Dean Martin, State Treasurer, Takes Position Against State in Lawsuit by Cities

State Treasurer Dean Martin (at left) is named in a lawsuit against the state by a group of Arizona municipalities who don't want to pay millions of dollars in new fees.

And Martin hopes he and the state will lose.

The treasurer sent a letter today (reprinted below) to state Solicitor General Mary O'Grady , who serves as attorney for the treasurer, asking her to "file a brief in this case that is in agreement with the charges filed by the plaintiffs..."

It's not every day you see anyone being sued agree with the folks doing the suing, but Martin believes the state has no business collecting the fees, which total about $30 million, to help balance the state budget.

The fee scheme was slipped into the budget over the summer by lawmakers desperate for money in these tough times, but the League of Arizona Cities and Towns says -- and Martin agrees -- that the plan was an unconstitutional tax increase because it wasn't approved with a two-thirds majority vote. Martin's letter also instructs O'Grady to ask the court to strike down the whole idea, and he gives suggestions on other tax schemes he believes are unconstitutional that should be nixed.

Martin's news release about his instruction to O'Grady may be designed to politically embarrass Governor Janet Napolitano, who apparently supports the fees for cities and towns. Even so, this move seems to be one of the few times when an elected official is simply doing the right thing.

Here is the text of Martin's letter reprinted in its entirety:



November 24, 2008

Mary O'Grady

Solicitor General

Attorney General's Office

Dear Mary,

I'm writing to confirm our phone conversation from last week regarding the lawsuit filed by the Arizona League of Cities and Towns against myself in my official capacity as Arizona State Treasurer.

First, I agree with both points raised in the lawsuit by the plaintiffs. The law enacted by the Legislature requiring $30 million to be deposited into the General Fund by cities and towns in Arizona violates the Arizona Constitution because it failed to receive a two-thirds vote required by the Proposition 108 clause of the Constitution. The law also violated the Constitution since it was "log-rolled" into the General Appropriations act. All motions and filings on my behalf shall be in agreement and support of these positions.

As my attorney, I am directing you to file a brief in this case that is in agreement with the charges filed by the plaintiffs and request that the court should strike down the act as unconstitutional.

In addition, I would like to also ask the court to expand the case to strike down the following similar provisions that are also unconstitutional due to violations of the Proposition 108 clause of the Constitution:

Section 17 of Laws 2008 Chapter 286, related to a surcharge for $45 on defensive driving school for deposit into the general fund, (a tax increase without a two-thirds vote).

Section 23 of the same bill, related to a $165 surcharge to be deposited into the general fund, (a tax increase without a two-thirds vote).

Section 12 of Chapter 291 also violates Proposition 108 since it allows state agencies to raise fees, but caps the totality of what those fees are, which Proposition 108 does not allow without a two-thirds vote.

Time is of the essence in this case and I urge you to file the brief promptly.



Dean Martin

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern