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Judge dismisses several of Brnovich’s claims in ASU hotel lawsuit

(Wikipedia Commons Photo)

PHOENIX – An Arizona judge on Tuesday dismissed several claims made by Attorney General Mark Brnovich in a lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents over a Tempe hotel deal.

Superior Court Judge Christopher Whitten’s ruling said the attorney general doesn’t have the authority to initiate action regarding state tax laws.

The tax court judge also ruled that the board was authorized to enter leases like the Omni hotel and convention center deal with Arizona State University, the subject of Brnovich’s lawsuit.

In addition, Whitten ruled that the property involved was exempt from taxation, so Brnovich’s assertion that taxpayers were losing out on the deal didn’t have standing.

However, he didn’t dismiss Brnovich’s claim that the deal violated the state constitution’s gift clause.

Whitten didn’t address the merits of the gift clause claim, but he ruled that the statute of limitations hadn’t expired before Brnovich made it.

The Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s three public universities, and ASU trumpeted the judge’s rulings on their other dismissal motions and expressed confidence they were in the right on the gift clause issue.

“The board is very appreciative of the court’s decision, which reaffirms the trust placed in the board by the Arizona Constitution,” ABOR Chair Larry Penley said in a statement. “This is the second time in two years that a court has so held.”

ASU issued a statement echoing a similar sentiment and said “we are looking forward to a favorable resolution” in the gift clause claim.

However, Brnovich in a press release called the decision to keep the gift clause claim alive “a positive development for Arizona taxpayers and significant step towards transparency and accountability.”

Brnovich filed the lawsuit in January, arguing that ASU had been misusing its tax-exempt status to benefit private developers.

ABOR filed four motions to dismiss the lawsuit in March, and Brnovich amended the suit in April.

“ABOR shouldn’t be subsidizing out-of-state billionaires,” Brnovich said in Tuesday’s release.

“Worst of all, ABOR is depriving K-12 schools and community colleges millions of dollars in property tax revenue that must be made up by other taxpayers by placing the hotel on property tax exempt land.”

Whitten scheduled a conference call for July 10 to discuss remaining issues in the case.

Brnovich is also attempting to sue the Board of Regents over what he says are unconstitutionally high tuition rates. In April 2018, a judge ruled that he lacked the authority to sue over the issue, but Brnovich appealed the ruling.

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