The Arizona Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that the one-cent sales tax initiative be included on the November general election ballot.
The ruling was a victory for the Arizona Education Parent Network, which led the gathering of more than 290,000 signatures to qualify the initiative.
The proposal would make permanent a one-cent sales tax with 80 percent of the proceeds going to education at all levels. The state currently has a one-cent education sales tax, but it expires at the end of May 2013.
After proponents filed their petitions in early July, Secretary of State Ken Bennett rejected them, saying the printed wording of the initiative did not match what was on file with his office. He said the state requirement was exacting in that the wording had to be identical.
Ann-Eve Pedersen, head of the education parent network and the Quality Education and Jobs committee, argued that the difference was minor and technical and that the petition filing met the requirement of the law.
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge, and now the Supreme Court, agreed.
"Under the particular circumstances of this case, we hold that plaintiffs substantially complied with the statutory requirement that an application for an initiative ... 'set forth the text of the proposed law', and we therefore affirm the judgment of the Superior Court," the Supreme Court's two-page order said.
It said an opinion explaining the ruling would be issued later.
"This is a huge victory for Arizona voters and a huge victory for Arizona schoolchildren," Pedersen said. "This is not an increase it just continues the one-cent that we've already been paying but it gives voters more assurances that the money will actually go to funding their priorities."
Republican Gov, Jan Brewer championed the temporary one-cent sales tax but said she will oppose the initiative because it serves special interests.
Pedersen countered that polling shows a strong majority of state residents favor the permanent sales tax as a way of assuring that the Legislature will not take money away from public education.
"The Legislature absolutely devastated our schools over a four-year period. It was unprecedented," Pedersen said. "So we are going to protect this investment."
In the last four years, Brewer has signed budgets passed by the Legislature cutting more than $1 billion from public education.
The initiative, known as Proposition 204, would ban the Legislature from cutting education funding below prescribed levels.
That provision has upset Brewer and Republican legislative leaders, who say it usurps the Legislature's constitutional authority to determine spending.
Bennett said in a statement he was pleased that voters will see the proposition on the ballot.
"We’re satisfied to have a decision from the Supreme Court that the plaintiff’s mistaken submittal of two versions of the initiative was not a fatal error, and they substantially complied with statute," Bennett said.
"Our office was never trying to keep the measure on or off the ballot; rather it was about being certain that state law was sufficiently followed. The error had never occurred in Arizona before, and it was important to seek a judicial resolution at the state’s highest court.”
Bennett has said he is opposed to the initiative.