Education Sales Tax Initiative Disqualified

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Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett disqualified a voter initiative from going to the ballot because the petitions were not filed properly. Find out what happened, and what’s next for the initiative that seeks a permanent sales tax increase to pay for education, from Ann-Eve Pedersen Chairman of the Quality Jobs and Education Committee that’s backing the initiative

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome To "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A voter initiative to keep a one-cent sales tax to pay for education and construction projects may not make it to the ballot. A day after organizers submitted over 290,000 petition signatures Secretary of State, Ken Bennett, announced that the petitions are not valid because they were not attached to the full and Correct copy of the initiative that was filed with his office. Here to explain what happened and what's likely to happen next is Ann-eve Pedersen, Chair of the quality education and jobs committee group that's backing the initiative. Good to have you here.

Ann-Eve Pedersen: Thank you.

Ted Simons: What does this initiative call for?

Ann-Eve Pedersen: The initiative provides a permanent dedicated revenue source for education in the state of Arizona and prevents the legislature from making further cuts to K-12 education. It also provides scholarships for community college and university students, and it reinvests in our very successful vocational education programs and GED programs.

Ted Simons: Are those things spelled out specifically in the petitions?

Ann-Eve Pedersen: Absolutely. All of the language is connected to every single petition. We're required by law to staple the ballot language to every petition that we circulated. So, all of the 290,000 plus people who signed the petition had a copy of the ballot language attached to their petition.

Ted Simons: Okay. So it makes the current temporary sales tax increase from a few years ago permanent, correct?

Ann-Eve Pedersen: That's correct. It will take the place when that expires in 2013, this is a seamless transition into an extension of the one cent.

Ted Simons: You just said it also means no more cuts to K-12. Does that mean you can't sweep the money out of this or does that mean no more cuts?

Ann-Eve Pedersen: It means both actually. We wanted to make sure that we put a lot of voter protections into this initiative. When we were out circulating the petitions, that was the number one question that we were asked. How can we be assured if we vote for this our dollars will be spent the way we want them spent? We were able to assure everyone that we worked very hard to protect these dollars. The legislature, number one, cannot continue to make cuts to K-12 education. And then these new dollars for education must be spent as voters direct. Prop 100 funds went in the general fund and legislators could use them as they wished. I think there was some disappointment that they didn't use them as we had been told they would to completely protect education from further cuts.

Ted Simons: Just to be clear, it is not just you can't touch this particular pot of money. You can't touch any K-12 funding?

Ann-Eve Pedersen: The current funding levels for K-12 cannot be reduced because what we were afraid of is voters would approve this new one cent and then the legislature would come in and undercut the other funding. When we talk about this publicly in front of big groups, that's always the question that we get asked first.

Ted Simons: What happens now with the petitions, secretary of state today disqualifies this initiative from the ballot.

Ann-Eve Pedersen: This is really disappointing. We had parents, grandparents, people from all over the state came to help us carry 60 boxes filled with almost 300,000 signatures up to the secretary of state's office. We deposited them there. Received the receipt. We were alerted early this morning that the secretary of state's office made a determination that in their viewpoint we had not legally complied. What we are now forced to do is go to court, which we will be filing a court action tomorrow, to ask basically the judicial system to overturn secretary Bennett's decision which we don't believe is the correct legal decision.

Ted Simons: The decision was made because 150 some odd words on the petition -- there was a difference in language, correct?

Ann-Eve Pedersen: Right. What happened when we filed our language back on March 9th, we submitted several different things. We submitted the language electronically on a computer disk. That electronic version is the version that is attached to every single petition. We also submitted a statement of organization and we submitted a paper printout and the paper printout is the missing -- missing several lines containing the 152 words.

Ted Simons: It sounds, though, critics are saying what is missing is relatively substantial in that if you hit a 1.1 or whatever it is billion dollar level, it means the money then goes to colleges and no more would go to K-12. Is that accurate?

Ann-Eve Pedersen: No, that is not accurate. It is important to remember that of all of these funds, between 68 to 71% will go to K-12. 80% goes to education overall. So, that assertion is really not accurate. And also, it really is not legally pertinent. The legal issue here is going to be whether or not we substantially complied. And the version of the language that is attached to every petition and that we submitted to the secretary of state's office are the same. You are legally required to submit a text of the initiative, which we did, and to have that text attached to each petition which we did.

Ted Simons: But I want to get back to the idea to ask you if this $1.1 billion benchmark, everything stays the same as it was toward the $1.1 billion?

Ann-Eve Pedersen: The language issue deals with a contingency which may never occur. It depends on whether or not the fund reaches a certain level based on what we receive in revenues statewide. And so, this was language in here that deals with the contingency issue. It doesn't go to the heart of what the initiative does at all. Statements that it somehow takes money away from K-12 are just not accurate.

Ted Simons: Last question, for those watching, yeah, yeah, the law is the law. They are supposed to match it. If they don't match, the secretary of state did the right thing. How do you respond?

Ann-Eve Pedersen: Okay. The law in Arizona, citizens initiative, which is what this is, being brought forward by a grass roots group of parents, grandparents, business owners. In a citizens' initiative, you must substantially comply. We have substantially complied. It is not a strict compliance requirement. Under the letter of the law, we are in compliance with the law and we are confident that the courts will agree with that.

Ted Simons: And they will start looking tomorrow.

Ann-Eve Pedersen: They will.

Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us.

Ann-Eve Pedersen: Thank you, Ted.

Ann-Eve Pedersen : Chairman of the Quality Jobs and Education Committee

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