If someone in the private sector illegally took money that didn’t belong to them and then refused to return it, what do you think would happen? They could be heavily punished with fines. They could face sanctions. They could even end up in jail, depending on the offense.
But for about a year and a half, Pinal County has been allowed to drag its feet in refunding $80 million that it illegally collected from taxpayers. It’s just another example of government officials who think they are above the law.
This all started back in 2016 when Pinal County officials proposed a $640 million transit tax hike to voters in order to fund a wide array of transportation projects throughout the region. But after unveiling the plan, the county faced strong opposition from retailers, home builders, auto dealers, and multiple taxpayer watchdog groups.
This should’ve been enough for county officials to recognize that the community didn’t support their proposal. But they were too committed to their scheme. So, what did they do? They developed a new plan to buy off their political opponents by adding a special carve-out for purchases that exceeded $10,000 from paying the new tax. That’s a bold strategy, isn’t it? It’s also illegal.
Because the new tax would only apply to retail sales below $10,000, it meant that the day-to-day purchases of lower-income citizens would be more heavily taxed than more expensive items. But capping the tax in such a way isn’t authorized by Arizona statute. That’s why the Goldwater Institute—supported by the Club every step of the way—challenged the Pinal County transportation tax in court. And in March 2022, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled against the tax in a big win for taxpayers.
That should’ve been the end of it. Pinal County officials should’ve immediately begun working on a plan to refund the money to taxpayers. And yet, nothing but crickets for the past 18 months. The reality is that the Arizona Department of Revenue and Pinal County haven’t taken any steps to even allow people to apply for refunds. And at the end of last month, ADOR announced that it was pausing any plans to send the money out because it did not receive clarity from Pinal County on how to do so.
This is outrageous! And more than likely, it’s completely by design. Pinal County officials think that if they delay long enough, they will be able to keep the $80 million. After all, they had a bill introduced during the last legislative session that would have allowed them to do just that. That bill went nowhere, just like the illegally collected taxpayer money the county has been holding in an interest-bearing escrow account.
Now, the Goldwater Institute has gone back to court to force the refunds to occur. And once again, the Club will support this effort by whatever means are necessary. Pinal County officials had no right to take this money. And they certainly have no right to keep it. Taxpayers are legally entitled to these refunds. And if Pinal County refuses to do the right thing, it’s time for the courts to step in and force them to.
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