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Arizona Proposition 203 (2008)

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Arizona Proposition 203, also known as the Arizona Transit Plan or the TIME Initiative, was a proposal to enact via an initiated state statute approval of $42 billion in spending over 30 years. The proposal was to fund roads, rail, highway and other transit projects. Some of the key projects included expansion of Interstates 40, 17, 10 and 8; commuter rail between northern Arizona and south of Tucson; expanded light rail in the Valley and a street-car or rapid-bus system in Tucson.

Supporters of the initiative filed signatures on July 3, 2008 to qualify for the November 4, 2008 ballot in Arizona, but problems with signature validity led to a decision by the Arizona Secretary of State that it had insufficient signatures to qualify.[1][2]

Proposition 203 was one of three Arizona ballot initiatives in 2008 that filed signatures but failed to make the ballot. Initiative petition sheets that were said to have been flawed to a possibly criminal degree were referred to the state's attorney general for investigation relating to petition drive management practices.[3][4]

Problems with ballot status

In an announcement described by the Tucson Weekly as an election stunner on Monday, August 11, Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer issued a statement disqualifying Proposition 203 from the November ballot on the basis that supporters had collected insufficient signatures. Supporters had initially turned in 260,698 petition signatures. After verification and processing, state and county election officials determined that 122,247 were invalid, which left 138,451 valid signatures versus a requirement of 153,365--a shortfall of about 15,000 valid signatures. The overall invalidity rate was 42%, a historically high rate for Arizona.[5]

The TIME initiative was the second of nine initiatives that had filed signatures hoping to qualify for the November ballot to receive a pink slip, along with Prop 101.

Supporters of the TIME initiative filed a lawsuit to re-claim signatures dis-allowed by election authorities, saying it believed it could prove many of the rejected signatures are valid.[6]

TIME spokesman Tom Ziemba said, "Based on our analysis of the signatures that were thrown out by the secretary of state and Maricopa County, we're very confident we will get enough to qualify for the ballot."[7]

However, a trial judge ruled in mid-August that supporters had missed a deadline to challenge petition checks by Secretary of State Jan Brewer's office. A state Supreme Court ruling Aug. 26, 2008 upheld this ruling, ending hope for the initiative supporters.[8]

Early indication of ballot status woes

On Aug. 1, 2008, the Arizona Republic wrote that election officials scrutinizing signatures submitted on Proposition 203, along with two other initiatives aiming for the November ballot, were finding a 35% rate of invalid signatures on the petitions submitted in early July.[9]

Signatures for the ballot initiative were collected by Petition Partners and Ziemba WAID Public Affairs at a cost of $199,664 through the end of June.[10] Petition Partners was also the company hired to collect signatures on another proposition, Proposition 101, that didn't not survive the validation process.

TIME turned down signatures

In May 2008, the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona (HBACA) negotiated with Gov. Napolitano, a key supporter of the TIME initiative. HBACA said they would support the initiative if provisions in it to tax developers were removed. In exchange for this concession, the TIME committee understood that HBACA would donate $100,000 toward the signature-collection effort.

Rather than donating the money, HBACA itself saw to the collection of 18,000 signatures. However, when HBACA attempted to give the signatures to the TIME committee, the signatures were rejected and, the Arizona Capitol Times reports, the relationship between the two groups soured.

In July, TIME treasurer Martin Schultz said, "We thought [the HBACA's] obligation was $100,000 cash" as opposed to actual signatures.

Connie Wilhelm, president of the HBACA, on learning of Prop. 203's disqualification on August 11, said, "It's always unfortunate when these things happen, but perhaps it would have been prudent for them to accept our signatures," said Wilhelm, who added that she was "very confident the signatures we gathered were good."[11]

Supporters

Then-Governor Janet Napolitano was the key sponsor of the ballot measure along with the Transportation & Infrastructure Moving AZ's Economy (TIME) Coalition.

The group said the additional tax was a good trade-off because currently commuters were paying a "time tax"--the time wasted in traffic--that would have been alleviated by their financial investment in enhanced road infrastructure, supporters claimed.

Estimated fiscal impact

Funding for the initiative would have resulted in impact fees assessed on new homes and a sales-tax increase up to one cent on each dollar, according to the Arizona Legislative Council.

Donors to Proposition 203

By the end of July, supporters of Prop. 203 had given about $1 million to a campaign committee organized to promote the TIME initiative. The Arizona Republic reported that "the vast majority of contributions have come from businesses with a financial stake in roadwork and other transportation projects: construction companies, contractors and engineering firms."[12]

Opposition

State Senator Ron Gould opposed the transit plan, citing Arizona's stagnant economy. About the petition drive to qualify the measure for the ballot, he said, "They're going to have fun gathering signatures for a tax increase. I don't hear people calling out for a tax increase on transportation."[13]

The Sierra Club opposed the plan on the grounds that too much of the tax increase would have been allocated to roads.[14]

The Arizona Free Enterprise Club and the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers opposed the plan on the grounds that too little of the tax increase would have been allocated for roads.[14]

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce stayed on the sidelines.[15]

Ballot description lawsuit

  • Supporters of the Arizona Transit Plan filed a lawsuit on July 11 against the Arizona Legislative Council (ALC), the Arizona government agency charged with writing neutral descriptions of ballot propositions to be included in a voter pamphlet produced by the state, mailed to voters and available at polling places. The TIME supporters said that description created by ALC is "misleading and prejudicial." The lawsuit requested that the current language be rejected, and the Council required to reconvene to rewrite the language to meet the impartial analysis standard.[16][17]
  • Specifically, the current ballot summary referred to the TIME initiative as a 17.8% tax increase saying, "The transaction privilege tax ("sales tax") and the use tax would be increased from 5.6 cents per one dollar to 6.6 cents per one dollar (a 17.8 percent tax increase)."
  • Supporters of TIME didn't dispute the figure but did dispute the description as being prejudicial, and also believed the language "unfairly emphasizes the tax increase included in the proposal over its effects on state transportation systems."[18][19]
  • The Goldwater Institute, a think tank in Arizona that supports fiscal conservatism, filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club arguing in favor of keeping the original ballot language as written by the ALC.[20]

Plaintiffs win lawsuit

In a ruling issued Friday, August 1, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Edward Burke overturned the ballot language written by the ALC. Burke said in his ruling that including the amount of the tax increase and the corresponding percentage increase (17.8%) in the ballot description of the TIME initiative would confuse voters, who might interpret the 17.8% figure as 17.8 cents. Burke said the wording is "intended to exaggerate the tax increase" and constitutes an "editorial comment."[21][22][23]

Polls

A statewide poll of 3,000 small business owners in June showed split support from the business community: 52% support the plan and 48% of those polled oppose the plan.[14]

See also

External links

References

  1. 350,000 sign trust-land reform petitions, July 2, 2008
  2. Arizona Republic, "'Flawed' election petitions face review," September 13, 2008
  3. Arizona Republic, "'Flawed' election petitions face review," September 13, 2008
  4. Phoenix New Times, "Citizen initiatives have been kicked off the ballot this year in record numbers, and the problems could go much deeper than invalid signatures," August 21, 2008
  5. Tucson Weekly, "Election stunner: TIME initiative does not make ballot," August 11, 2008
  6. TIME transportation initiative off fall ballot, Aug. 11, 2008
  7. Arizona Central: "Disqualification puts transit ballot measure in doubt," Aug. 12, 2008
  8. [http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2008/08/26/ap5360248.html Forbes.com, "ruling keeps roads, land measures off Arizona ballot," August 26, 2008.
  9. Arizona Republic, "Backers face trouble with ballot initiatives," August 4, 2008
  10. Details of TIME committee expenditures
  11. TIME initiative disqualified for lack of valid signatures, August 11, 2008
  12. Arizona Republic, "Big money, not citizens, is driving initiatives," July 30, 2008
  13. Arizona Republic, $42 billion proposed for state transit plan, April 8, 2008
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Phoenix Business Journal, Small business owners split over sales tax increase for Arizona transportation funding, July 21, 2008
  15. Arizona Chamber steers clear of sales tax/transportation ballot measure, July 29, 2008
  16. Your West Valley.com, Sales Tax Backers File Suit, July 12, 2008
  17. TIME Committee files lawsuit over ballot language
  18. This TIME, the truth could unravel tax initiative
  19. The 17.8% distortion
  20. TIME Initiative amicus filed by the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation
  21. TIME’s almost up: Ballot initiative description hinges on court battle
  22. Arizona Republic, "DHS director takes hint, steps down after problems," August 4, 2008
  23. Goldwater Institute, "Goldwater Institute Calls TIME Ballot Language Ruling 'Absurdly Illogical'," August 4, 2008