PHOENIX – A legislative panel approved a court-ordered rewrite Thursday to the description voters will receive before deciding whether to make permanent a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax to fund education.
However, a leader of the group supporting Proposition 204 said the amended language is still biased and may confuse voters.
The Arizona Supreme Court ruled last week that the original description prepared by lawmakers didn’t present an impartial analysis. Its concerns included language representing the tax as an increase and alluding to scholarships benefiting illegal immigrants.
Money from the tax, which is expected to raise $1 billion a year, would go to specific purposes including K-12 education, a children’s health insurance program and university scholarships as well as a transportation infrastructure fund.
The court said lawmakers could only describe the tax as an increase if they added context explaining that it would replace a temporary tax set to expire on May 31, 2013, effectively keeping state sales taxes at the same level. Another revision dealt with the Legislature’s ability to change which types of sales would be taxed.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, who opposes the initiative, wrote the amended language that the Joint Interim Legislative Council adopted on an 8-4 vote.
Ann-Eve Pedersen, president of the Arizona Education Network, the group leading the support for Proposition 204, said the edit did provide some context, but not to the degree she would have liked.
“They are just playing politics with this,” she said. “The Supreme Court told them not to do that.”
Biggs said the amended language is clear and accurate.
“They’ve said that we had to put it in context, and I think we did,” he said. “I’m comfortable with that.”
Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, who voted against the language, said the description may not be clear to voters who don’t have much time to research the initiative.
“It’s very confusing to the average individual who is just trying to make a living,” Landrum Taylor said. “They’re not going to know if it’s damaging or if it’s going to be an asset to their children who perhaps go to their local school.”
Pedersen said that the initiative would differ from Proposition 100, which voters approved in 2010 to create the temporary tax, because the funds are specifically earmarked and not left to lawmakers’ discretion.
“We’re going to be establishing a permanent dedicated revenue source for education that the Legislature cannot fool with, and that’s why they don’t like it, because these dollars must be spent exactly as voters direct,” Pedersen said.
Biggs said that the initiative is poorly written and puts too many constraints on lawmakers.
“I don’t think that these people even know where the money is going to go,” he said.