Although I am currently the Mayor of the Town of Clarkdale, the following analysis and recommendations are my personal thoughts, and not the official position of my town. As mayor, I have learned to see beyond the hype that surrounds all the ballot issues, and to see which initiatives will make my town a better place to live and which could harm it.
Arizona's voters, like voters in much of the nation, have an unprecedented number of ballot initiatives to consider this November. The number of choices and their complexity leaves most of us a little confused. The spin doctors on both sides of every issue have perfected their craft to the point where everything seems reasonable, and that makes it difficult to make an informed decision. Until our legislature can get back to tackling the basic issues that we all want tackled, we will see more and more "government by initiative."
I've studied all of the initiatives on the ballot, and there are some very good ones, some very bad ones, and some that just make no sense at all. Here is my take on them, from the perspective as mayor of a Verde Valley town:
o Mingus Union High School Special Bond Election: I am always in favor of improving the education of our young people. Investments in education are investments in our communities. Mingus Union High School is struggling to provide a quality education for our future doctors, mechanics, teachers and police officers in inadequate facilities. This one's a "no brainer" if you've ever visited Mingus during a busy school day! I'll vote Yes on this bond election.
o Prop. 101, the "House Concurrent Resolution 2056," relates to property tax levies and proposes that our cities and towns should tie themselves to a 2005 tax rate and be limited to 2 percent annual raises from then on, regardless of inflation and its effects on the towns' ability to provide adequate police and fire protection, streets, libraries and parks. This would be the same as telling a business that it could not adjust prices to keep up with inflation. The proposition is promoted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and the Cattleman's association, among others. I'll vote "NO" on 101, for the sake of my town's future.
o Prop. 105, the "House Concurrent Resolution 2056", and Prop. 106, the "Arizona State Trust Lands Initiative" are two propositions that are at odds with each other. Although 105 purports to be a conservation initiative, a quick glance at it's primary supporters indicates that this proposition has little to do with land conservation. The primary backers are the "Arizonans for Responsible Planning", a loose consortium of large housing developers, banking interests, insurance companies, and mortgage lenders. That's strange group to be promoting a conservation initiative, isn't it? In my opinion it is actually a proposition intended to confuse voters and negate Proposition 106, which is a very well written proposition that will conserve significant amounts of state trust lands without harming education. Prop. 106 is sponsored by such respectable groups as the Arizona Education Association, the Nature Conservancy, Audubon Societies, the Verde Valley Land Preservation Institute, Grady Gammage, Jr., the Grand Canyon Trust and the Sierra Institute. I will be voting "NO" on 105, and "YES" on 106.
o Prop. 205, known as the "Your Right to Vote by Mail Act" is the right direction for a progressive democracy. According to Yavapai County Elections officials, vote-by-mail is more secure than any other form of voting, and there is actually less chance of voter fraud using mail-in ballots than there is in poll voting! Add to this the fact that voter turnouts are improved by 10-30 percent when municipalities use mail-in voting. That's enough to convince me that vote-by-mail is the way to go for the future of our state. This proposition is supported by the League of Women Voters of Arizona. I'll vote "YES" on Prop. 205.
o Prop. 207, known as the "Private Property Protection Act" is perhaps the most insidious of all the propositions on the November ballot. It has the potential for causing tremendous damage to your neighborhood and to Arizona's cities and counties. While the proposition's supporters claim that this is a measure designed to prevent government from taking your property without good cause, it is really a solution looking for a problem. There have been very few instances of abuse of "eminent domain" in the United States, and, to my knowledge, none in Arizona in the last several years. I could live with the restrictions the act places on abusive condemnations (since they essentially never occur anyway). The "Trojan horse" in the proposition is the second part, which will make it exceedingly difficult for our cities, towns and counties to enforce zoning ordinances, create new commercial or residential zoning, and protect our neighborhoods from encroachment by commercial, industrial, or other undesirable occupancies. The proposition says that if a landowner feels his property value has been adversely affected by a zoning decision, he can sue the city and collect the amount that the decision lowered his values. This seems, at first blush, to be an appropriate rein on government, until you realize that every zoning decision can have a perceived negative impact on someone's property value. If the city wants to keep industry away from your neighborhood and it creates a zoning restriction that says no industry can build next to your home, then the owner of the tract that industry wants could sue the city for the loss of his sale. This means that a big chunk of our tax dollars, which we expect to be spent on running our towns will instead go to lawyers defending zoning actions. It also will mean that cities and towns will be reluctant to provide you with zoning that protects your quality of life. This one is a wolf in sheep's clothing and it deserves to be voted down! I'll vote "NO" on 207.
o This initiative is supported by the Arizona Cattlemen's Association (hardly seems like a livestock issue!) and the "Arizona Home Owners Protection Effort", a group which has received its primary funding from Americans for Limited Government, a national group headed by New York real estate mogul Howard Rich. Rich has poured nearly $900,000 into the effort. Does that tell you anything about this one? Opponents to this proposition include many mayors and various military interests who fear its passage could lead to residential encroachment on Arizona's military bases and their eventual closure. I'll certainly vote "NO" on 207, for the good of my town and my state.
Please help me help my town and the Verde Valley by reading these propositions carefully and making educated choices. They are not all what they appear to be.
Doug Von Gausig is the mayor of Clarkdale.