A mistake about how long it takes to get a referral on a special election ballot means Arizona lawmakers won't consider putting a tax increase on the March ballot when they meet on Thursday on the state's budget crisis, Senate President Bob Burns said Wednesday.
Burns told The Associated Press on Wednesday that there was a mix-up on how much time is needed to authorize and prepare for a special election.
He said ballot measures on increasing the sales tax and loosening voter-approved spending mandates are now "off the table" for special session action.
"They're gone," he said. "We were operating under the assumption we could do it March 9."
Gov. Jan Brewer called for the special legislative session, and the plan was for lawmakers to consider the proposed ballot measures as well as approximately $200 million of spending cuts and fund transfers.
Brewer's chief spokesman did not immediately respond to a call for comment.
Burns said it was still possible that lawmakers might act during the special session on proposed spending cuts to reduce the state's budget shortfall.
The shortfall is now estimated at $1.6 billion after $452 million of spending cuts and other changes made during a November special session.
Senate President Ken Bennett confirmed that it was too late to hold a statewide special election on March 9. That's because the state needed at least 86 days for preparations that included printing ballots and producing a pamphlet for voters. Also, 90 days were needed to have the special-session bill authorizing the special election take effect before the vote, he said.
Those intervals passed early this week and last week, he said.
It would have been possible to shorten the authorization period if two-thirds of the Legislature approved an emergency, but there was no indication that enough lawmakers were willing.
Indeed, House passage of the tax increase referral by a bare majority was considered iffy at best, leaders said.
March 9 is one of four dates that Arizona authorizes for state or local elections. The next authorized election date is in May, and Burns said there's time to consider that possibility early in the 2010 regular session that begins Jan. 11.
However, as time passes the chances of passage of the sales tax referral seems more unlikely, Burns said.
Bennett said he told Brewer and legislative leaders of the 90-day authorization requirement last August when a fall special election was under consideration.