Arizona

Jun 20, 2012 5:28 PM

Error may keep Ariz. sales tax measure off ballot

PHOENIX (AP) - A proposed initiative that would impose a 1-cent sales tax increase for education, health care and other state services could be kept off the ballot in November because of a clerical error.

Organizers of the Quality Education and Jobs campaign said Wednesday the copy filed with the Arizona Secretary of State's office is missing text that appears on petitions that were circulated to voters. According to Arizona law, the filing posted by the secretary of state must be the same as the filing issued to the public.

Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Secretary Ken Bennett, said it was too soon to tell whether the petitions would be denied. Roberts said Bennett's office would have to figure it out once everything is officially filed.

"By state law, if the initiative is different than what's on our site, we could determine we couldn't accept the filing. Until that time, I can't say whether we are or aren't."

Campaign chairperson Ann-Eve Pedersen said the correct version was given to the office on a disc. However, electronic submissions are not sufficient, Roberts said.

"By statute, we have to date stamp every single page of the initiative itself. We have to accept a paper original of that application," Roberts said.

Pedersen said an attorney's office preparing the documents mistakenly omitted some language. The correct version includes ballot language addressing how the first $1 billion generated by the tax would be allocated.

Since the initial March 9 filing, the campaign has gathered more than 260,000 voter signatures - surpassing the required minimum of 172,809. Pedersen said the group has met a "substantial compliance" standard for citizens' initiatives that is protected under the state constitution.

"For anybody to overturn the will of more than a quarter-million of Arizona voters would violate the state's Constitution," Pedersen said. "That's what's really at stake here, voter will."

The group has retained former retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice Stanley Feldman in case there is a legal challenge.

The initiative was proposed as a way to extend a tax increase set to expire in mid-2013. According to the initiative's organizers, the sales increase would raise an estimated $1 billion in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

About three-quarters of that would be funneled to education, and most of that would go to K-12 district and charter public schools to increase per-student funding and provide money for inflation adjustments and accountability improvements.

In other major allotments, universities would get $50 million for scholarships and operations. A new fund for highways, rail projects and other infrastructure would get $100 million.

A similar amount would pay for grants for social services. And $25 million would pay for re-opening enrollments for low-income children in a health care program that was frozen by a budget cut.

The initiative also includes protections for school funding and money for roadwork, barring reductions or diversions by the Legislature.

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