Legislature passes Prop. 400 bill, ends lengthy session
In a defeat to the Arizona Legislature’s conservative Freedom Caucus, both chambers on Monday passed a bill that will ask voters in Maricopa County to continue Proposition 400, a half-cent transportation tax that funds roads and public transportation.
The passage of Senate Bill 1102, which will put Prop. 400 to the voters for the third time since 1984, when it was initially approved, also marked the end of a drawn out and contentious legislative session that lasted a record 203 days.
Once Gov. Katie Hobbs signs the bill, which she is expected to do, it will direct Maricopa County to hold a countywide election to ask the voters to extend the transportation tax for two decades. The tax funds street and highway projects, along with public transportation, a point of contention for those in the Freedom Caucus.
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But the legislation impacts residents all over the state, not just in Maricopa County, because if Prop. 400 fails, all of the other counties will have to compete with Maricopa for limited state transportation funding.
The bill includes a $24 billion plan over 20 years, with 40.5% allocated to freeways and highways, 37% to public transit and 22.5% to roads and intersections.
Voters last approved the tax in 2004 and it is set to expire at the end of 2025. It has funded projects like the light rail, State Route 51, State Route 24 and Loops 101, 202 and 303.
Both houses of the legislature previously approved a different version of SB1102 in June favored by Republicans, passing it along party lines, but Hobbs vetoed that bill, saying it was time to come together to create a bipartisan solution.
The original version tasked Maricopa County with putting two separate questions to the voters: One asking if they would continue putting the majority of the tax money collected to support roads projects and another asking if they would back putting the remainder of the funds toward public transportation.
Members of the Freedom Caucus were not happy that those two questions were consolidated into one question in the final version of the bill, with Rep. Alexander Kolodin, of Scottsdale, asking why such a large portion of the tax money was going to pay for public transportation when only 1% of Arizonans use it.
“This denies the voters of Maricopa County a real choice,” Kolodin said. “This holds road funding hostage.”
Kolodin and several of his colleagues said they believe the majority of voters, if they had the choice, would approve a continuation of the tax to fund highway projects, but not to fund public transportation.
Democratic Rep. Seth Blattman said that the new bill was a chance to invest in freeways, roads and mass transit, which ultimately benefit all residents of the state.
“We are saying ‘yes’ to investing in ourselves,” Blattman said.
He added that transportation infrastructure is one of the most basic functions of government and will help continue to meet with Maricopa County’s rapid growth.
Senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle lamented the rapid process that brought the bill to fruition, with some lawmakers only seeing the final draft of the bill a few days ago and final amendments being made directly before they voted on the bill on Monday afternoon.
Republican Rep. Justin Heap, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said that the way the bill came together was the same kind of process that many of he and his freshman colleagues were hoping to stop when they ran for office.
“We’re about to pass a $20 billion continuation bill that none of us have read or understand,” he said.
But Republican Rep. Matt Gress of Phoenix praised the leadership of House Speaker Ben Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen, both Republicans, for putting guardrails on the money that would stop Maricopa County from pursuing “road diets” and restricting the funds from being used to build new light rail lines.
“It’s important to remember this plan will ultimately require voter approval and taxpayers will have the final say,” Gress said.
Leaders in both the House and Senate also balked at some of the statements from members of the Freedom Caucus, including after Kolodin questioned whether funding for new light rail really was slashed in the final version of the bill, since they hadn’t had much time to look over the final version.
“This is a 100% Hobbs-run, Democrat love-fest bill,” said Rep. Jacqueline Parker, a member of the Freedom Caucus. She added that there were “nefarious projects” hidden in the bill, but failed to clarify what they are.
Democratic Sen. Priya Sundereshan added that lawmakers weren’t given much time to look over the bill and to understand the changes, adding that the process “left a lot to be desired.”
Before the Senate voted on the bill, Petersen addressed claims that it was an Arizona version of the Green New Deal, saying anyone who shared that opinion is “either highly misinformed lacks integrity.”
“If the voters pass this, this will be the most conservative transportation plan ever passed in Arizona,” Petersen said. “Please read the bill.”
The bill ensures there is no new light rail around the Capitol and provides more oversight to the Maricopa Association of Governments, the regional group which apportions the funds going to transportation projects. It also has a provision that takes away public transportation funding from cities who run their transit inefficiently and it includes no mandates for electric vehicle use.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 43-14 and later passed the Senate by a vote of 19-7.
The Maricopa Association of Governments, which pushed for the extension of the transportation tax, represents the 27 cities in the regions, as well as three Native tribes, Maricopa County and parts of Pinal County.
Legislative session comes to a close, finally
“Mr. Speaker, I’ve been waiting 203 days to do this,” Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham said before the House began the process to sine die, the legislative term for ending the session.
This year’s legislative session has been the longest in Arizona’s history by over a month, with the previous record being 173 days in 1988. This session lasted 203 days, in large part due to multiple extended breaks for lawmakers. Before wrapping up it’s work on Monday, the legislature last met in mid-June.
This session has also seen a record number of vetoes issued by Gov. Katie Hobbs, who has so far nixed a record-setting 143 bills, two of which lawmakers attempted to override but failed. In total, 347 bills were sent to the Governor and of those bills, 202 have been signed into law.
This session’s end also comes as a change to sessions of the past, which usually came with state budget negotiations that worked their way late into the night. Lawmakers already passed a statewide budget in May.
“Alright, goodbye. The Senate has officially sine die’d,” Petersen said after the Senate officially voted on the motion to end the session. Seven Republicans voted against ending the session, including Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli, David Gowan, Jake Hoffman, Anthony Kern, J.D. Mesnard, Wendy Rogers and Justine Wadsack.
After the motion to sine die was made in the House, the room erupted to cheers and applause. Toma took a vote on the motion by roll call vote and a small number of “nays” were heard only to be derided with a “come on!” by lawmakers.
After the motion passed, the House erupted into applause.