Pinal officials support roads tax

CASA GRANDE — The Arizona Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it will review an Arizona Court of Appeals decision involving the Pinal Regional Transportation Authority tax.

The lawsuit was filed by Harold Vangilder of Casa Grande and the Goldwater Institute against the RTA’s 2017 voter-approved sales tax.

In its minutes letter, the court granted the Goldwater Institute's petitions for review of a 2019 Appeals Court decision that overturned a 2018 Arizona Tax Court decision that the road tax was unconstitutional.

The court has not set a date to hear oral arguments in the case yet. The parties in the case have 20 days to file supplemental briefs and any amicus curiae, or friend of the court, briefs must be filed by Oct. 20.

The revenue from the half-cent sales tax is supposed to go toward improving Pinal County roadways including a north-south freeway connecting U.S. 60 in Apache Junction to Interstate 10 near Eloy, widening State Route 347 north of Maricopa, an east-west corridor connecting Maricopa to Casa Grande, an interchange with I-10 in Casa Grande at Kortsen Road and the widening of Thornton Road.

The sales tax was approved by a narrow voter margin. The Goldwater Institute and other plaintiffs in the case claim the tax is unconstitutional because it creates a variable tax rate on items that cost more than $10,000. According to the wording for the tax, items that cost more than $10,000 are charged the half-cent sales tax on the first $10,000 of the price tag. The tax rate for anything beyond that first $10,000 is set at 0.0%. The plaintiffs claim this creates a new type of sales tax that has not been authorized by the Arizona Legislature.

The Maricopa Superior Court's Tax Court ruled against the county and the RTA two years ago. The case was appealed to the Arizona Court of Appeals Division 1 in Phoenix in 2019. That court overturned the tax court’s decision and the Goldwater Institute appealed that ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court in February.

The RTA has been able to continue to collect the tax while the case has moved through the courts. The money is currently being held in escrow pending a ruling in the case. As of February, the escrow account held about $33.4 million.

The other plaintiffs in the case include Dan Neidig and the Arizona Restaurant Association. Vangilder, who was one of the original plaintiffs in the case, was removed by the Appeals Court for having no standing.

Pinal Partnership, along with the cities of Maricopa and Coolidge and the towns of Queen Creek and Florence, have filed amicus curiae, or friend of the court, briefs in support of the tax. The Arizona Tax Research Association and Arizona Free Enterprise Club have filed similar briefs in opposition of the tax.

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Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa is a reporter covering the city of Casa Grande and the surrounding area, as well as Central Arizona College. She can be reached at sadams@pinalcentral.com.

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