Tax Breaks For Seniors, Phone Deregulation Among Final Five Propositions

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(Editor's note: This is the final installment in a series of articles on the 14 initiatives voters will face at the polls Nov. 7. It provides an overview of the final five propositions that will appear on the ballot.)

Proposition 101

This initiative, sponsored by the legislature, would alter the Arizona Constitution to conform to federal requirements by modernizing age and residency voting requirements as well as the language used to describe people with mental illness and physical disabilities. In the process, it replaces antiquated and potentially offensive terms such as insane, deaf, dumb and blind, alms house and asylum.

It also eliminates a male-only requirement for serving in the state militia. The only opposition to this initiative is focused on replacement of the words "able-bodied male" with the words "capable citizens." Libertarians and some others argue that "no definition of 'capable' can be found to determine what it means," and therefore the legislature might use this word to take away the right to bear arms.

State Rep. Sue Gerard, who originally sought the changes, calls this argument "bizarre," pointing out that "able-bodied" is also not defined but has never been used to restrict the right to bear arms.

Proposition 103

A "yes" vote on this proposition would change the Arizona Corporation Commission from a three-person to a five-person body, and permit commissioners to serve up to two consecutive four-year terms, rather than one, six-year term. The measure was introduced by the legislature to bring more stability to the body and solve its open meeting law problem. As it stands, two members constitute a majority, and a majority requires a posted public meeting.

Proponents argue that the expanded terms would allow members to become better versed on the technical issues the commission faces. They also argue that more members would add diversity and a greater range of experiences while reducing the contentiousness that has been a hallmark of this body.

Those who oppose 103 argue that it will cost about $500,000 a year to add two members, and that the commission has been operating under the existing rules for 88 years. There is little opposition to the two, four-year terms.

Proposition 104

This initiative would allow qualified seniors to apply for a freeze in property tax valuations on single-family homes, condominiums, town houses or mobile homes, and on up to 10 acres of accompanying land. To qualify, one owner must be 65 or older, the property must have been the primary residence for two years, the owner's income cannot exceed 400 percent of the Supplemental Security Income benefit rate or about $25,000 a year, 500 percent, or about $31,000, for couples.

The rationale behind this proposition is that escalating housing values have pushed property taxes up 40 percent in the past five years.

Proponents say it is designed to help those on fixed incomes who are struggling to make ends meet.

As Maricopa County Assessor Kevin Ross puts it, "We don't want taxes to be the reason they leave."

Those who oppose 104 say it favors seniors at the expense of young couples who are also striving to get by. "We don't lower property taxes for anyone without raising someone else's," said State Rep. Ken Cheuvront.

Proposition 105

The state legislature put this issue on the ballot to settle a squabble between for-profit cemetery owners and county assessors. It would exempt from property tax cemetery land that is actually set aside and used for the burial or storage of dead human beings.

Currently, religious, municipal and nonprofit cemeteries are exempt, but big, for-profit operations are not. An attempt to tax the latter triggered a lobbying effort by the private cemeteries, and a threat to subdivide each individual grave and thus make it subject to property taxes.

Lobbyist John Mangum expresses the primary argument in favor of passing 105 thus: "Do you want to pay taxes on your grave?" On the other side, "One million dollars," the amount the state would collect each year, "is not peanuts," said Maricopa County Treasurer Doug Todd.

Proposition 108

This initiative, officially known as the Consumer Choice and Fair Competition Telecommunications Amendment, was written by Qwest, the successor to U.S. West. It would eliminate the Arizona Corporation Commission's authority to set local telephone rates in areas where Qwest has a competitor.

Those in favor of its passage argue that Arizona's phone regulations are nearly a century old, and most states have updated their regulations to reflect the fact that the era of phone monopolies is over. They also argue that Cox Cable and other telecommunications companies often undercut Qwest rates which are set by the Corporation Commission.

Opponents of 108 call the measure self-serving. Why, they ask, would Qwest spend millions of dollars on this initiative so they can charge less if it passes? What it would actually do, they argue, is allow Qwest to monopolize the market at whatever price it chooses.

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