City election bill at forefront of Legislature's goals

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5 file photo) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 file photo)

Arizona House leaders who cut a deal to earn conservative support for a budget deal have been maneuvering to make good on their promises after the Senate defeated a key part of the agreement.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard wants a bill that was part of the deal passed before the Legislature adjourns. That could happen Tuesday or Wednesday but not before the legislation is revived and passed by the Senate.

The issue is so important that Senate President Steve Yarbrough said Tuesday that the Legislature may not end its session this week, instead adjourning and returning next Monday, when a key Republican senator who is out of state this week returns.

The Senate rejected a bill requiring elections on tax increases by counties, cities and towns to be part of November general election year ballots.

The loss upset the deal that got conservatives such as Republican Rep. Anthony Kern to back a $1 billion university construction loan program that was part of Gov. Doug Ducey's budget plan.

Three Republican senators voted against the legislation, which Mesnard had revived and put up for a House vote. On Monday, the Senate suspended its rules and will allow a second vote, although the bill's fate remains unclear.

Kern was a major House opponent of the university bonding program that was a key component of the $9.8 billion state budget deal negotiated between Ducey and Republican House and Senate leaders. Short of votes in his own Republican caucus, Mesnard negotiated with Kern and other conservatives.

Kern got three sweeteners that he said Tuesday made the budget more conservative and earned his support.

One was a $2 million appropriation for "freedom school" programs at Arizona State University and University of Arizona that have received millions in funding from the conservative Charles Koch Foundation on top of $5 million in ongoing state spending. The others were a ban on universities using contract lobbyists and the city election provision.

Kern and other backers argue that allowing cities to stage tax increase elections in off-years or on special dates limits voter turnout and makes it easier for tax increases to be enacted.

"I think it's a great bill and it needs to be voted on," Kern said. "I think it will save the voters money and allow more voters to vote in elections - especially when it comes to taxes."

Kern said Tuesday he thinks two Republican senators who voted against the bill may change their minds if given another chance. However, one Republican senator who backed it is absent this week. Sen. John Kavanagh is taking a class required for him to continue teaching college criminal justices classes.

That could make the bill impossible to pass unless the third Republican opposed to the measure also changes her vote.

Republican Sen. Karen Fann was the only Republican opponent who could be reached Tuesday, and she declined to comment.

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