Backers file petitions to extend 1-cent Ariz. sales tax

Arizona Daily Star
Monday, June 25, 2012
Howard Fischer

PHOENIX — Backers of extending the state’s temporary 1-cent sales tax submitted more than 290,000 signatures Monday to put the issue on the November ballot.

But at this point all they’ve really done is guaranteed a court fight.

Backers of the Quality Education and Jobs initiative said the state cannot afford to give up the $1 billion a year that will go away once the voter-approved tax ends this coming May. The measure, if approved, would make the levy permanent, with a specific set of instructions of how the money is divided.

Ann-Eve Pedersen, organizer of the drive, said the dedicated revenues source is designed to replace the funds that lawmakers have taken from education in prior years to balance the budget. The measure also is set up so that legislators cannot raid those funds in times of future needs.

Some of the funds also are earmarked for other programs, including health care for children and university scholarships. And a share would go to road and other projects designed to stimulate the construction industry.

All that, however, presumes the issue will ever get to voters.

State law spells out that no signatures can be gathered before circulators submit “the text of the proposed law” to the Secretary of State’s Office. But the paper version of the measure submitted in March does not precisely match what was on the petitions that voters were asked to sign.

Pedersen acknowledged the paper copy was of an earlier version of the measure. But she pointed out that an accurate copy was submitted at the same time, on a computer disc.

She said that meets the legal requirements.

Matt Roberts, a spokesman for the office, said his agency will be reviewing the law over the next few days to determine whether the petitions should be formally accepted. No matter what is decided, though, the issue will end up in court.

Pedersen said her organization will sue if the petitions are rejected. The group already has retained Stanley Feldman, a former state Supreme Court justice.

But Kevin McCarthy, executive director of the Arizona Tax Research Association, vowed his own lawsuit if the petitions are accepted.

He said there is no difference of how the money is divided for the first $1 billion collected.

McCarthy said the paper version — the one the Secretary of State’s Office has posted online — gives more to education than the version actually circulated, which diverts more for construction projects. That difference of who benefits, he said, amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars a year.