Phoenix-area transportation upgrades are in limbo. Here’s why
A half-cent sales tax that funds roadways will expire in 2026 unless voters continue it, but there’s a caveat. Legislators have to first allow a vote.
A GOP-backed bill to extend a transportation sales tax in Maricopa County has officially died with Gov. Katie Hobbs’ veto, as proponents of the tax gear up to find another way to get their version of the proposal before voters.
The Democratic governor said immediately after lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1246 on June 14 that she would veto it, a promise on which she made good Tuesday while also killing 17 other bills lawmakers sent to her desk last week. Many of those were election bills that grew out of GOP doubts about the 2020 defeat of Donald Trump and 2022 results in Arizona.
Hobbs claims the title of most vetoes by any Arizona governor, at 143 this year.
The transportation tax bill was Republican lawmakers’ response to a breakdown in negotiations with the governor about how to extend the half-cent tax commonly known as Proposition 400 which expires at the end of 2025.
In a statement Tuesday announcing her veto, Hobbs again urged Republican legislative leaders to put up for a vote a version of the extension agreed to by Hobbs and the regional transportation planner the Maricopa Association of Governments. The GOP’s bill doesn’t meet Hobbs’ aims to grow the economy, draw business and create good-paying jobs, the governor said.
“This partisan bill does none of those things,” she said. “I encourage legislators to vote on the compromise that is supported by a bipartisan majority in the House and Senate, community leaders, and cities in Maricopa County. Stop playing partisan politics, stop holding Arizona’s economy hostage, and put the bipartisan compromise up for a vote.”
That likely won’t happen anytime soon, as the Legislature is on another break and does not plan to return to the Capitol until July 31. While their session is technically ongoing, they worked two days last week under the assumption it was the last of the substantive policymaking days of the year.
Hobbs announced her veto in a news release that included comments from three local mayors supporting her veto. Those include Mesa Mayor John Giles, a Republican; Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, a Democrat; and Avondale Mayor Kenn Weise, whose voter registration is not affiliated with either major party and who serves as chair of the Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Council.
A spokesperson for Senate Republicans said Hobbs’ proposal doesn’t have the bipartisan votes the governor claims it does.
“We’re willing to come back to the table to negotiate in good faith, and we will consider all reasonable requests, but we won’t vote on a plan that doesn’t focus the majority of taxpayer dollars towards freeways and roads, which are the transportation options our citizens rely on to get to and from on a daily basis,” Senate GOP spokesperson Kim Quintero said.
What’s the path to the ballot now?
Proposition 400 was first approved by Maricopa County voters in 1985, levying a half-cent sales tax to fund freeways, major roads and public transit. Because the state’s most populous county needs legislative approval to put any tax questions before its voters, proponents of the Proposition 400 extension saw a legislative referral as the easiest path to the ballot.
That path appears blocked, however, unless there’s a breakthrough in negotiations between Hobbs, House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Glendale, and Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert.
Instead, mayors of Maricopa County’s largest cities and other proponents are considering other options, including a ballot initiative that could remove the requirement of the county having to go through the Legislature or putting the tax directly to voters statewide.
The billions collected from the tax have funded major road projects in Maricopa County, building out Loops 101, 202, and 303. While Republicans and the Democratic governor alike supported extending the tax and its resulting road improvements, they couldn’t agree on how to earmark the tax revenue and how much should go to the light rail.
The governor and Maricopa Association of Government leaders charged it was GOP lawmakers who were moving the goalposts during negotiations, making additional asks for things like set speed limits and pre-empting bans on gasoline-powered vehicles.
GOP lawmakers argued their bill was the best Hobbs would get, and Petersen and Arizona Freedom Caucus Chair Jake Hoffman, a Republican state senator from Queen Creek, said that it gave voters a say in deciding whether to tax themselves.
Lawmakers including Hoffman objected to extending the light rail, arguing the whole county should not pay for routes that serve just three cities, and taking particular umbrage with a route planned near the state Capitol, which was approved by voters in a prior Proposition 400 extension in 2005. Their bill called for Maricopa County residents to vote twice: Once on a tax to fund freeways and main streets, and another on the light rail.
Latest bill signings, vetoes from Hobbs
Hobbs signed 20 bills into law Tuesday, though her first session as governor is more notable for her vetoes.
Among those that will become law are measures that allow law enforcement to charge a fee for obtaining copies of video recordings of up to $46 per hour (Senate Bill 1148); allow emergency medical care technicians on ambulances to provide care for police dogs injured in the line of duty (Senate Bill 1068); and transfer the duties of the Arizona State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers to the Department of Health Services (Senate Bill 1210).
The funeral board was set to expire at the end of the year, putting pressure on lawmakers to pass a bill reassigning its duties, which include licensing mortuaries and handling burial and cremation complaints.
But drawing much more interest this year is the political divide between the Democratic governor and Republican-majority Legislature, a divide evidenced by Hobbs’ record-setting veto count. As of Tuesday, when she added 18 more to that list, Hobbs had vetoed 143 bills, well beyond the record set in 2005 by then-Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano.
Among the bills Hobbs vetoed are:
- Senate Bill 1410: Would have required school districts to create a method for parents to report suspected violations of parental and students’ rights.
- House BIll 2802: Would have toughened penalties for sale and trafficking of fentanyl, to include a minimum term of 5 years prison and maximum of 15 years after a conviction.
Hobbs said the fentanyl bill would “criminalize substance use disorder” and the state must instead prioritize treatment and risk reduction to slow the opioid epidemic.
Six bills relating to elections also were dispatched by the governor, who was elected in November in part for her role defending the state’s election procedures against attacks, a defense she pledged to continue if voters put her in the Governor’s Office.
Those bills would have required a warning on ballot return envelopes that mailing them back after the Friday before Election Day could lead to a delay in results (Senate Bill 1095) and allowed the public to see cast vote records — essentially how an individual voted but without linking it to the person’s identity — after the canvass is certified (Senate Bill 1332).
Another bill would have required Maricopa County to do a hand count of 400 ballots from the 2022 election.
Hobbs vetoed that measure, Senate Bill 1471, noting plainly: “The 2022 election is settled. It’s time to move on and start working to solve the problems faced by everyday Arizonans.”