The political drama over a proposal to raise sales taxes by one cent will shift to the court after the measure’s proponents confirmed they will challenge the Secretary of State’s decision to reject their petition sheets.
“We’ll be filing today,” said Ann-Eve Pedersen, chairwoman of Quality Education and Jobs, the group that submitted nearly 291,000 signatures to election officials on Monday to put the tax increase initiative on the November ballot.
Pedersen said they will also be asking the Maricopa County Superior Court to expedite the hearings so the issue can be resolved quickly.
Both critics and supporters of the initiative expect the issue to be ultimately decided by the Arizona Supreme Court.
In a written statement Tuesday, Pedersen said the initiative’s backers were disappointed, but not surprised, by the decision from state elections officials that the group failed to turn in enough signatures to put their initiative on the November ballot.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett said the group’s petition sheets weren’t attached to a full and correct copy of the initiative that was earlier filed with his office, as required by state law.
Quality Education and Jobs maintains that it filed a correct copy of the ballot language on a computer disk last March.
The group actually filed two versions of the initiative — one in paper format and the other in a disk. The group used the electronic version to gather signatures while Bennett’s office stamped the paper version.
Pedersen’s group is expected to argue in court that it substantially complied with the laws governing citizen initiatives and the error was a technicality.
In its news release, the group said its petitions contained no defects and were circulated in “full conformity” with the state constitution and statutes.
It also blamed its opponents for seizing on “a hyper-technicality in a cynical attempt to try to thwart the will of over 290,000 voters.”
“Arizona law is clear that such hyper-technicalities do not, and should not, deprive Arizona voters of the opportunity to vote for Quality Education and Jobs in November,” the group said.
The campaign has retained former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Stanley Feldman as its attorney.
State law specifically requires that the petition signature sheets must be attached “at all times during circulation to a full and correct copy of the title and text of the measure or constitutional amendment proposed or referred by the petition.”
The electronic version the group used to gather signatures contained two extra paragraphs that directed about $350 million of the tax proceeds to higher education.
That language is missing on the version that is on the Secretary of State’s website.