Saturday, July 03, 2004

Arizona voters face crucial ballot issues

Arizona voters face crucial ballot issues
Arizona voters face crucial ballot issues
Elvia Díaz, Chip Scutari and Robbie Sherwood
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 2, 2004 12:00 AM

An anti-illegal-immigration initiative that would affect all Arizonans who voted or sought welfare benefits may be headed to the Nov. 2 ballot after its supporters turned in more than 190,000 signatures Thursday.

But the battle over the fate of Arizona's Clean Elections law is headed to court before it can go to voters in the form of an initiative.

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Protect Arizona Now, aimed at preventing voter fraud and denying public benefits to undocumented immigrants, will likely thrust Arizona into the center of the nation's debate over illegal immigration. Hours before Thursday's 5 p.m. deadline, Kathy McKee, state director of Protect Arizona Now, submitted 190,887 signatures to the secretary of state.

McKee said she's confident election officials will find the 122,612 valid signatures necessary to send the issue to voters.

In November, Arizonans also will consider six legislative referendums and a salary increase for lawmakers.

McKee noted that Protect Arizona Now targets welfare benefits.

"We're mandated to educate children of illegal aliens in kindergarten through (Grade) 12," she said. "But we're not mandated to provide free breakfast, free lunch, after-school programs and many other things."

The measure would require all Arizonans to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote and when seeking state benefits. Voters would have to show identification when casting a ballot in person. Currently, Arizonans must fill out a form when registering to vote, affirming that they are U.S. citizens and Arizona residents.

Critics of Protect Arizona Now say the measure could prevent undocumented immigrants from getting library cards, water or trash collection, among other things.

A lasting impact
Voters face a relatively light crop of ballot questions; a maximum of nine overall (10 in Maricopa County), the fewest since 1996.

The decisions will have a lasting impact, though, as the measures could continue funding for freeways and the Valley's light-rail system and allow public universities to retain some of the profits from their technological inventions.

Voters will also decide if state lawmakers deserve a 50 percent raise, boosting their salaries to $36,000 from $24,000.

And, ironically, Arizonans will have a chance to limit the initiative process.

The ballot won't be set until Protect Arizona Now's signatures are verified. And the Clean Elections case should be heard over the next two weeks, with the losing side appealing to the Arizona Supreme Court.

A group called No Taxpayer Money for Politicians, which opposes the Clean Elections law, wants to end the publicly funded campaigns and put that money into state coffers. The group filed 275,000 signatures last week, far more than needed.

But the Clean Elections Institute sued Thursday, saying the measure violates the "single subject rule" because it would also get rid of public financing that would prevent the Clean Elections Commission from doing its voter-approved duties. The five-member commission uses public money to schedule debates, publish a voter guide and regulate campaign-finance laws.

The suit also contends that petitions used to explain the purpose of the anti-Clean Elections initiative were "highly partisan" and "designed to mislead voters."

Proponents of the anti-Clean Elections initiative say they aren't worried about the last-minute legal challenge.

Transportation tax
In Maricopa County, voters will consider Proposition 400, which would extend the half-cent transportation sales tax for 20 years to help pay for light-rail lines, new and improved freeways and other transit improvements in the Valley.

The tax, set to expire next year, would generate $8.5 billion, more than half of the $15.8 billion local leaders are seeking to improve the Valley's transit system. Federal and state funds would cover the rest.

Of the six legislative referendums, two would add restrictions to the initiative process. Lawmakers, mostly Republican leaders, complained throughout the recent revenue shortfall and budget crisis that voter-mandated spending for health care and education had tied their hands as they struggled to balance the state budget.

One measure would require that if initiatives seek state money, they include a tax increase or some other funding source to cover the costs. That would prevent another initiative like 2000's Proposition 204, which provides health insurance for any Arizonans living in poverty. The measure quickly overwhelmed its funding source, Arizona's portion of the nationwide tobacco settlement.

The other measure would move back the filing date for ballot propositions, by four months, to seven months before an election.

Legislative pay raise
Legislators had no say in putting a proposed pay raise for themselves on the ballot, but many are pulling for its victory. Voters shot down a $6,000 pay raise in 2000.

Voters will have to wait at least another month to find out whether Protect Arizona Now has enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Alfredo Gutierrez, a former state legislator and co-chairman of the Statue of Liberty Coalition formed to defeat the measure, said the group is ready to raise roughly $2 million to fight the measure.

"This isn't going to make the border any safer or secure," Gutierrez said. "It will simply harass innocent people. We're not talking only undocumented immigrants. Everyone would be required to carry proof of citizenship when seeking any public services."

Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa and a leading supporter of Protect Arizona Now, said residents in Arizona and elsewhere are fed up with illegal immigration.

"Americans want something done about the abuse, the fraud and illegal immigration," Pearce said this week. "This is simply allowing the voters of the state of Arizona to decide if their elections ought to be protected and if their welfare dollars ought to be protected."

Hector Cabrera, a 42-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico who waits for work at a day labor center in north Phoenix, was dismayed to find out people like him will be the target.

Cabrera said that he has never gotten any free government handouts but that he worries he and other undocumented immigrants will be caught in the public fight over Protect Arizona Now.

"Most of us come here to work," Cabrera said. "We will keep coming as long as there is work for us."


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