge a residential rental tax and gives them broad authorities to regulate development. The fees, extensive permitting processes, and slow timelines add cost to development that is passed on to the consumer. No tax credit program can fix this problem.
The expansion of this 35-year-old failed D.C. program in Arizona would be a big mistake. The bills being peddled this year are not being backed by advocates for the poor; but by those who stand to gain the most – insurance companies, investors and banks. If lawmakers truly care about the poor – and the taxpayer – they will resoundingly reject HB2562 and SB1327.
How often do you experience an emergency? Monthly? Weekly? Every day? More than likely, it’s pretty uncommon—as it should be.
Maybe someone should tell the government. Because it seems like every time you read the news, some government official is declaring a new “state of emergency.” But these declarations stopped looking like real emergencies long ago. And this past year in the midst of COVID-19, it’s gotten out of control. This is especially true in cities and counties across Arizona, where officials are using emergency orders to beat up on local citizens.
Using COVID to grab more power
One year ago, words like “masks,” “lockdowns,” and “social distancing” weren’t a part of our regular vocabulary. But then COVID hit the United States, and local officials seized the opportunity to enact closures and mandates that did little to address the pandemic.
Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans was among the first to make a power grab, limiting dining at restaurants and closing most gathering places.
And in March, then Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels rushed to close park playgrounds and sport courts without a single case of the virus in town. Just a few months later, she followed that up with a mask mandate. This was at the same time Maricopa County, of which Gilbert is a part, issued its own mask mandate.
Meanwhile Scottsdale residents have likely been experiencing mask-mandate whiplash. They had to deal with a mask mandate in June that was rescinded in September and then reinstated this January, one day after Mayor David Ortega was sworn into office.
And then there’s Pima County. In December, officials there announced a daily COVID curfew from 10 p.m until 5 a.m. Because apparently the virus only comes out at night? Thankfully, a Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order halting enforcement of the curfew earlier this month. But it didn’t take long before Pima County filed an appeal.
And while COVID is an issue that may warrant some action (which should NOT include crushing small business or trampling on our rights), did you know that some cities in our state are starting to use these powers to declare “climate emergencies”?
Emergency orders for the climate
Let’s start with Flagstaff, who as we mentioned earlier, leapt at the opportunity to use emergency orders after COVID hit. But officials didn’t stop there. In June, the Flagstaff City Council actually declared a climate emergency as well. And right now, they are using this radical declaration to impose a slew of extreme Green New Deal mandates that will destroy businesses, cost taxpayers a fortune, and likely violate state law. You can read all about their plans right here.
Maybe these officials should stop and read state law. After all, several years ago Arizona passed Proposition 207, which protects property owners from any land use law by cities that devalue their property. Passing ordinances that put a bunch of mandates on property owners without their consent, even under a so-called “climate emergency,” is a violation of this law.
And that brings us back to Tucson, which of course is within Pima County. This January, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and the city council followed Flagstaff’s lead, declaring a “climate emergency.” And now they are proceeding with a plan to make Tucson carbon neutral within the next decade.
But does any of this sound like a real emergency?
It’s time for the legislature to act
These emergency orders have gotten out of control in our state. Too many government officials are abusing their powers. And in the process, they are crushing local citizens, destroying small businesses, and pushing the Green New Deal.
But that’s not what emergency orders are for. Emergency orders should be used for real emergencies. That’s why this level of government overreach needs to stop.
Now, it’s time for the legislature to act and put an end to these types of emergency declarations. Otherwise, local citizens will be paying the price for years to come.
Do you remember when people were flocking to Arizona? When new employers, entrepreneurs, and families found our state attractive because of its low taxes?
It wasn’t that long ago. Here’s just one example from 2019, when the state’s top marginal tax rate was 4.50%— one of the most competitive in the country!
But all of that has changed thanks to Proposition 208.
With the passage of this disastrous piece of legislation in which voters were misled, Arizona’s new rate was raised dramatically to 8%. This gives Arizona the ninth highest small business tax rate in the nation! Of course, the teacher unions and out of state special interest groups behind Proposition 208 said this wouldn’t happen—that it would NOT tax small businesses. Clearly that was a lie.
And now, with Arizona already having the 11th highest sales tax rate and the 20th highest business property tax rate in the country, we are officially a high tax state for small business.
That’s not exactly something we’d want to advertise to those who may consider moving here. After all, a recent study from the Cato Institute found that American citizens are leaving high tax states for lower tax states. Certainly, that’s not much of a surprise. But Arizona used to be ones of the desirable states to move to because of its low taxes. Not anymore.
And while the media and the Left continue to push the myth that the people of Arizona are undertaxed, just ask small business owners their experience since Proposition 208 passed. If the taxes were so low, then why are many of them picking up and leaving the state?
The fact is that Arizona has now joined the ranks of other high tax states that have experienced decades of decline. You probably know some of them: Illinois, New York, California. Each of these states are dealing with high taxes, distressed economies, and people fleeing to other states to find greener pastures.
Just look at California, where an estimated 13,000 businesses left between 2009 and 2016. In fact, during the economic boom years in 2018 and 2019, 765 commercial facilities left the “Golden State.”
But this begs the question: If the economy was booming throughout the country, why did these businesses leave? The answer is quite simple: high taxes.
Is that what we want here in Arizona? We certainly hope not.
But thanks to Proposition 208, Arizona has now lost the tax-competitive advantage that once made it so special. And that means we can expect other nearby states like Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Texas to have the upper hand when it comes to attracting small businesses and creating new jobs.
It’s time for our state legislature to take swift, aggressive action to fix this problem. Proposition 208 has made Arizona a high tax state, crushed small businesses, and done irreparable harm to the state’s competitiveness. And if our legislature doesn’t do something soon, we’ll end up in an endless cycle of decline—just like our neighbors in California.
You Can Make a Difference
If we don’t act soon, Arizona will soon look like other high tax states in rapid decline. Find out what you can do to undo the damage being caused by Proposition 208.
Supporters of the Arizona Corporation Commission’s plan to impose the Green New Deal and ban all fossil fuels are up in arms this week. The reason? The legislature has decided to exert their constitutional authority and make it clear that they are in charge of setting energy policy for the state.
This week the Arizona House and Senate are hearing HB 2248 and SB 1175, legislation that would prohibit the Corp Comm from adopting any policy or rule regulating distributed energy without legislative authorization. Several interest groups and Green New Deal activists have signed in against the bill, and they have coalesced around one argument: legislators aren’t smart enough to handle energy policy. This is a topic that should be left up to the “experts” over at the ACC.
Just a cursory look through the comments submitted to Request to Speak, the legislative system used to register support or opposition to a bill, catalog dozens of statements ranging from condescending to insulting.
Here is just a small sample of the vitriol sent their way:
Lawmakers Are Too Dumb to Understand Energy Policy
“The ACC is independently elected to make energy decisions because they are more knowledgeable than legislators!”
“ACC, not state reps, have focus & expertise to determine energy issues.”
Apparently legislators are competent enough to decide tax policy, create the state’s budget, criminal code, and legislate on other complex issues, but when it comes to energy policy our elected legislative body is not qualified enough.
Will of the Voters! Except for the Steyer Initiative, That Doesn’t Count
“This bill proposes to disrespect the will of the voters who strongly supported Clean Energy”
“The ACC Rules being considered have been properly vetted and have strong public support. This bill is legislative overreach.”
It was only two years ago when Arizonans overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 127, a ballot measure that would have imposed Green New Deal energy mandates very similar to what is being proposed by the ACC. Voters have spoken on the issue, and it wasn’t to have the Corp Comm install a sweeping energy plan that will raise utility prices and cause rolling blackouts in the state.
Arizona Should Adopt California-Style Energy Mandates
“Clean energy is good for Arizona. It keeps electricity costs lower, consistent, predictable and reliable over the long term. Being a solar leader gives us more energy independence and control. This is not the Legislature’s job.”
California tried the same plan, and what was the result? After weeks of rolling blackouts Governor Gavin Newsom was forced to beg residents to limit the use of their appliances and turn up their air conditioning thermostats. It got so bad that Newsom suspended the closure of several natural gas power plants that were scheduled for closure.
The Legislature Needs to Butt Out and Let the ACC Run Wild
“DO YOUR WORK AND LET THE ACC DO THEIRS—READ THE CONSTITUTION!”
While the constitution does say that the Corp Comm “may prescribe… and make and enforce reasonable rules, regulations, and orders for the convenience, comfort, and safety, and the preservation of the health, of the employees and patrons,” it also makes it clear that the Legislature has the final say. In the recent Johnson Utilities court decision, Arizona Supreme Court unanimously held that the legislature’s authority over the public health and wellbeing of Arizonans “is paramount” to that of the Commission’s on matters of policy.
As HB 2248 and SB 1175 move forward, it will be interesting to see how lawmakers respond to being told that they are stupid and should stand in the corner while the Corp Comm attempts to set energy policy for the state. Hopefully it will stiffen their resolve to do the right thing: stopping the Green New Deal in Arizona.