Jul 252012

By Linda Kor
A judge has overruled a decision made by Secretary of State Ken Bennett to keep the state’s one-cent sales tax increase off the November ballot due to a paperwork error.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Oberbillig made the ruling on July 18, overturning the deci-sion made by Bennett earlier this month. Bennett’s office had removed the item from the ballot after his office received a photocopy of the initiative from supporters that omitted two paragraphs outlining how some of the one-cent tax will be spent. State law requires that an official copy of the initiative be submitted to the Secretary of State, but the judge ruled that Bennett also received a correct version of the initiative on a compact disk and that a simple correction would have avoided any court action.
In making his decision, Oberbillig stated the petitions that voters signed included the full and correct text, and that was what is important. Initiative supporters needed to submit 172,809 voter signatures to qualify it for the Nov. 6 ballot, and the petitions they submitted July 5 carried 290,849 signatures. With the rejection of some petition pages for technical reasons, 273,870 signatures remained on sheets deemed valid and 13,694 of those signatures will now be checked by recorders,
If approved by voters, the measure would initially provide approximately $1 billion in annual revenues for K-12 schools, universities, transportation projects, social programs and health care. That figure would increase over time as the state continues to grow and the economy improves. The tax has been in place for the past three years and expires mid-2013, at which time the new tax would go into effect if it is approved by voters.
If the tax is not continued, it will result in a drastic cut in state revenues, an estimated $1 billion in a state budget of $8 billion. “With the proposed extension, voters who go to the polls in November can vote to con-tinue the one cent sales tax, with the majority of revenues going to support public education. Obviously, if the voters in Arizona fail to renew this state sales tax, school districts like Holbrook will be forced to cut services and lay off staff,” explained Holbrook School District Business Manager Garry McDowell.
With the tax making up 12 percent of the state’s general fund and education making up 40 percent of the state’s budget, McDowell is concerned with what may happen if the tax does not receive the continued support of voters. “Even in the current budget situation districts are laying off teachers. Arizona ranks at the bottom for K-12 funding in the country already, so this would be another big hit,” stated McDowell.
The one-cent sales tax initially went into effect in 2010 and increased Arizona’s state sales tax from 5.6 cents to 6.6 cents on every dollar of taxable items purchased. It generated $900 million total this year and $600 million for public schools.
Secretary Bennett may still appeal the decision in the Arizona Supreme Court, but if he should do so, the decision will need to be expedited in order to make the November ballot deadline.