Even before any petitions have been filed, a legal fight is brewing over a proposed sales-tax hike for education.
Critics of the proposal for a permanent 1-cent-per-dollar increase in the tax noticed the petition being circulated to voters is different from the official version pre-filed earlier this year with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office.
That could bar Secretary of State Ken Bennett from accepting the petitions that the Quality Education & Jobs backers are preparing to file, Bennett spokesman Matt Roberts said.
Roberts said it's "likely" Bennett will have to nix the petitions, citing state law.
But Ann-Eve Pedersen, chairwoman of the campaign, chalked up the disconnect to a "clerical error" that does not substantially change the intent of the initiative, which is to provide a permanent stream of money for K-12, higher education, state infrastructure and children's health care.
The education supporters filed a disc containing the correct version of the ballot measure with the secretary of state. Its language mirrors what is on the petitions being circulated for voter signatures, Pedersen said.
But the paper version pre-filed earlier, which by law is deemed the official version of the measure, lacks language that directs up to $350 million to universities and infrastructure projects in the event the sales tax collects more than $1.55 billion in a year.
That omission makes a "very substantive" difference, said Kevin McCarthy, executive director of the Arizona Tax Research Association.
"It's nowhere close to a minor change," he said.
Pedersen said her group plans to file its petitions within the week. But it is already preparing for a lawsuit if Bennett rejects them. The campaign has retained former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Stanley Feldman.
McCarthy said given business opposition to the substance of the initiative, he is certain opponents also will be ready for a legal fight.
The campaign must submit 172,809 valid voter signatures by July 5 to qualify for November's ballot.