Without evidence, Ducey accuses Garcia of ‘rigging’
PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey is doubling down on his claim that David Garcia tried to "rig" the election for a sales tax for education even though there is no evidence the Democrat gubernatorial hopeful had any role in crafting the measure.
Ducey first made the claim in a pair of debates last week, arguing that the fact the Arizona Supreme Court blocked the Invest in Ed initiative from going on the November ballot is proof it was deliberately misleading. And Ducey, campaigning for another four-year term, said the act was not only intentional, but Garcia was partly to blame.
The governor has now repeated the same claim in a radio interview even though gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato acknowledged his boss cannot cite any link between the crafting of the measure and Garcia.
But Scarpinato, defending the governor, argued that's irrelevant. He said that Garcia, in promoting the Invest in Ed initiative, should have known the ballot language was legally flawed – even before a divided Arizona Supreme Court eventually reached that conclusion.
Ducey's claim is straightforward.
"David Garcia tried to rig an election and the Supreme Court caught him,'' the governor said – three times now.
What is undisputed is that Garcia, who has said the state needs more money for K-12 education, was an early supporter of the proposal to increase state income taxes on Arizonans earning more than $250,000 a year. The measure was designed to raise about $690 million a year.
The proposal gathered more than 277,000 signatures to put the question to voters in November.
On Aug. 29, however, a majority of the Supreme Court took it off the ballot.
In a brief order, the justices said the 100-word description, which all initiatives must have, was flawed. They said it did not accurately describe the change in tax rate for top earners, listing the increase at 3.46 percent and 4.46 percent, respectively, for higher tax brackets, when it should have said "percentage point'' over the current 4.54 percent top tax rate.
The justices also said the description did not inform voters that the verbiage also would repeal an automatic indexing of tax brackets, a 2015 law designed to prevent individuals from ending up in higher tax brackets solely because their wages went up no more than inflation. That, the majority concluded, "creates a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.''
Scarpinato said Ducey's claim of "rigging'' – which would be an intentional act – is backed by the Supreme Court ruling.
"Take a look at what they put out thus far,'' he said.
What the court record shows to date, however, suggests the legal conclusion that the language was flawed was far from clear cut.
First, a trial judge, hearing a challenge by initiative foes, had ruled that the verbiage was not inherently misleading.
Potentially more significant, the high court ruling knocking the measure off the ballot was not unanimous, meaning one or more of the justices found it legally sufficient. There was no mention of "rigging'' the election in the court order.
But Ducey's allegations go beyond the claim that there was an attempt to "rig'' the ballot measure to his specific charge that Garcia was behind all that.
The evidence says otherwise.
"He was not involved at all in the drafting and inner workings for Invest in Ed,'' said David Lujan, whose Arizona Center for Economic Progress actually put the ballot language together.
Garcia acknowledged his role in helping gather the signatures, "just like everybody else, just like all the teachers.'' But he said all of that occurred after Lujan already had filed the proposed language with the Secretary of State's Office, a legal precursor to circulating petitions.
Scarpinato could provide no evidence of Garcia's involvement in the drafting. But he said voters should still blame Garcia for trying to confuse them.
"I think that David Garcia has a responsibility, as both a candidate and a leader within that movement, to have been transparent about what the initiative did and understood it himself before he went out and helped them gather a lot of signatures,'' he said.
Garcia said he looked at the language after it had been filed and decided to put his personal support and the support of his campaign behind getting it on the ballot.
"But it has nothing to do with rigging an election,'' he said.
And Garcia said there is no reason to charge that he should have known there were drafting problems with the language.
"I didn't see anything that stuck out to me at that time,'' he said.
"But I was not involved in its crafting, not involved with the wordsmithing,'' Garcia said. "I got it at the same time probably you did or anybody else did out there in the public.''
Ducey, however, is not backing down from his claim that Garcia was trying to "rig'' an election, a term that suggests knowing manipulation by fraud.
"The language did not include an honest reflection of what this did, who it taxed and how it impacted Arizonans,'' Scarpinato said. "We think that's wrong.''
What the tax also was, said Scarpinato, is "bad policy.''
Throughout the campaign Ducey has insisted the state does not need new revenues to support his promise of a 19 percent pay hike for teachers by 2020 and restoration of funding, which Ducey himself had cut in 2015, of an account that helps schools pay for books, computers and other capital needs. Instead, Ducey contends that an improving economy will bring in enough without any new levies.
Garcia, who had been counting on voter approval of the initiative, has since said that if he is elected he will work with the Legislature to come up with a source of new funds for education. But he has provided no details of what he wants.