The Associated Press May 7, 2010, 5:23PM
By PAUL DAVENPORT
One side has big donations paying for television commercials and glossy mailers sent to voters' homes. The other is a shoestring effort based on e-mail chains and homemade signs.
It's a picture of stark contrasts when it comes to campaigning for or against Proposition 100, the temporary sales tax increase on Arizona's May 18 special election ballot.
If voters approve the measure, the state sales tax would rise to 6.6 cents on the dollar from the current 5.6 cents to raise a projected $1 billion annually. The increase would begin June 1 and would last three years.
The Legislature narrowly sent the issue to the ballot in February. That was 11 months after Republican Gov. Jan Brewer first proposed a sales take hike to help close the state's big budget deficits, along with spending cuts, federal stimulus dollars and borrowing.
But it didn't take long for Proposition 100 supporters to begin writing checks in the tens of thousands of dollars -- or amounts even larger -- to committees backing the measure.
Those included over $81,000 from the Arizona and Phoenix chambers of commerce, $250,000 from the University of Arizona Foundation and $80,000 from the Arizona Education Association and its parent union. Other major contributors include hospital companies, a firefighters' union, manufacturers, arts backers, a private prison company, economic development groups and the Arizona School Boards Association.
Their backing has paid for television ads endorsing the ballot measure, and full-mailers plastered with testimonials from teachers, public safety officials and Brewer.
"Our state's future is tied to the success of this measure," one mailer has Brewer saying.
Through midday Friday, a week before the committees must file their comprehensive campaign-finance reports, filings for contributions of $10,000 or more in support of Proposition 100 added up to $1.5 million.
No corresponding contributions were reported for the other side, and one opponent said his side's eventual spending total might not add up to $50,000.
Tom Jenney, state director for Americans for Prosperity, which opposes the measure, said he hasn't been able to oblige radio stations' advertising reps who have said he ought to counter spending by Proposition 100 supporters.
"I have to send back a note saying, nope, I don't have any cash," Jenney said.
That leaves opponents relying mostly on speeches to groups, political networking and conveying their vote-no message through social media and homemade "No on 100" and "Stop the Spending" signs.
"It really is a grassroots campaign with no money," state Sen. Thayer Verschoor, a Gilbert Republican who is chairman of the Ax the Tax Committee. "But there's plenty of people out there that understand the pain that a sales tax increase" would inflict.
However, he admits getting a "little nervous when someone's spending a million-plus dollars to put their side out there."
On the other side, some of the donors have direct stakes in the outcome of Proposition 100 because its defeat would trigger spending cuts that would affect programs such as education, health care and public safety.
That's certainly what the University of Arizona Foundation's leadership believed when it approved the $250,000 contribution, foundation spokesman John C. Brown said.
"This was an appropriate way to support the long-term vitality of the institution," Brown said from Tucson. Otherwise, the institution "could literally be dismantled in three or four years."
And there's a lot at stake for Tucson, Brown added, "We really are a college town still. We don't have a lot of diversity in industry."
The foundation is a nonprofit corporation that acts as the university's fundraising arm, and the contribution wasn't from public money, Brown said.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry decided to support Proposition 100 as part of a plan that also included lobbying Brewer and lawmakers during the recently ended legislative session for long-term business tax cuts to grow the state's economy and create jobs, Hamer said.
"We had felt that the sales tax could stand as a bridge to a time when there's a more robust economic activity," said Hamer. "I personally felt confident that a jobs bill would pass and be signed by the governor before the end of session. Unfortunately that didn't occur."
Campaign-finance filings listed a $50,000 contribution from the state chamber but Hamer said its donations would top $100,000.