Maricopa Judge Clears Way for Vote on Sales Tax

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From the Quality Education and Jobs initiative folks today:

JUDGE UPHOLDS VOTER RIGHTS'; OVERTURNS BENNETT'S PETITION REJECTION

Following a hearing lasting approximately 20 minutes, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge today upheld the rights of Arizona voters, saying that Secretary of State Ken Bennett's decision to reject 290,849 petition signatures to place the Quality Education and Jobs citizens' initiative on the November ballot was unconstitutional.

"I honestly don't know why we need to be here," said Judge Robert Oberbillig during the proceedings.

"Judge Oberbillig's ruling reaffirms what the Arizona's Constitution and state law make very clear - a hyper-technicality is never grounds to overturn the rights of Arizona voters," said Ann-Eve Pedersen, chair of the Quality Education and Jobs campaign. "Education opponents know there is vast popular support for this initiative, so they had to resort to these types of desperate measures to try to keep it off the ballot. We were always confident that the will of Arizona voters would prevail in court, and with this ruling, we are now even more confident that Prop. 204 will prevail in November."

The Quality Education and Jobs initiative will renew the one-cent sales tax when it expires in 2013 to provide dedicated, permanent revenue to provide basic funding for education that the Legislature cannot cut. Prop. 204 will support education across the spectrum: K-12, charter schools, vocational education, community colleges, universities and GED programs.

The legal case centered on whether the Quality Education and Jobs volunteer-led committee complied with the state Constitution and state law in submitting a record number of petition signatures to the Secretary of State's Office. Bennett rejected the 290,849 signatures on June 25, after making a unilateral decision that a clerical error on a paper document filed with his office invalidated the signatures. Even though his office had accepted an electronic filing with ballot language that matched the language attached to each of the 19,071 petitions submitted, Bennett determined that the electronic filing was not "official."

The campaign legal team, headed by former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Stanley Feldman, successfully argued that Bennett's decision was not constitutional. The Arizona Constitution requires the Secretary of State to place a measure on the ballot if supporters meet four requirements, all of which were met in this case.

Secretary Bennett could appeal the lower court ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court, but doing so would put additional taxpayer dollars at risk. Under Arizona law, the courts could order the state to pay all legal and court costs if Bennett does not prevail.

"The courts have overturned Secretary Bennett's arbitrary decision. He should respect that ruling and complete validation of the 290,849 signatures turned in to his office," said Pedersen.

"Secretary Bennett's job is to facilitate democracy, not obstruct it," she said. "Appealing this decision only delays the process further and puts taxpayer dollars at risk."

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