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Updated Jan 17, 2013 - 2:59 pm

Arizona ruling: Immigration was out of bounds in tax issue

PHOENIX -- A legislative committee's official analysis of a sales tax initiative on Arizona's ballot went out of bounds by trying to inject the illegal immigration issue to sway voters against the measure, the state Supreme Court said Thursday.

The Supreme Court said the joint analysis of the House-Senate committee was supposed to be impartial, but several parts were misleading or impermissibly advocated against the proposal.

Voters on Nov. 6 rejected the initiative, which would have implemented a permanent one-cent sales tax increase to pay for education and other social programs.

The opinion by a three-justice panel explained why the high court previously upheld an order by a trial judge who required the committee to change three parts of the analysis before it was printed in the official state pamphlet mailed to voters.

Part of the analysis stating the initiative ``fails'' to define who would be a resident qualifying for university scholarships funded by the sales tax was an attempt ``to inject the contentious topic of illegal immigration issue into an already controversial tax measure'' and impermissibly sway voters, the opinion said.

``On its face, the statement is true, but its inclusion and provocative phrasing belie neutrality,'' Justice John Pelander wrote for the panel.

The ballot measure didn't define many other terms of the initiative, and there was discussion during the committee meeting that it needed to be pointed out that ``illegal aliens'' might qualify for the scholarships, the opinion said.

The opinion also said it was misleading in another part of the analysis to say the initiative would have barred legislative changes to the rest of the state's sales tax. And it was impermissible advocacy against the initiative to not mention the tax increase would take effect only after a temporary one-cent tax increase expires later this year, the decision said.

House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, was chairman of the legislative committee in 2012 when it approved analyses for 2012 ballot measures. Rey Torres, a spokesman for Tobin, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

In a separate but related opinion issued Thursday, the three-justice panel explained why the Supreme Court earlier upheld a trial judge's ruling rejecting a challenge to Secretary of State Ken Bennett's ballot wording that described the sales tax initiative.

Bennett's wording did not include the residency statement, and the court said his handling of the other issues was adequate under a more lenient standard that applied to the ballot wording.

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