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Supreme Court upholds sales tax initiative

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled today that a citizen initiative to make permanent a one-cent sales tax increase can go to the November ballot, despite the organizers’ error in submitting two different copies of the proposed ballot measure to the Secretary of State’s Office.

“Under the particular circumstances of this case, we hold that plaintiffs substantially complied with the statutory requirement that an application for an initiative serial number ‘set forth … the text of the proposed law,’” wrote Chief Justice Rebecca Berch.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett blocked the initiative from the ballot because organizers accidentally submitted two versions of the measure to his office. The 290,849 signatures collected by organizers were all collected on the version that the committee said was the correct one.

But the Supreme Court ruled that organizers “substantially complied” with state law, the legal doctrine for citizen initiatives. Committee Chairwoman Ann-Eve Pedersen praised the Supreme Court for rejecting arguments by “anti-education” legislators, lobbyists and Bennett.

“This really was a case of powerful political forces vs. the people of Arizona – and the people of Arizona won thanks to an unbiased judiciary,” Pedersen said in a press statement. “This court victory clears the path to victory on Election Day, when we will be able to assure a generation of children and beyond that their education is a priority in our state.”

Despite his lawsuit against the initiative, Bennett said he was satisfied with the court’s determination that the language mix-up was not a fatal error, and said he was pleased that voters will get a chance to weigh in on the initiative. He denied that his goal was to keep the initiative off the ballot.

“Our office was never trying to keep the measure on or off the ballot; rather it was about being certain that state law was sufficiently followed.  The error had never occurred in Arizona before and it was important to seek a judicial resolution at the state’s highest court,” Bennett said in a press statement.

The Secretary of State’s Office and county election officials determined last week that the Quality Education and Jobs initiative has enough valid signatures to go the ballot.

The initiative still has two more judicial hurdles to clear. Opponents of the initiative are asking the Supreme Court to overturn a Superior Court ruling upholding language in the state’s voter publicity pamphlet, and a ruling on the ballot language for the initiative is pending in Superior Court as well.

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