What’s on the ballot? Some big questions

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Questions on Maricopa ballots include a local natural gas issue and statewide decisions on marijuana and education funding.

Aside from all the candidates to elect, Maricopa voters have three issues to decide in the General Election.

Two of the issues are statewide questions that are highly divisive. The other is a hyper-local issue regarding natural gas in Maricopa.

Prop 452 (gas)

Proposition 452 is asking Maricopans if they want to give Southwest Gas Corp. a 25-year franchise. The agreement was negotiated by the company and the City of Maricopa. A city council resolution calling for an election on the matter was approved in June.

As worded, it gives Southwest Gas use of the city rights of way for utility purposes for up to 25 years. The company has been supplying gas in Maricopa since before incorporation but has not had a formal agreement with the municipality.

According to Southwest Gas, the agreement stipulates the utility will pay the City an amount equal to 2% of gross revenue it generates in Maricopa.

Councilmember Marvin Brown called the agreement “an important oversight tool” in his argument for the proposition.

Prop 207 (marijuana)

The statewide citizens initiative would amend Arizona Revised Statutes to legalize the use and sale of recreational marijuana. Among other things, it would allow a person age 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and up to six marijuana plants at a primary residence. Possession by those under age 21 would still be punishable by law but less severely and not as a felony.

The proposition notes existing federal law against the possession, production and use of marijuana would still apply.

Subtitled the Smart and Safe Act, the proposition includes punishments similar to those for alcohol and tobacco, such as using marijuana while driving or in public places. It adds an excise tax on marijuana products of 16%, not including sales tax. It would also allow current court records involving marijuana violations to be expunged.

Both sides of the issue have drawn a wide range of backers, crossing political and medical divides.

Supporters of the initiative cite the failure of the “War on Drugs” and the potential for economic development. They estimate $300 million going to public safety, health and other government programs.

“Not only will the Smart and Safe Act move Arizona toward a more compassionate policy on adult marijuana use, it will also provide an option for folks who were previously convicted of low-level marijuana charges to have their criminal records expunged so they have fair access to jobs and housing, while raising millions of dollars annually for much needed addiction prevention, substance abuse treatment, suicide prevention, mental health programs and other justice reinvestment projects,” wrote Jared Keenan, president of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, in information he submitted for the official election publicity pamphlet.

Opponents warn of the impact on teenagers by downplaying the effects of modern marijuana. They cite reported increases in homeless people and black-market grow houses in Colorado and other states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Several school administrators and elected officials have campaigned against Prop 207.

“With 11 states that have legalized pot reporting significant increases in failed employment screenings, Arizona employers in safety-sensitive industries will have to seek workers from out-of-state,” wrote Tim Carter, Yavapai County superintendent of schools.

Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, came down in the middle of the road on the issue. His letter for the ballot pamphlet states the proposition “poses both public health risks and benefits.

“If the Act passes, we urge the state to use its full regulatory authority to enforce purchasing-age limits, packaging and potency standards, regulate advertising and place of use restrictions, enact workplace use policy requirements and solidify motor vehicle operation restrictions and penalties,” Humble wrote.

Prop 208 (education)

Subtitled the Invest in Education Act, Prop 208 creates the “Student Support and Safety Fund.” It imposes a 3.5% income tax surcharge on high-income residents. That means individuals earning more than $250,000 for individuals and more than $500,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Proponent say the initiative will help Arizona solve its education-funding problem. After paying for the administration of the fund, 50% of monies collected will go to schools for teacher hiring and base-salary increases; 25% for student-support hiring and base-salary increases; 12% to develop high school programs tied to medium-to-high wage or high-demand careers; 10% for mentoring and retaining teachers in their first, second or third year of teaching; and 3% to an Arizona teachers academy to incentivize college students to become teachers.

Supporters, which include educators, administrators and school board members among others, say the proposition will secure education funding, set up Arizona students to succeed in the 21st century and fill in the state’s teacher shortage.

“We have seen teacher shortage and some of the largest class sizes in the last 10 years,” wrote Kinora Hernandez, president of the Kyrene Education Association. “We are losing our newest teachers faster than we can recruit and retain new teachers.”

Prop 208 opponents say it will adversely affect the Arizona economy and discourage economic investment. They say the distribution of the funds will not be under local control, no matter what the local needs are. They also argue it is a bad time for a tax increase after the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses.

Opponents include the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the Free Enterprise Club and high-ranking Republicans such as Gov. Doug Ducey and state Treasurer Kimberly Yee.

“If it were to pass, the highest income tax rate for the affected taxpayers would increase by a whopping 78%, dramatically undermining Arizona’s ability to grow jobs when we need them most,” wrote Glenn Hamer, president of Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “It will hurt teachers and it will hurt small businesses.”