Pro-Prop 123 Margin Widens, Arizona Treasurer DeWit Won't Concede Yet

By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Friday, May 20, 2016 - 8:31am
Updated: Friday, May 20, 2016 - 9:18am

Proposition 123, the measure that would boost education funding by tapping the state’s land trust, is looking more likely to pass.

Governor Ducey announced Prop 123 a victory Thursday night. But votes are still being counted.

As of Wednesday, the vote lead went from about 7,600 to more than 16,000.

State Treasurer Jeff DeWit, an opponent of the measure, is not ready to concede. "With a vote this close still, it is important to wait until all the votes are counted,'' he said.

Several counties still have ballots to count, the largest share in Maricopa County with 15,400 early ballots and about 1,270 provisional ballots where the registration needs to be verified. But given the trend of votes counted in the last 24 hours, there may not be enough uncounted ballots out there to make a difference.

Gov. Doug Ducey who put together the deal that went to voters, used that margin to declare victory.

"The votes have been counted and the result is clear,'' he said in a prepared statement. And the governor noted that the package should put to rest a lawsuit filed by schools against the state six years ago for ignoring a voter mandate to boost aid to education annually to account for inflation.

"After years of lawsuits and fighting, we are moving forward and funding our teachers, students and schools instead of lawyers,'' he said.

On Wednesday, a Phoenix man asked a federal judge to block the change in withdrawals from the state land trust that Prop 123 is designed to permit.

Michael Pierce contends that simply amending the Arizona Constitution, as the ballot measure does, is insufficient to allow the state to take an extra $2.2 billion from the education trust account over the next decade. That is the prime source of funds for the $3.5 billion settlement to end the lawsuit filed by schools against the state.

Pierce contends that can happen only if Congress agrees to amend the law that gave Arizona 10 million acres of federal land in 1912 when it became a state. And because that did not happen, he is arguing, the change cannot take place.

Pierce, who is representing himself, said he's not against more funding for schools. "But I believe we should fund it soundly and credibly and by the rules,'' he said. Pierce said that means getting specific congressional approval "and then submitting it to the people in a referendum.''