Arizona: Why Voters Wanted Higher Taxes

Arizona voters overwhelming opted to raise the state's sales tax yesterday. What's the lesson?
by | May 19, 2010
 

I can think of several reasons why I shouldn't be surprised that Arizona voters overwhelmingly opted to raise Arizona's sales tax at the polls yesterday.

The proponents of Prop. 100 were better organized than the opposition. Most of the important people and organizations in the state favored the measure, including Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry Goddard (though John McCain and Jon Kyl, Arizona's two Republican U.S. senators, opposed it). Arizona's budget cuts already have been some of the most dramatic in the country. The state has ended all-day kindergarten, cut tens of thousands of poor children off of health insurance and closed state parks. You can make a pretty good case that if voters wouldn't support a tax increase after all that, they'd never support a tax increase.

On the other hand, it's striking that voters in a state where lawmakers have earned a well-deserved reputation for conservatism would opt to raise their own taxes. Unlike Oregon, which raised taxes on businesses and wealthy individuals in January, this tax increase will affect every person who buys anything -- so everyone. The measure passed in every county except one. While the New York Times did have a story, overall I'm not seeing nearly as much national attention to this vote as Oregon's received. That's understandable given all of the political news yesterday, but overall this vote probably is a bigger deal.

The lesson here isn't that tax increases are generally politically popular or politically easy. In California last year the governor and Democratic legislators asked voters to raise taxes. The measures went down in flames. Rather, the lesson is that voters, even conservative voters, will accept tax increases when they're convinced of two things: That public services they care about truly are in jeopardy and that, for the most part, the government isn't wasting large amount of money.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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