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Quality Education & Jobs Supporting I-16-2012 v. Bennett - 1/17/2013

Arizona Supreme Court Finds Secretary of State’s Ballot and Voter Guide Description of Proposition 204 Sales Tax Measure Not False or Clearly Misleading.

Proponents of Proposition 204 (the “Committee”) challenged the Secretary of State’s description of the measure in the voter information guide and ballot for the November 2012 general election.  The superior court rejected the challenge, finding the language was “not arbitrary or unquestionably inaccurate” and therefore substantially complied with A.R.S. § 19-125(D).  

The Arizona Supreme Court in August 2012 issued an order treating the Committee’s appeal from that ruling as an appellate special action, accepting jurisdiction but denying relief.  The Court filed this opinion to explain its reasoning.

Proposition 204—rejected by Arizona voters on November 6, 2012—proposed a one-cent sales tax increase to pay for educational programs and other services. 

The Committee argued that the Secretary’s description of the measure violated § 19-125(D) by “falsely characterizing the Act as a tax increase” and “exaggerating the limitation on the Legislature contained in the Act.”  The Committee preferred a description stating that the Act “replac[es] the temporary one cent per dollar sales tax set to expire June 1, 2013 with a permanent one-cent sales tax,” and “forbids reductions to the current sales tax base applicable to the one-cent sales tax.”

Section 19-125(D) requires the Secretary to summarize, in 50 words or less, “the principal provisions of the measure” followed by a “brief phrase . . . stating the essential change in the existing law” should the measure be approved.  The statute does not expressly require an “impartial analysis” as does § 19-124(B) (governing legislative council analysis of ballot measures for publicity pamphlet).

The length and complexity of the measure are relevant factors in reviewing the Secretary’s compliance with the statute.  Proposition 204 contained fourteen single-spaced pages of relatively complicated provisions.  

Because it was “fairly debatable” whether the Secretary’s description of the measure was correct and not clearly misleading, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding the Secretary’s language substantially complied with § 19-125(D).

Justice Pelander authored the opinion, with Vice Chief Justice Bales and Justice Brutinel concurring.

Posted by: Mark Hummels

Posted On: 1/28/2013