The Pinal Regional Transport Authority (PRTA) is pursuing a revised countywide transportation sales tax measure on the November ballot, following the state Supreme Court’s rejection of the tax approved by voters in 2017.
The court’s ruling was released March 8. On March 21 the PRTA board for the authority, made up of elected municipal, tribal and county officials, voted to direct its staff and legal counsel to research the cost of putting the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot and other information, which was expected to be provided in mid-April, said Andrea Robles, executive director of Central Arizona Governments.
“There are a lot of moving parts with all of the different dates, so we’re trying to get things done as quickly as possible,” she said.
The narrowly voter-approved levy added an additional 0.5 cents to every transaction under $10,000 since it took effect in April 2018. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the two-tiered structure is illegal under state statutes, capping a lengthy court battle during which the county collected more than $70 million on behalf of the Pinal Regional Transport Authority (PRTA), but the funds could not be used.
Writing for the majority, Justice Kathryn King said counties and other government subdivisions have only the taxation powers granted to them by the state Legislature and did not have the right to charge different rates within one tax.
“The Legislature could have used other terms that would have expressly delegated to counties the authority to establish two different fixed rates within a single (sales tax) classification,” King said, but there was no such explicit language included in statute. The court ruled 4-3 against the levy, with three justices agreeing in part and dissenting in part with the majority.
Timothy Sandefur of the Goldwater Institute argued the case on behalf of Harold Vangilder and other Pinal County residents suing the county over the tax and called the two-tiered structure “bizarre” after the ruling.
“To allow that would make Arizona inhospitable for business, because it would transform the state into a crazy quilt of different tax rules in each locality. That’s why the Arizona Department of Revenue — in an unusual move — sided with taxpayers in this case,” Sandefur added.
The tax was to be the funding mechanism for the Pinal County Regional Transportation Plan, approved by voters in the same November 2017 election, which the court let stand. Projects within that plan include widening state Route 347, building the Sonoran Desert Parkway between southern Maricopa and Interstate 10 and a new interchange on I-10 and Kortsen Road.
“Though the taxing structure of the Regional Transportation Plan has failed by the narrowest of margins, we will work to build on this effort, retain that collaboration and find solutions and a new strategy to fund these highly impactful and needed projects across Pinal County,” county officials said in a statement following the ruling.
The PRTA’s revised ballot measure, if is put forth to voters this fall, will apply to all taxable sales within the county and could raise significantly more money for the road projects than the $640 million over 20 years projected for the 2017 ballot measure.