Stateline Story

Arizona Vote Muddies Anti-tax Narrative

  • May 19, 2010
  • By John Gramlich

Voters in Oregon and Pennsylvania chose their major-party candidates for governor on Tuesday (May 18), while Arizona's electorate handed Governor Jan Brewer a significant victory by easily approving a temporary hike in the state sales tax.

The Arizona vote allows state lawmakers to avoid much deeper spending cuts than those already approved earlier this year — including the elimination of all-day kindergarten and reduction of health care services for the poor. The measure, which takes effect in two weeks, generates much-needed revenue by raising the sales tax by a penny per dollar, to 6.6 cents, for three years. It is expected to bring in about $1 billion per year.

Notably, the outcome in Arizona runs counter to a common national narrative about 2010 being a sharply anti-tax year. While Tea Party candidates and other tax critics have claimed major wins — including in Kentucky on Tuesday night — tax hikes are two-for-two in statewide votes so far this year. Oregon voters in January agreed to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy by $727 million, after a campaign by proponents of the measure portrayed the alternative — deep cuts to schools and other public services — as potentially catastrophic.

Similarly, threatened cuts to education "appeared to be the winning ingredient" for proponents of the Arizona sales tax hike,The Arizona Republic reported . "The Yes on 100 campaign relied heavily on appeals to the needs of schools and noted repeatedly that two-thirds of the revenue would go to education," the paper said.

In Pennsylvania, Dan Onorato won a crowded Democratic primary for governor and will square off against Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett in November. As Stateline reported last month, Onorato will try to end a curious electoral cycle that has seen the Pennsylvania governorship alternate between Democrats and Republicans every eight years since 1954. The cycle is so well-known that, within hours of Onorato's victory, the Democratic Governors Association put out a statement listing the reasons why 2010 could buck the trend.

In Oregon, former Governor John Kitzhaber — one of at least five ex-governors nationwide who want their old jobs back — won the Democratic primary and will face a Republican opponent in November who could not be further from a government insider. Chris Dudley, a former professional basketball player for the Portland Trailblazers, won for the Republicans.