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Sun, Dec. 15

New lawsuit filed over state's sales tax extension

PHOENIX -- Backers of an extension of the state's sales tax surcharge filed a new lawsuit Wednesday, this one over how their measure is being described to voters.

The legal papers claim that the Legislative Council, composed of lawmakers from both parties, ignored their requirement to adopt "an impartial analysis' of the initiative. That analysis becomes part of the materials sent to voters ahead of the November election.

Instead, attorney James Barton said the lawmakers -- or, at least the Republicans who control the panel -- crafted as description "calculated to cause voters to vote against the Quality Education and Jobs Act.' And he wants Maricopa County Superior Court Judge George Foster to order the lawmakers to go back and rewrite the analysis.

The new lawsuit comes as the Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday set the stage for deciding whether the measure goes on the ballot at all.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett had said the petitions are invalid because the version prefiled with his office was different than the one attached to the petitions signed by about 290,000 people. Last week a trial judge, ruling on a lawsuit brought by Pedersen's group, said Bennett was wrong, leading him to appeal to the high court.

Voters approved a temporary one-cent hike in the state's 5.6 percent sales tax rate in 2010 as part of a plan to plug a $3 billion hole in the budget. The measure has raised more than $900 million each year.

The balance was made up through a combination of spending cuts and borrowing.

That levy self-destructs at the end of this coming May.

This initiative would extend that 6.6 percent tax rate permanently, dedicating the proceeds to a variety of programs. While most would go to K-12 education, there also are funds for university scholarships and operation, road construction and health care for the children of the working poor.

Barton said the Legislative Council members described the levy as a tax "increase.' That he said, is false.

"If the Quality Education and Jobs Act passes, the Arizona sales tax rate will stay the same as it is the day the voters make their selection,' he wrote in his legal briefs.

Ann-Eve Pedersen, who chairs the initiative, acknoweldged the measure would be an increase if someone considers first the expiration of the existing temporary levy. But she said that does not excuse what lawmakers are doing.

"What we ask is that this reflect that this will pick up at the expiration of that tax,' Pedersen said.

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