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Backers of hospital exec pay cap initiative dropping effort

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Arizonans will not get to decide in November whether to cap the pay of hospital executives.

A spokesman for a California-based union which had collected more than 281,000 signatures said late Monday that its efforts would be better spent ensuring that Donald Trump does not get into the White House.

“We have decided not to pursue the executive compensation initiative in this election cycle so we can put all of our energy and resources into the presidential race,” Steve Trossman said in a prepared statement. But Trossman left the door open to a future initiative bid.

The move comes as Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Gerlach was to hear arguments Tuesday over whether the branch of the Service Employees International Union actually had enough valid signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

Challengers, led by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry on behalf of hospitals, were hoping to convince Gerlach that many of the people who circulated the petitions were not legally qualified to do so. That includes the failure of out-of-state or paid circulators to register with the secretary of state’s office and provide an Arizona address.

Any ruling disqualifying a circulator also meant that all the signatures he or she gathered would not be counted. And that could have left backers with fewer than the 150,642 valid names needed to put the issue to voters.

Attorney Jim Barton who was representing the union said he believes there were enough valid signatures. But Barton said the scales are tipped in favor of those challenging petitions.

That’s because the failure of a circulator who has been subpoenaed to show up in court automatically throws out all of the signatures that person gathered. Barton said that provides an incentive for challengers to issue a lot of subpoenas under the premise some people simply won’t appear.

The measure would have limited the total compensation for any hospital executive, manager or administrator to no more than what the president of the United States is paid. That is currently $450,000 a year.

Hospitals that did not comply could have lost their state licenses. And they would have been subject to prosecution under state consumer fraud lawsuits.

Chamber president Glenn Hamer said his organization is “extremely pleased” that the hospital pay initiative will not go to voters. He said it would have harmed the state’s health care sector “and its ability to continue to deliver world-class levels of patient care.”

But Trossman, speaking for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, pointed out that the initiative specifically excluded those involved in direct health care.

Hamer also claimed that the decision by the union to stop fighting the chamber’s legal challenge proves that the concerns about the validity of petition signatures were valid.

Trossman, in his prepared statement, did not address the legal challenge to the petitions. Instead, he said the union chose to refocus its resources “given the critical importance the presidential race has taken on and our fervent believe that Hillary Clinton must be elected and Donald Trump defeated.

Rulings are still pending on two other measures submitted for the November ballot: legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and setting the state minimum wage at $12 an hour by 2020. Both have been challenged by foes.

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