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Ducey targets Garcia on education tax

October 3, 2018

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey is doubling down on his claim that David Garcia tried to “rig” the election for a sales tax for education even though there is no evidence the Democrat gubernatorial hopeful had any role in crafting the measure.

Ducey first made the claim in a pair of debates last week, arguing that the fact the Arizona Supreme Court blocked the Invest in Ed initiative from going on the November ballot is proof it was deliberately misleading. And Ducey, campaigning for another four-year term, said the act was not only intentional but that Garcia was partly to blame.

The governor has now repeated the same claim in a radio interview even though gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato acknowledged his boss cannot cite any link between the crafting of the measure and Garcia.

But Scarpinato, defending the governor, argued that’s irrelevant. He said that Garcia, in promoting the Invest in Ed initiative, should have known the ballot language was legally flawed — even before a divided Arizona Supreme Court eventually reached that conclusion.

Ducey’s claim is straightforward.

“David Garcia tried to rig an election and the Supreme Court caught him,’’ the governor said — three times now.

What is undisputed is that Garcia, who has said the state needs more money for K-12 education, was an early supporter of the proposal to increase state income taxes on Arizonans earning more than $250,000 a year. The measure was designed to raise about $690 million a year.

The proposal gathered more than 277,000 signatures to put the question to voters in November. On Aug. 29, however, a majority of the Supreme Court took it off the ballot.

In a brief order, the justices said the 100-word description, which all initiatives must have, was flawed. They said it did not accurately describe the change in tax rate for top earners, listing the increase at 3.46 percent and 4.46 percent, respectively, for higher tax brackets, when it should have said “percentage point’’ over the current 4.54 percent top tax rate.

The justices also said the description did not inform voters that the verbiage also would repeal an automatic indexing of tax brackets, a 2015 law designed to prevent individuals from ending up in higher tax brackets solely because their wages went up no more than inflation. That, the majority concluded”creates a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.’’

Scarpinato said Ducey’s claim of “rigging’’ — which would be an intentional act — is backed by the Supreme Court ruling.

What the court record shows to date, however, suggests the legal conclusion that the language was flawed was far from clear cut.

First, a trial judge, hearing a challenge by initiative foes, had ruled that the verbiage was not inherently misleading. Potentially more significant, the high court ruling knocking the measure off the ballot was not unanimous, meaning one or more of the justices found it legally sufficient. There was no mention of “rigging’’ the election in the court order.

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