$30 Million in Pinal Sales Tax on Hold as Court Decision Appealed

Pinal County’s 2017 voter-approved transportation sales tax is now headed to the state Supreme Court, leaving some $30 million already collected in limbo in an escrow account. 

The half-cent tax was upheld in a 3-0 ruling by District One of the Arizona Court of Appeals in January, when the judges found the tax valid under state law after it had been rejected by a tax court judge in mid-2018. 

A joint opinion written by Presiding Judge Kenton D. Jones found the half-cent sales tax on all retail sales transactions up to $10,000 was enacted by the Pinal Regional Transportation Authority as authorized by voters, applies across all retail categories and uses a modified model as authorized under the state constitution. 

“A tax statute is not unconstitutional simply because it does not impose an identical burden on all taxpayers,” the court said. 

Pinal County resident Harold Vangilder and others appealed the tax through the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute after it was approved by 50.1% of voters in a November 2017 election. According to the libertarian institute’s website, the tax is unconstitutional because it created a new category of sales tax by limiting it to sales up to a certain value, a distinction the county isn’t permitted by law to make. 

Jennifer Tiedemann, Goldwater deputy communications director, said the institute has been given until March 19 to file an appeal. 

Pinal RTA General Manager Andy Smith said he has been advised not to discuss the legal case. 

The 2017 ballot had two propositions related to the half-cent tax; one authorizing a 20-year regional transportation plan outlining road improvement projects prioritized for construction and a second for the funding mechanism, the tax itself. 

The regional plan won 56% support from voters and includes a north-south connector highway between Apache Junction and Coolidge with a connector to Casa Grande and Interstate 10, a four-lane connection between Maricopa and I-10 through Casa Grande and an expansion of Selma Highway to four lanes between Thornton Road and State Route 87.