End of the Line? A Halt to Funding the Phoenix Light Rail Expansion Now Officially on the Ballot
July 29, 2019

The Arizona Supreme Court recently ruled that a Phoenix light rail ballot initiative can proceed to the polls in August 2019. According to the Court, the proponents of the ballot initiative did not violate ARS 19-118.01(A) by paying signature gatherers per signature because that prohibition only applies to statewide ballot initiatives, not city initiatives. Nor did the initiative supporters violate ARS 19-102(A) through a misleading 100-word descriptive statement.

The ballot initiative before the Court in Associated General Contractors v. City of Phoenix and Building a Better Phoenix seeks to end all funding for the expansion of the city’s light rail system. If passed by Phoenix voters, current light rail operations would remain, but planned expansions would be scrapped (listen to this AZCentral podcast for more details).

To qualify for the ballot, proponents of the measure had to submit 20,510 signatures. They submitted 40,000. However, the group gathering the signatures paid its workers on a per-signature basis. Opponents claimed this violated a 2017 Arizona law that sought to curb unsavory or fraudulent signature-gathering practices by prohibiting payment-per-signature. That law, however, only applies to “signatures collected on a statewide initiative or referendum petition.” Because the initiative is specific to the city of Phoenix, it is not statewide, and is therefore not limited by the law.

Regarding the second argument, the Court wrote that “Section 19-102(A) requires an initiative petition to set forth ‘a description of no more than one hundred words of the principal provisions of the proposed measure or constitutional amendment.’ The description need not be impartial nor ‘detail every provision.’” According to the Court, the description offered by the initiative proponents did not violate this standard.

The Court ruled 4-0. Justices Brutinel, Pelander and Lopez did not vote on the matter, and substitute judges were not added (as is normally done) given the case’s extremely expedited schedule.

The opinion is the Court’s 18th opinion of 2019. The Court has ruled unanimously in 13 of the 18 opinions. Justice Timmer authored the opinion of the majority—the fourth time she has done so in 2019.

For more 2019 Arizona Supreme Court statistics, see the tabs on this spreadsheet compiled by Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP attorney Stephen Richer, with assistance from summer associate Allison Whitehill.


Stephen Richer
Stephen Richer
Of Counsel

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