State Capitol News
10:10 pm
Sun January 4, 2009

Howard Fischer

Legislators Seek Influence With Voter-Approved Measures – Two key legislators want to repeal a constitutional provision that precludes lawmakers from tinkering with voter-approved measures. The 1998 amendment says anything voters enact can be repealed or have major alterations, only by taking it back to the ballot. Since then, voters have mandated that lawmakers increase funding every year in state aid to education, and also must provide free health care to everyone below the federal poverty level. Rep. John Kavanagh, who will head the House Appropriations Committee, said the prohibition needs to be revisited in the face of the $1.5 billion deficit this year and $3 billion shortfall next year.

"I think it's needed," said Kavanagh. "I think it would allow us to do the cuts with more mercy and logic. However, I'm pessimistic that the voters will let us do it because they have a lingering mistrust of the Legislature."

Any move to repeal the restriction will get a fight from John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, which pushed for that inflation indexed state aid.

"It's a state obligation," said Wright. "And the voters have already spoken. They've said here's where we need to spend money. And they've said don't monkey around with our decisions at the ballot when you go into session. These are voter-protected. And I think the Legislature ought to pay attention to them."

The special election Kavanagh and Russell Pearce, his Senate counterpart want, could occur as early as March.