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Stadium-tax foes strike out again in Superior Court

Maricopa County residents who voted in the September 10 primary were given a pamphlet detailing propositions they'll see on the November 5 general election ballot. The booklet is designed to inform voters and help them decide how they'll vote on various propositions.

The motto on the brochure's cover: "Your Future, Your Choice. Vote!"
But now the voters have one less choice. Of the eight propositions listed in the pamphlet, at least one won't appear on the November 5 ballot.

Proposition 202, which would abolish the quarter-cent sales tax levied by the Maricopa County Stadium District to raise $238 million for the baseball stadium in downtown Phoenix, was tossed out of court last week by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Myers.

Myers agreed with county elections director Karen Osborne, who argued that Proposition 202's proponents were a day late in filing court papers that might have kept the measure on the ballot.

At least four attempts to derail the tax or put it to a vote have been rejected by Superior Court judges.

Proposition 202 is backed by a group led by veteran political gadfly Art Kaufman. The group originally formed in February 1995 as VOICE--"Vote on Immense Colangelo Edifice"--but later changed its name to Citizens Right to Vote.

202's supporters--and one election-law expert--say the proposition shouldn't have been thrown off the ballot.

Phoenix lawyer Andy Gordon did not represent Proposition 202 proponents in court, but says the measure's proponents were mistreated, possibly because of their views.

Gordon says, "[Proposition 202 supporters] were a group of outsiders, and the people who want to protect the system used every technicality in the world to keep them off the ballot."

Kaufman agrees: "We're talking about a quarter of a billion dollars. . . . [The insiders] don't want us to interfere."

Citizens Right to Vote representatives say they may appeal. But for now, at least, Maricopa County voters still have had no vote on the stadium tax, and none appears likely.

The tax was approved in 1994 by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, whose members double as stadium district board members. Since April 1995--when the tax took effect--more than $100 million have been collected. The tax will stop when the $238 million mark is reached.

Kaufman and the membership of Citizens Right to Vote want the tax levy to be suspended immediately, and the balance collected to be returned to the taxpayers.

Myers ruled that Citizens Right to Vote was one day late in filing a lawsuit challenging Maricopa County recorder Helen Purcell's rejection of the petition.

According to state law, if a petitioner has 95 percent or more of the valid signatures required to get an initiative on the ballot, the petitioner can require the county recorder to check each and every signature. If not, the petitioner still has the right to sue.

After checking the validity of a percentage of signatures filed, the recorder informed the petitioners they had only 89 percent of the 112,961 signatures required. The proponents say they checked the recorder's work and found that some signatures were erroneously rejected. After that review, they claim, they had 105,161 valid signatures--93 percent of the 107,000 required to reach the 95 percent mark and force the recorder to recheck every signature.

And so Proposition 202 supporters filed a lawsuit.
They prepared two-inch-thick binders for the attorneys and judge, full of exhibits detailing mistakes they allegedly found in the certification process. But the binders were never opened.

Kaufman says he thought he had ten days from the time Secretary of State Jane Hull informed him of a signature shortfall to file a lawsuit. Actually, he had ten days from the time the county recorder informed the secretary of state of the shortfall. That made him one day short, according to county elections director Karen Osborne.

Judge Myers tossed out the case because it was a day late.
But he might have been mistaken.
Kaufman's filing was, indeed, late--if you count holidays and weekends. Andy Gordon says those days should not have been counted. Kaufman and the other Proposition 202 supporters had to use county equipment to prepare their case; thus, Gordon says, they deserved ten working days.

Gordon says, "[It] is an incredibly, incredibly time-consuming process for someone to go through and check all the county's work. And a citizen who wants to file one of these lawsuits--it's an impossible burden, almost, to get it done in ten days. But not to be given your whole ten days because of holidays and weekends is really unfair."

Osborne counters: "If [the statute of limitations is] five days or less, then you don't count holidays and weekends. But when it's ten days, you have to have a specific statutory exclusion for weekends and holidays, or it's just a straight ten days."

Ironically, Osborne's office gets ten working days to verify petition signatures.

Kaufman says Citizens Right to Vote is discussing the possibility of an appeal. Meanwhile, the group will meet this week to strategize on its next goal: replacing the quarter-cent sales tax with a 20 percent surcharge on Arizona Diamondbacks tickets.

Jan Cathcart, the group's treasurer, says, "What we've gone through [with Proposition 202] . . . is just batting practice.

 
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