A Republican-controlled legislative committee illegally crafted a biased description of a proposed education sales tax to try to convince voters to reject it, a judge ruled today.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Rea said there was nothing wrong with members of the Legislative Council describing Proposition 204 as a tax "increase.'' He said that, in fact, it could easily be seen as a new 1-cent tax if passed.
But Rea said lawmakers failed to point out that there already is a 1-cent surcharge on the state's 5.6 percent sales tax, approved by voters in 2010. That tax is set to expire on May 31, 2013; the new tax, if approved, would kick in the following day -- a point the judge said should be made to voters that approval of Proposition 204 would not change the current tax.
"By using the term `tax increase,' the council has adopted one point of view that tends to discourage favorable votes,'' Rea said. He said the lawmakers should simply describe what the measure does: describe the temporary tax as it exists "and the proposition will continue a temporary tax that would otherwise expire.''
The ruling is significant because Arizona law requires the council to prepare an "impartial analysis'' of each ballot measure. More to the point, that analysis becomes part of the brochure mailed to the home of every registered voter prior to the election.
Rea's order, unless overturned, forces the GOP-dominated committee to reconvene and recraft their analysis.
The judge also found fault with two other provisions in the analysis.
There was no immediate comment from Republican legislative leaders on whether they would appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.