Gov. Jan Brewer said Monday she opposes plans to make permanent the temporary sales tax hike she championed two years ago.
The governor said the initiative measure would tie the hands of the Legislature, as it would spell out exactly how each dollar received would have to be allocated. Most of the money is earmarked for K-12 education, with additional cash for university scholarships, health care for children and road construction projects.
Brewer said those decisions are best left to lawmakers.
Initiative organizer Ann-Eve Pedersen acknowledged the measure, if approved, would dictate to lawmakers how much the revenues from the one-cent surcharge, currently in the neighborhood of $1 billion a year, has to be spent. But she said that is by design.
"Voters do not like what the Legislature has been doing with their tax dollars,'' she said. "They want those dollars directed to their top priorities. And education is their top funding priority.''
And Pedersen chided Brewer for not doing more to direct the money now being received toward education, including the proceeds from the current sales tax surcharge set to expire at the end of this coming May.
"The governor has not shown the political will to overcome the Legislature's hostility toward education funding,'' she said. "She was unable this past session to get even her modest education funding proposal through.''
That is only partly true.
Brewer did demand -- and lawmakers funded -- an extra $40 million for early grades to help schools comply with a new requirement that students read at a third-grade level to be promoted to fourth grade.
But the governor's call for $200 million for "soft capital'' expenses, including books, computers and supplies, was ignored, with lawmakers instead putting just $15 million into the budget for all schools in the state to divide up in all capital expenses.
Brewer said budgeting by initiative is just wrong.
"I believe that, according to our constitution, it's the Legislature that does the appropriations,'' she said.
"They come fully equipped with all the information,'' Brewer continued. "And they have to make all the figures work together in order to get a balanced budget out.''
Questioned further, though, the governor conceded that she would oppose the initiative -- if it survives a legal hurdle -- even if it lets lawmakers decide how to spend the proceeds. Brewer said the measure is not "fiscally responsible.''
The governor sidestepped a question of whether she thinks voters will support the measure, especially as it does not impose a new tax but simply keeps in place the 1-cent levy they approved in 2010.
"I could look at my crystal ball,'' she said. "I don't know.''
Pedersen was more confident, claiming her own polling shows nearly 80 percent of Arizonans support the initiative.
"They're not going to let the Legislature get in their way and they're not going to let the governor get in their way,'' she said.
But there is a more immediate hurdle: Secretary of State Ken Bennett is refusing to put the measure on the November ballot because he said the paper copy of the initiative pre-filed with his office -- and posted on his website -- does not match what was circulated to voters and submitted as required by law.
Pedersen's group has filed suit, pointing out that a correct copy was prefiled, albeit on computer disc. And the organization's attorney contends that the law requires only "substantial'' compliance with the law, not precise compliance.
A hearing is set for next week before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Oberbillig.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has not yet taken a position on the measure.
"Our office is still analyzing this complex piece of legislation and will make a decision on a position once we've received all the information,'' said Molly Edwards, his press aide.