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Business groups aim to keep pay measures off ballot

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Two statewide business groups are trying to keep voters from deciding whether $12 an hour is too much for workers and $216 an hour is too little for hospital executives.

Lawsuits filed in Maricopa County Superior Court contend both measures are legally flawed. They want a judge to rule that Secretary of State Michele Reagan cannot put either of them on the ballot.

The challenge to the wage measure is being brought by the Arizona Restaurant Association, whose members have workers now being paid less than what the new law would require. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is taking the lead on behalf of its member hospitals to sideline the cap on hospital pay.

This is the third bid this year by business interests to keep initiatives off the ballot. The chamber already is a plaintiff in a separate measure to sideline an initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

The potentially more sweeping of the measures would require all employers to pay their workers at least $12 an hour.

A 2006 voter-approved initiative set the base at $6.75 an hour with requirements for annual inflation adjustments. The figure now stands at $8.05.

The measure also would require employers to provide at least three days of paid personal leave, something not mandated in Arizona law.

Supporters led by Living United for Change in Arizona submitted about 270,000 signatures, about 120,000 more than is legally required to put the issue on the ballot.

A second measure would cap the salary of hospital executives at how much the president of the United States is paid. That is currently $450,000 including expenses. That measure was pushed by Service Employees International Union, which turned in more than 281,000 signatures.

In the minimum wage case, attorney Roopali Desai raised questions about whether some of the people who were circulating petitions were not legally qualified. Desai also cites what she said are other defects in the affidavits that circulators are required to sign.

If Judge Joshua Rogers agrees, that would mean none of the signatures they gathered could be counted, even if they did come from registered voters who are qualified to sign petitions. And that, in turn, could leave the wage measure below the 150,642 valid signatures needed to put the issue on the November ballot.

But Desai could have an uphill fight: Her lawsuit acknowledges that Reagan and her staff have not found the same defects she claims and have refused to remove the petition sheets from the count.

Desai has a different legal theory in the case challenging the hospital pay cap.

She said that circulators were out gathering signatures before there was a properly formed campaign committee, something Desai said is a legal precursor of having an initiative drive. That, she said, makes each and every one of those more than 281,000 signatures invalid, meaning no vote on hospital pay.

Chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor defended the moves to keep the measures off the ballot.

We think theyre both terrible ideas and job killers, he said.

Killing either or both measures in court would be a lot cheaper than the millions of dollars it would take to convince voters to reject them.

But Steve Chucri, president of the restaurant group, said he is not trying to undermine the constitutional right of voters to propose their own laws. He said, though, it has to be done right.

We think theres a likelihood of fraud that took place in the gathering of those signatures, he said, a contention that petition organizers will fight in court — and Rogers will ultimately decide.

Taylor said his organizations focus has been on the hospital pay measure.

What youd be doing is youd putting up a big sign on Arizonas health care sector that says we are not able to attract the best and brightest to practice here, he said.

But the measure is crafted so it would not cap the pay of doctors and other health professionals. Instead, it would affect only administrators and managers. And SEIU spokesman Steve Trossman said the state has an interest in capping administrative costs, with most hospitals set up as tax-exempt non-profit operations that get a majority of their funds through government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Rogers has set a hearing for this coming Thursday on the challenge to the hospital pay initiative, with one a week later on the minimum wage question.

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