Appeals court explains pension initiative decision

2013-11-21T15:00:00Z Appeals court explains pension initiative decisionDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

For those interested in why the Arizona Court of Appeals kicked the city pension initiative off this year’s ballot, the court recently published its 33-page opinion.

Back in September, the court issued an injunction blocking the initiative, intended to overhaul the city’s pension system, from going before voters.

Because of tight election deadlines, the court didn’t include a written ruling at the time.

The entire opinion can be viewed here.

In case you’ve forgotten the history of the pension push, here’s a synopsis:

Beginning last spring, rumors circulated that a national group was planning on using Tucson as a guinea pig in its pension reform efforts.

A committee was eventually formed.

While operated locally, the Virginia-based Liberty Initiative Fund provided most of the financing.

The group intended the Tucson initiative to be the first of many ballot measures it would fund across the country as a means to rein in unsustainable public pensions.

The idea was to use the ballot to transform Tucson’s pension system from a guaranteed benefits plan to a 401(k)-style plan to get control spending under control.

Supporters said the plan would save taxpayers while preserving city employees’ retirements.

But city officials said the plan would wreak havoc on city finances long before any savings would kick in.

Officials estimated first year costs alone would add $24 million to an already overburdened city budget.

Some feared the proposal would lead the city into financial ruin and bankruptcy court.

With that in mind, labor groups and others vowed to fight the measure.

In June, the committee’s paid-signature collectors spread out across the city.

Despite a tight deadline, the committee garnered more than 20,000 signatures in just a month.

Shortly after the petitions were certified for the ballot, two current city employees and a retired city employee filed suit seeking the removal of more than 10,000 signatures because felons or unregistered out-of-state circulators collected many of them.

Pima County Superior Court Judge James Marner eventually threw out more than 5,500 signatures and ordered election officials to recalculate the numbers.

Once it appeared likely the petition initiative still had enough remaining valid signatures to qualify, the plaintiffs dropped their appeal in Superior Court and filed in appellate court.

After the appeals court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor, the committee filed with the Arizona Supreme Court in a last ditch effort to salvage the initiative.

The Supreme Court declined to make an expedited ruling on the matter.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com. Follow on twitter @DarrenDaRonco​

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

Arizona Daily Star's Government blog includes stories and related items from Tucson and Pima County written by Star reporters Darren DaRonco and Jamar Younger.

Have a government-related topic you would like to see in the blog or suggestions? Email Darren DaRonco at ddaronco@tucson.com and Jamar Younger at jyounger@tucson.com

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