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Editor, The Tribune
July 30, 2004
I appreciated the article a few days ago about local leaders backing the fight against utility fee increases and was pleased to see that the city council members that voted to raise our utility rates would have to answer to the people. But today I read in the Tribune that the city of Mesa has rejected the petitions for the utility referendum. The rejection comes after accepting 4,538 valid signatures last week.

On the advice of City Attorney Debbie Spinner, it appears that all of the 4,538 Mesa citizens that signed the utility referendum petitions are not entitled to lawfully challenge the vote of the city council. Ms. Spinner maintains that the increase is an administrative function not a legislative one. Establishing utilities rates has all the earmarks of establishing law - - it effects the rights and responsibilities of the people. Anyone can tell you that when you set a fee you are establishing a law.

The Wennerstrom case that Ms. Spinner referred to dealt with the spending of bond proceeds. (Bonds that had already passed) This utility rate increase is a completely different issue. The question is whether or not the city council (acting as a legislative body) can establish rates and charges. One would have to go pretty far to convolute the idea that establishing a charge for service is a proprietary action and not making a law. It strains one’s common sense!

Does this mean that the five out-of-touch council members are thwarting the will of the people? Are the rights of these folks going to continue to be ignored with every yearly increase in utility rates? Do the five council members that voted to increase Mesa’s utility rates realize that the signatures gathered really represent a much larger constituency than the actual 4,538 signers?

I circulated a petition on this issue that was filled within ten minutes. I immediately realized that this was a major concern to so many of my constituents and regretted that I didn’t have time to obtain even more signatures. However, what good does expending your energies to gather these signatures accomplish if they are to no avail and fall on deaf ears?

I wonder just when and how do 4,538 Mesa citizens get any issue heard. What does it take? What issue is coming up next that the select few on our city council will ignore? People are eager to be a part of the political process that affects their daily lives. However, when their requests are totally ignored what kind of a message does that send?

This is a time when everyone is touting being part of the political process. Here we have a prime example of voters exercising their constitutional rights about a hidden tax increase and their rights are being impeded by a few.

What is the bottom line here? What would it hurt to give the citizens of Mesa the opportunity to vote on this utility rate increase? As an elected representative of the people from District 18 at the Arizona State Legislature, I personally agree with Article 4, Part 1, Section 1, Paragraph (8) of our Arizona Constitution, where we find that the people reserve the power to vote on all initiative and referendums where the legislative body (i.e. the Mesa City Council) has been empowered to legislate or vote.

How many other concealed tax increase will be deemed “administrative acts”?

~ Representative Karen Johnson

Paid for by Committee to Elect Karen Johnson