Sales Tax Initiative Supporters Disappointed Bennett Appeals

The Prop 204 Quality Education and Jobs campaign sent out a press release in reaction to yesterday's news that Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett filed an appeal of the Maricopa County Superior Court Judge's decision to overturn Bennett's rejection of the campaign's petition:

By filing an appeal, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett's today failed to keep his public commitment to respect the ruling of a Maricopa County Superior Court judge who overturned his rejection of 290,849 citizen signatures.

"We're disappointed by Secretary Bennett's decision to appeal the court ruling," said Ann-Eve Pedersen, Chair of the Prop 204-Quality Education and Jobs campaign. "His job is to facilitate democracy, not obstruct it. By doing the bidding of anti-education forces, he is hurting not only schoolchildren but damaging public trust in the democratic process."

Bennett stated in a July 13 Arizona Daily Star Op-Ed that: "If the (Superior Court) judge rules that the initiative can be placed on the ballot, our office will complete our work and place the measure on the ballot."

Today, he failed to keep that commitment to voters. "His unwillingness to keep his word erodes public confidence in his office and puts additional state tax dollars at risk," said Pedersen.

The Prop 204-Quality Education and Jobs measure will renew the one-cent sales tax to provide dedicated, permanent revenue to provide basic funding for education that the Legislature cannot cut. The ballot measure will support education across the spectrum: K-12, charter schools, vocational education, community colleges, universities and GED programs.

Last month, the campaign filed a record number of petition signatures with the Secretary of State's Office to place the measure on the ballot. Bennett, however, ruled the petitions invalid, because of a clerical error that omitted 152 words from an 8,967-word paper copy of the ballot language filed with his office. Bennett decided that although supporters had filed an electronic version of the ballot language with the complete language that matched the language attached to each petition, that the paper copy with the missing words was the official version.

In a lawsuit, supporters argued that they had fully complied with the Arizona Constitution and state law, which do not specify that only paper copies are official and do require that a "full and correct" copy of the ballot language be attached to each petition, which did occur in this case. In his ruling made from the bench on July 18 after a hearing lasting a brief 20 minutes, Judge Robert Oberbillig agreed with education supporters and overturned Bennett's decision.

"I honestly don't know why we need to be here," Oberbillig stated during the hearing, questioning why Bennett's office made the arbitrary decision to determine that the paper copy, rather than the electronic copy, was the "official" version.

Following the ruling last week, campaign leaders urged Bennett to resist the calls by anti-education groups to appeal, thwarting the will of the voters, and incurring additional costs to taxpayers. By law, the state must reimburse education supporters all legal costs and fees if Bennett loses the case.

In spite of the latest hurdle, education supporters remain optimistic that voter rights will ultimately prevail and Prop. 204 will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

"The law is on our side. We will ultimately prevail," said Pedersen. "The court case is not stopping us from moving forward to mobilize a vast grassroots network to pass Prop. 204 on Nov. 6."

In furtherance of that goal, supporters announced today support from two influential statewide education organizations who have formally endorsed the initiative.

Arizona PTA, the statewide affiliate of the largest child advocacy association in the world, has endorsed the initiative. "Arizona PTA members are cautious about taxes and passionate about helping all children reach their full potential," said Rochelle Wells, Arizona PTA president. "Our organization wholeheartedly supports this initiative because it provided dedicated funding for quality K-12 education, college scholarships, and job training, accountability to the taxpayer and no new taxes."

Friends of the Arizona School Board Association also has endorsed the initiative. "One-fifth of funding has been cut from our public schools over the last four years the second biggest cut in education funding among all states," said Dee Navarro, president of the organization. "The time to invest is now."

Both organizations are now committed to tap their extensive grassroots resources to inform voters about the initiative.