Secretary of State Ken Bennett said Monday he will appeal a court ruling that overturned his decision regarding a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax ballot initiative.
Bennett previously said the measure did not qualify for the ballot because sponsors submitted improper paperwork. But a judge overruled him, saying the error was minor and should not disqualify the proposal.
Bennett’s appeal extends the court fight over the measure that supporters say would provide approximately $1 billion of new money annually for K-12 schools, universities, transportation projects, social programs and health care.
Elections officials, meanwhile, are verifying signatures, in case the final ruling allows the initiative to go before voters.
Bennett told The Associated Press he’s appealing the trial judge’s ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court in an effort to protect the election process and clear up confusion.
“We need clarity from the highest court of this state to make sure we don’t have voter confusion from this or especially future elections because the impact of the trial court’s decision is to really change longstanding procedures that are intended to guarantee the integrity of our election process, to make sure what is filed in our office is what is circulated,” Bennett said.
If approved by voters, the tax increase would begin in mid-2013 with the expiration of a temporary tax hike approved by voters three years ago.
Bennett had said omission of two paragraphs on the printed copy of the initiative proposal submitted to his office meant all the initiative petitions were invalid. He said that was because the copy submitted to his office didn’t match those attached to petitions.
However, Judge Robert Oberbillig of Maricopa County Superior Court overturned Bennett’s decision, ruling that it was enough that complete copies were attached to petitions.
Ann-Eve Pedersen, head of the initiative campaign, said Bennett’s decision to appeal the judge’s ruling puts “political purposes” ahead of the interests of school children.
Oberbillig’s ruling didn’t leave confusion, Pedersen said. “He was very clear that we complied with state law and we complied with the Arizona Constitution,” she said.
Bennett said Monday he was troubled that it didn’t matter to Oberbillig that the printed copy submitted to the secretary of state’s office in March at the start of the initiative campaign didn’t match those attached to petitions.
The submitted copy was posted on the office’s website for months for individuals and groups to study and evaluate, Bennett said.
“And this ruling seems to kind of beg the question why do we even have a pre-filing process if people can file one version at the beginning and then circulate a different one,” he said.
“We’re not trying to keep something off the ballot,” Bennett said. “We’re processing the signatures. And if the ultimate decision is to go on the ballot, we’re fine with that.”
Oberbillig said once Bennett learned in June that the paper submittal lacked two paragraphs that said how some of the revenue would be spent, he should have used a digital version, which also was submitted to his office and which was correct, or allowed a replacement of the paper copy.
The judge said either step would have followed the law while ensuring that 290,000 voters who signed petitions “be given an opportunity for a voice through the initiative process.”