Conservatives and some top business activists want to bring a controversial set of anti-tax laws and government spending caps to Arizona.
The National Federation of Independent Business, Goldwater Institute think tank and a group of conservative Republican state lawmakers want to import a package of anti-tax laws from Colorado.
The Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, would limit taxes by restricting spending growth to population gains and inflation. Surplus revenue collected above those spending caps would be refunded to taxpayers or put into a rainy day fund.
TABOR was passed by voters in Colorado in 1992 and resulted in spending cutbacks and more than $3 billion in tax refunds.
That appeals to conservatives and business advocates here who favor low taxes and limited government, but the proposed measure worries education groups concerned about underfunding.
A group of conservative Republican lawmakers, including House Appropriations Chairman Russell Pearce, state Rep. Laura Knaperek and Sen. Jack Harper, have put forward a bill at the Legislature that would put TABOR on the 2006 ballot for voters to decide.
NFIB, which has 10,000 members in Arizona and is one of the more conservative business groups in the state, lists TABOR as one of its top priorities for the 2005 state legislative session.
"It controls spending which is very much needed in this state," said NFIB state director Michelle Bolton. "We supported it in Colorado."
Bolton said NFIB will be mobilizing small-business owners to lobby state lawmakers on the issue.
Fiscal conservatives have been worried about the growth of state government spending in recent years stemming from voter mandates related to health care and education, and funding hikes put forward by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano.
The Goldwater think tank also backs the idea, arguing it would restrict the size of government and keep taxes and spending low.
"This is the most effective way we have seen so far so that government only spends the amount it should," Goldwater fiscal policy analyst Satya Thallam said of the Colorado experience.
The TABOR effort would significantly strengthen the already strong anti-tax sentiment at the GOP-majority state assembly. In 1992, Arizona voters approved a ballot question requiring a super-majority (two-thirds) approval to increase taxes.
Thallam said TABOR would keep state spending and taxes in check. If approved this year by the assembly and next year by voters, the spending caps and tax reforms would become part of the state constitution.
The Colorado reforms worry education and liberal groups that already are concerned Arizona does not spend enough on education and children's services.
The Children's Action Alliance and Arizona Education Association vehemently oppose TABOR.
Critics of the tax measure say the Colorado experiment has resulted in cuts in education spending, childhood immunization programs and other key programs.
"It would absolutely cripple our infrastructure in the state and leave public school systems dangerously underfunded," said John Wright, president of the 30,000-member AEA.
Teachers unions already contend Arizona does not spend enough on schools, salaries and universities. National education statistics prove their point.
Wright said he wants to work with more moderate business leaders and lawmakers to fight the effort.
Thallam counters that the spending caps do not necessarily have to result in education cuts, but instead keep spending in check and force lawmakers to set priorities and cut wasteful programs and corporate welfare.
"It wouldn't preclude spending more on education," Thallam said.
Because the legislation would refer TABOR to the 2006 ballot, GOP backers can bypass Napolitano's certain veto pen.
Getting the Colorado program as well as a gay marriage ban and tort reform referendums on the 2006 ballot also could help turnout conservative voters as Republicans try to unseat Napolitano and re-elect U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl.
Possible GOP challengers to Napolitano include U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley and former Gov. Fife Symington.
"It will bring out Republican voters. It will bring out conservative voters," said Stan Barnes, a business lobbyist and former state lawmaker. "It's a bragging right for Republicans."
The issue would be another bitter battle in the business and political world between anti-tax conservatives and moderates, including the governor and some downtown corporate leaders, who favor increased spending, especially on education.
"The governor is not of this mind, and certain opinion leaders in Arizona are not of the mind," said Barnes.
National Federation of Independent Business: www.nfib.com.
Arizona Education Association: www.arizonaea.org.