Arizona voters approve 1-cent sales tax increase

Update: Arizona voters approved Proposition 100 on May 18 by a two-thirds margin. Starting in June, the state sales tax will increase by 1 cent, from 5.6 cents to 6.6 cents, for three years. The increase is expected to raise about $1 billion a year, and will mostly be used to fund education.

By James Kelley

With state education funding drying up, Pima Community College administrators are hoping for a boost from a 1-cent tax increase.

In a special election on May 18, Arizona voters will decide the fate of Proposition 100, a temporary tax increase that would mostly fund education.

PCC Chancellor Roy Flores said during the April Board of Governors meeting that the state will cut education funding further if Proposition 100 fails.

“We’re looking at a scenario that’s pretty ugly, with no good choices,” Flores said.

In April, the PCC governing board voted to increase tuition 4.5 percent to raise $1.4 million to offset rising enrollment and the decrease in state funding. If the proposition fails, tuition could be raised again.

“It’s going to hurt a lot of people,” said Jennifer Laguna, a social services major, about the threat of tuition rising again.

Prop. 100 would raise the state sales tax from 5.6 cents to 6.6 cents, with two-thirds of the revenue earmarked for education and the rest going to health care and public safety. The increase would be in effect for three years, starting July 1.

“I think it’s good. There should be more funding for education,” said Tahisa Amador, a pre-dental major. “They are trying to decrease funding and I think that is bad.”

The proposition is expected to raise between $800 million and $1 billion per year. A University of Arizona study concluded that Prop. 100 would save 13,000 jobs and preserve more than $442 million in federal matching funds for the state.

During the current economic downturn, Arizona has seen a 35 percent drop in tax revenue and has had to cut $2.2 billion from its budget. If Prop. 100 does not pass, another billion will be cut.

“The impact would be very positive for Pima. The state would be able to allocate more funding to our institution,” Student President Hector Araujo said. “That help would decrease the necessity to have to eliminate programs that are critical to our community.”

Prop. 100 is supported by education groups and many Democrats, though Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and the Tucson Chamber of Commerce have also added their support. Brewer said it is the first time she has supported a tax increase.

Opponents are often members of the Tea Party or Republicans, including U.S. senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, five state senators and state treasurer Dean Martin. Small businesses also say the increase will hurt them.

Programs like PCC’s recently saved Adult Education would be at serious risk if the legislation doesn’t pass. The college is using federal stimulus funds as a temporary measure to preserve the program.

“Proposition 100 is an important one,” PCC Board of Governors member Brenda Even said during the April meeting. “In order to secure and continue to support the things that we worked so hard for, we need to be ready to go support it.”

Prop. 100 detractors contend that people cannot tax themselves out of a recession and say the one-cent sales tax hike equals an 18 percent tax. They also call the sales tax a regressive tax because it hurts the poor more than the rich.

Still, many students feel the tax is a necessity that benefits education.

Students have staffed pro Prop. 100 tents at the University of Arizona mall, hosted an ‘80s-themed party to promote it near Arizona State University’s student union and donned T-shirts at Northern Arizona University that read, “I’m a student and I vote!” during a vote-yes rally march to Flagstaff City Hall.

The April 22 issue of Tucson Weekly had a cover that said “Vote Yes On Prop 100: If you don’t pass this sales tax, we’ll kill this state,” with a photograph of a gun pointed at a statue.

Debbie Hadley contributed to this report.

FYI

May 7: Last day to request an early ballot

May 14: Last day to vote an early ballot in person

May 18: Special statewide election

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