Sales Tax Extension

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Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett rejected petition signatures for the Quality Education and Jobs Initiative, which would extend a one-cent state sales tax. Bennett said wording on petition sheets didn’t match what was given to his office electronically. A court hearing will be held on the rejection of the signatures. Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic will tell us what the court decides.

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Maricopa County superior court judge ruled an initiative that would permanently extend the stay's temporary one cent sales tax is eligible for November ballot. The measure had been taken off by Secretary of State Ken Bennett who said language on the petition sheet didn't match language given to his office. Here now to talk about the case is Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic. Good to see you again. You have been following this story. Is that pretty much what the lawsuit was about, change of wording?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. It was -- well, the lawsuit was about challenging Bennett's decision saying he was ruling on a hyper technicality but at core through was a mismatch between the petition circulated to voters and the official copy that was in Bennett's office. There were two versions of the ballot initiative filed with his office, one on paper, one on a compact disk of the one on the C.D. was the correct version. The paper that they scanned in and made available on the website did not match what was circulated to voters.

Ted Simons: so because the paper won't did not match the Secretary of State's office basically said the 290 some odd thousand signatures, out the door.

Mary Jo Pitzl: he decided that less than a day after they were filed. He has said -- he said he would take the path that would most quickly get them to court. I guess he figured it was quickest to disqualify it.

Ted Simons: Was it 1100 some odd words that didn't match?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. About two paragraphs, but they deal with hundreds of millions of dollars of money. It directs how after this one cent sales tax, if and when it reaches $1.5 billion in revenue in a year it directs some pots of money that the excess will go to. That goes to construction and universities. That language was not presented to voters if anybody signed that petition, actually read the 15-page measure attached to the petition.

Ted Simons: so they did not get those words on the sheets of paper that were signed.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right. It goes to a mismatch. That was the heart of the argument. You can't put one thing in as the official version and another thing out to voters. But the judge said, look, there's nothing in the constitution that defines what an official version is. The state's argument was this is what we determined authorize practice. The judge said it's not -- show me where that's written down.

Ted Simons: the group said substantially it's the same thing. The voters are not being misled and the judge agreed.

Mary Jo Pitzl: he did. He pointed to the state Supreme Court ruling that came out right before July 4th that allowed Jean McDermott to remain on the ballot and noted the Supreme Court said nobody was duped by this. Everybody understood the intent. Yes, so there was some -- she didn't file the paperwork real properly, didn't write her name down in correct order, but we're going to overlook that because the bigger issue is the intent of the voters. The judge in court today seemed to suggest that's what he was looking at, the intent of the initiative. That people pretty much got it, they are signing a petition to raise the sale tax or keep it where it's at for the purpose of education and construction.

Ted Simons: the Secretary of State's office will appeal, will not?

Mary Jo Pitzl: We don't know yet. The judge made this verbal ruling. They want to see his written decision and said they will make a decision on an appeal by the end of the week. If they do appeal it's likely to go straight to the Supreme Court.

Ted Simons: So the initiative as we speak is eligible for the November ballot. You mentioned -- tell us again, what exactly this does. I think people think it makes permanent the one cent sales tax but it does more than that.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. It purports to pick up where the one cent sales tax, the temporary one, leaves off. That expires May of next year no matter what happens. The one Governor Brewer champions goes away May 31 of 2013. These folks say, we want to continue that one cent sales tax, keep it going, and they direct it to a variety of causes which in very broad terms are education, some money for infrastructure projects, a little bit for children's health program. I think there's a little bit in there for public safety as well for the highway patrol. There are many, many pots of money. You will need a flowchart to determine where this all goes to the specific funds.

Ted Simons: but it's dedicated funding, and no one can mess with it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Correct. That's where this is drawing a lot of opposition. This money will go directly to the stated purposes and lawmakers can't touch that. Nor can lawmakers cut the budget of the education money they do control to say you're getting this money for the sales tax so we'll take it out on the back side. It prevents them from doing that. This is the budgeting by ballot that a lot of lawmakers and policy types say this is just not good for Arizona. The proponents said, we have tried to get education funding out of the legislature. They ain't gonna do it, so we are.

Ted Simons: last question, are we seeing politicians lining up on either side of this? The governor obviously championed the one cent sales tax.

Mary Jo Pitzl: She has said she opposes this. You have the leadership of the legislature opposed to it. Somebody said to me, who cares if you don't have any Republicans standing up for this? That would probably only help our cause.

Ted Simons: Interesting stuff. Until an appeal is filed that thing is on the ballot.

Mary Jo Pitzl: right. They are still processing the signatures but they are very close to qualifying it for the ballot.

Ted Simons: The judge didn't waste too much time.

Mary Jo Pitzl: this was less than an hour. Standing room only courtroom. Probably by the time he said he asked the supporters, are you offended that secretary Bennett isn't here? He's the guy you're suing. He was out of town. When they said no, folks at service said, this is not going to be good. The judge ruled, it took less an hour for the whole shebang.

Ted Simons: Great information. thanks for joining us.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Sure.

Mary Jo Pitzl:Reporter, The Arizona Republic;

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