Proposed Initiative Seeking to Stop Voter Approved Light Rail in Phoenix Challenged in Court
by HighGround | January 2, 2019
Lawsuit Focused on Misleading Description and Illegally Gathered Signatures
“This light rail opposition group has had ample opportunity to have their voices heard through three campaigns and hundreds of public stakeholder hearings. They have lost, time and again, and now have set themselves on a course to upend the will of the voters. Their 100-word description is misleading, confusing and unfair. They have also illegally paid their signature gatherers. We look forward to the court’s vindication of our complaint.” - David Martin, President of AGC
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
J. Charles Coughlin (602) 300-9979
PHOENIX (January 2, 2019) – Litigation was filed today to challenge the legality of the petitions filed last month by a group seeking to end all future public support for voter-approved light rail in Phoenix. The Arizona Chapter of Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) authorized the lawsuit against the so-called ‘Building A Better Phoenix’ committee, which spearheaded the signature gathering effort.
Joe Kanefield, an attorney from Ballard Spahr who represents AGC, stated that the lawsuit is asking the courts to invalidate the petitions because of two fundamental flaws:
- The initiative’s 100-word summary creates a significant danger of confusion and/or unfairness and,
- The Committee (Building A Better Phoenix) paid initiative circulators on a per signature basis in violation of A.R.S. 19-118.01 (A) and A.R.S. 19-141 (A) and therefore all of the signatures must be voided.
“Phoenix voters have voted three times to support light rail spending and the Phoenix City Council has voted at least four times to support light rail funding since 2013,” said David Martin, President of AGC. “This light rail opposition group has had ample opportunity to have their voices heard through three campaigns and hundreds of public stakeholder hearings. They have lost, time and again, and now have set themselves on a course to upend the will of the voters. Their 100-word description is misleading, confusing and unfair. They have also illegally paid their signature gatherers. We look forward to the court’s vindication of our complaint.”
“I am deeply grateful to the Board of the Associated General Contractors for stepping forward to protect the will of the voters and taxpayers of the City of Phoenix,” said Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams.“Phoenix voters have had two public votes (2000, 2015) and one regional vote (2004) all in support of our investment in multi-modal transportation options designed to grow our economy, move people, goods and services, and reduce congestion.This end-run around the will of Phoenix voters must not stand.”
According to Kanefield, the 100-word summary states that future light rail extensions will be halted and that ‘the funds’ will be redirected toward other infrastructure improvements in Phoenix. The summary omits that no future money could be used to maintain and improve the existing voter-approved light rail infrastructure. Additionally, the 100-word summary omits any reference to regional funds that cannot be redirected as a result of this Phoenix-only initiative. Finally, the summary is also misleading because it gives the impression that the measure will result in cost savings because the initiative prohibits any surplus moneys from reverting to the City of Phoenix’s General Fund.
Additionally, Kanefield stated that Arizona state law prohibits signatures gathered on ballot initiatives cannot be paid for on a per signature basis.A.R.S. 19-118.01 applies to statewide ballot measures and it also applies to municipal elections via A.R.S. 19-141 (A) which provides that “(t)his chapter applies to the legislation of cities… except as specifically provided to the contrary in (Article 4). Furthermore, the City of Phoenix has expressly adopted state laws relating to initiative and municipal elections. Because there is no contrary language in Article 4, the Phoenix City Charter or Code, A.R.S. 19–118.01’s prohibition also applies to the City of Phoenix elections.
Phoenix Councilmember Debra Stark, a former City of Phoenix and Maricopa County planner said, “It is unimaginable to upend twenty years of transportation planning, hundreds and thousands of hours of work and millions of dollars of investment because of an objection to one piece of a larger plan. We must require this Committee to live up to the letter of the law, just as we have and not let them thwart two decades of transportation progress.I applaud AGC for bringing this action and I agree with Mayor Williams’ conclusion that ‘this must not stand.’”
Kanefield indicated the action filed today would be heard on an expedited basis in Maricopa County Superior Court because it is an election matter.The Phoenix City Clerk has until January 18, 2019 to validate the signatures submitted by the Committee and the Court should rule on this matter sometime after that validation process is complete.