The Arizona Legislature, in our view and that of many others, has serious boundary issues.
Where should its reach end and that of the state's municipalities and counties begin?
It's a question with wide ramifications for civic health around the state, and as Flagstaff approaches its municipal primary election, it is a timely one to ask. The erosion of self-determination can be corrosive of broad-based citizen involvement in local government, resulting in governance either by special interests or by unaccountable bureaucrats.
We've seen such effects already in Arizona school districts as control of the purse strings and the curriculum has shifted from local boards to state lawmakers. Most districts can barely field a slate of candidates for school board elections, and teacher morale, according to the latest surveys, has never been lower.
Further, when citizens do try to take back control by voting for budget overrides or a statewide dedicated tax for education, lawmakers attempt to thwart them at every turn. The latest is a bid to require a two-thirds majority for any local tax hike and a "poison pill" provision that would back out from income tax collections the same amount raised by an extension of the sales tax for education.
And just so voters get the message on who's in charge, some lawmakers want to make the two-thirds majority requirement on ballot initiatives retroactive so that previous citizen end-runs around legislative obstructionism, such as the First Things First early childhood initiative and health care for the working poor, would need to be revoted.
CROSSING THE LINES
We have no problem with a legislative agenda that attempts to streamline and make uniform the laws and programs that clearly cross municipal and county boundaries. The most obvious ones are traffic and crime statutes, water and air pollution, and business regulations that promote the smooth flow of commerce.
By the same token, the Legislature ought to recognize that some areas of the state have unique needs that deserve protection from encroachment by other cities and counties. In Flagstaff and Tucson, dark skies are a key part of a vibrant astronomy economic sector, but because light pollution can spread for hundreds of miles, lawmakers should set statewide standards that put limits on electronic billboards, spotlights and other intrusions into the night sky. If air pollution can be controlled statewide, so can light pollution.
Instead, the legislative supermajority appears not to recognize local self-determination when it gets in the way of an ideological hobby-horse they are riding that day, especially if it is tied to their own self-interest or a special interest group that is pumping up their campaign funds. We are thinking specifically of the lawmaker who touts school choice while funneling millions of dollars in state tax credits to private schools through a private school scholarship organization that he happens to run. Or the numerous lawmakers seeking to wrest control of gun safety laws away from cities and universities in the name of Second Amendment rights, their principles abetted by the furious lobbying -- and fundraising -- of the NRA.
We've said it before and we'll repeat it here: This is not only rank hypocrisy but a threat to local civic engagement. How can the governor and lawmakers complain with a straight face about unfunded federal health care mandates, then turn around and require local libraries and rec centers to allow in guns unless they supply lockers or security guards -- at their own cost, of course? It's one thing to set uniform standards for criminal acts; it's another to tell cities how to establish the local conditions that protect public safety. Lawmakers who do the latter and still claim the mantle of a limited-government conservative have broken faith with their own political calling.
Then there are the attempts by the legislative majority to sabotage voter-approved agencies designed to bypass them, such as the Independent Redistricting Commission, Clean Elections, and the Arizona Corporation Commission. This is further proof that theirs is a philosophy of political aggrandizement, not civic advancement. In these areas, they cannot credibly maintain that the voters back home in their districts have empowered them to pursue their personal agendas. These are statewide rebukes to what voters perceive as an inability by the Legislature to handle, free of self-interest, the tasks of drawing election district lines, financing their campaigns, or setting fair utility rates and renewable energy standards. Lawmakers who continue to undermine these independent initiatives are essentially telling citizens their votes don't matter.
That kind of attitude from elected officials who have control over an $8 billion state budget and an army of state workers numbering several hundred thousand can be daunting to Arizona cities and counties that, with a few exceptions, lack the clout to fight back. We can only urge Flagstaff voters, as they cast ballots next week and in May, to stay involved with the struggle for local self-determination and urge elected leaders to do so, too.
And when it comes time to cast ballots for state lawmakers, let them know that the future lies in state-municipal cooperation and partnerships, not in "my way or the highway." The common good in public life can be a difficult thing to work out, but right now the legislative supermajority isn't even trying.
Serving this week on the Daily Sun's Editorial Advisory Board are Publisher Don Rowley, Editor Randy Wilson and citizen members Jean Richmond Bowman, Julianne Hartzell and Stephanie McKinney.