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8/11/2012 9:53:00 PM
Arizona ballot spot for tax increase is up to court
The Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) - Legal briefs filed with the Arizona Supreme Court provide a preview of the kind of a lineup of advocacy groups and others who'll likely be taking sides for and against a proposed increase in the state's sales tax.

That's if the justices rule that the initiative measure can go the ballot, and for now, the debate centers on just that question.

If put on the ballot and approved by voters, the penny-on-the-dollar increase would take effect in mid-2013 upon the expiration of a same-size temporary increase approved in 2010.

Supporters say the state needs more money for schools and other services and that the resulting spending would be worthwhile investment. Opponents say taxpayers shouldn't be burdened and that the state should live within its means.

But the issue now, the one being debated in court, is whether a clerical error that resulted in two paragraphs being omitted from a paper copy of the measure filed at the start of the initiative campaign is enough to keep if off the ballot.

Public school groups, business alliances, university students and others who support the initiative are on one side, arguing the voters' right to use the initiative process to set public policy shouldn't be thwarted over a minor paperwork mistake that was caught in plenty of time to prevent confusion, let alone any real damage.

Not so, say election officials as well as initiative opponents who include Republican legislative leaders, a business-backed taxpayers group and a conservative pro-growth advocacy group. They say there's already been confusion over how the sale tax would work and that the initiative must be kept off the ballot because supporters didn't play by rules that protect the integrity of the initiative process.

Though there are some quibbles about details, what's not in dispute is the gist of how the current controversy began.

When initiative supporters launched their petition campaign back in March, they filed a paper copy of the measure with Secretary of State Ken Bennett's office and also submitted an electronic version on a compact disc.

Because of what's been described as a botched printing job in the office of a lawyer who helped prepare the initiative, the paper copy was an outdated version that lacked two paragraphs spelling out how some of the sales tax revenue would be spent.

The CD version included the two paragraphs, as supporters intended all along, as did required copies attached to petitions circulated to voters.

The error wasn't noticed until months later, before the circulated petitions were filed but long after Bennett's office posted the incomplete version on its website.

The court case began after Bennett in June declared the petitions invalid because the copies of the initiative attached to petitions didn't match the paper filing with his office.

Initiative supporters sued. Noting that the initiative petitions circulated to voters had the intended version of the initiative, a trial judge overturned Bennett's decision. He appealed to the Supreme Court.

With the two paragraphs, there would be smaller increases in funding for universities and transportation projects. Without the paragraphs, there'd be larger funding increases for K-12 education.

The legislative budget staff said $650 million is at stake over 17 years, out of a total of $25 billion of sales tax revenue during the same period.

That's too small a percentage of the overall revenue to sway any voter's decision so the error is inconsequential, and there's no evidence that the error confused anybody during the petition process, initiative supporters argued.

Bennett's lawyers argued that there was confusion among those trying to analyze the proposal, and that people who viewed the version on his office's web site could have misinformed others. And the differing spending numbers alone should decide the issue, his lawyers said.

Final briefs in the case were filed Aug. 3, and the Supreme Court could rule at any time. The justices haven't said whether they'll first schedule a hearing to hold oral arguments.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, August 13, 2012
Article comment by: Happy in PV

Response to M D I think everyone here has stated their thoughts just like you did. Yes we gave when ask for the money and what has changed except to ask for more of the same??
We voted to give for a "LIMITED TIME". That time has come and gone so if the added funds haven't caused folks in charge, to get reorganized by now, they have no incentive to do so in the future.
Money train has ended so please get off now.

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2012
Article comment by: M D

@Gracie, nen, and there you go again . So. Your logic is to keep it off the ballot because you don't support the idea of the tax. Your reasons for not supporting the law may. or may not be valid, but refusing to let voters decide is foolish. My understanding is it is not a simple extension, but a new proposal with stronger safeguards to keep our legislature from raiding it for issues unrelated to education.

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2012
Article comment by: Taxed to Death

Learn to live within the budget. Start cutting. That's what the tax-PAYERS do. By the time you pay the state and local taxes on items, it's ridiculous. Then look at all your utility/cable bills - the taxes we pay on them every month is crazy.
If yet another tax increase goes on the ballot - I'm voting no.

I laughed when people voted the 1% tax increase in - they seriously believed it was temporary. Public school groups always and forever have their hands out for yet more money. Show some evidence that Arizona kids are really learning before you beg for more hard-earned tax-payer money.

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2012
Article comment by: Gracie xx

I know where it's going: to build covered parking for the teachers and staff at Liberty Traditional School in HUSD. Know what your tax dollars are going to pay for. Apparently it's not REALLY for education.

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2012
Article comment by: N. E. N.

I am a supporter of public education, but after two years of increased sales tax with no improvement in education I will not support this again. Our government wasted the money we've given them already.

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2012
Article comment by: There you go again

Courier: Wouldn't it be nice if you did a complete reporting job? For instance, we have had this sales tax to help education for three years. Where did the money go. Yes, some went to teachers and classroom expenses. More, however went to bureaucracies, pensions and bloated healthcare expenses. Still more money went to non-education areas. We still laid off teachers. Friends of mine were laid off. So how will extending the sales tax help education when the money will mostly be spent on not education or non classroom expenses? You are out of other people's money.

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