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Voters To Decide Education Funding, Pension Reform Measures

Matt York
AP Photo

Voters across Arizona head to the polls Tuesday to decide the fate of education funding and pension overhaul measures at a special election.

The election will also test whether efforts Maricopa County took to avoid a repeat of the long lines seen during the March presidential primary worked. But another snag — the failure of the secretary of state to mail voter education pamphlets to at least 400,000 voters — has also marred the run-up to the election.

The county nearly doubled the number of voting centers from the 60 it used in March to 116, county elections department spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew said Monday. Because independents who make up the largest voting bloc in the state are eligible this time, officials hope to see a much smoother voting process, Bartholomew said. County officials said independents flocking to vote in the contentious Republican and Democratic primaries even though they were closed to non-party members were a major factor in the hourslong lines seen on March 22.

The four most populous counties in the state mailed out more than 1.8 million early ballots. An Associated Press survey of election directors in Maricopa, Pima, Pinal and Yavapai counties found more than 42 percent of those ballots have been returned by Monday morning.

Proposition 123 is a plan that would pump $3.5 billion in new money into the state’s K-12 school system over 10 years using general fund and trust land cash.

It is designed to settle a long-running lawsuit over school funding. Schools sued over the Legislature’s failure to follow a voter-approved law and increase school funding each year to adjust for inflation.

The measure provides about 70 percent of what schools said they were owed and stops a court fight that has already dragged out for more than five years.

Gov. Doug Ducey, lawmakers and many education community leaders support the deal. Opponents include state Treasurer Jeff DeWit and the League of Women Voters of Arizona.

Proposition 124 will ratify a major part of an overhaul of the police and firefighter pension system that was enacted by the Arizona Legislature earlier this year.

The changes voters must ratify include lower cost-of-living increases for current and future retirees and are designed to help the retirement system for public safety officers recover from a major drop in the plan’s funded status. The funding level has sunk to just 50 percent of its expected liabilities while employers have seen their contribution rates soar to an average of more than 42 percent of an employee’s salary.

The larger overhaul of the pension system establishes a new tier for newly hired officers, limiting maximum pension payments and equalizing employer and employee contribution rates.

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