PHOENIX — Proponents of a ballot measure to restrict ballot measures call it a financial necessity. Opponents say it would deliver a near-crippling blow to a form of direct democracy that Arizona has used since it became a state.
Under the proposition on the Nov. 4 ballot, no initiatives that raise taxes or require new spending could take effect unless they're approved by a majority of registered voters. That presents a much higher hurdle than the current requirement — that an initiative get approval from a majority of voters actually casting ballots. And it's one that legislative analysts say no Arizona initiative in the past decade would have cleared.
A national expert on initiatives and referendums said the Arizona measure would cut down the approval rate and probably even discourage some activists from launching initiative campaigns in the first place.
"Voters get fewer choices," said John Matsusaka, a professor of business and law at the University of Southern California.
Other states with November ballot measures on their initiative process include Colorado, Ohio and Wyoming. The Colorado measure is the most sweeping, with changes that include making it easier to get a statutory change on the ballot and harder for a constitutional change.
In Arizona, supporters contend a change is needed to rein in an expanding state government that is burdening the public and businesses with higher taxes and spending mandates, such as the new state minimum wage approved by voters in 2006.
Special interests promote ballot measures, many aiming for low-turnout elections that attract fewer voters, to feather their own nests, said Jason LeVecke, a fast-food restaurant franchisee who has contributed $1.2 million to the campaign for the proposition, which supporters have dubbed "Majority Rule — Let the People Decide."
"You can't engineer the system to your advantage. That's what's going on with these groups who only care about their piece of the pie. This is tough medicine, admittedly, but something we desperately need," LeVecke said.
Opponents say the change would handcuff citizens who need initiatives to maneuver around lawmakers who won't tackle pressing problems, such as health-care funding.
"It takes away a critical component of democracy," said John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association.