August 16, 2008

Initiative on state trust land lacks enough signatures to make ballot

By Howard Fischer
Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX — An initiative to put about a half-million acres of state trust land off-limits to development, the largest share of it in Pima County, does not have enough valid signatures to make the ballot, Secretary of State Jan Brewer concluded Friday.

Brewer said backers turned in nearly 370,000 signatures. But she said petitions with more than 33,000 of those were rejected by her office. And, a random check by county recorders of the remaining signatures ultimately concluded that another 125,580 of those should be removed either because they did not belong to registered voters or for other reasons.

The result is that the measure came up about 19,000 signatures short of the 230,047 required to put the measure before voters in November, Brewer said.

Patrick Graham, executive director of The Nature Conservancy, which wrote the measure, said his organization will take the matter to court. Graham said he believes that there are sufficient valid signatures.

That argument was reiterated by Charles Blanchard, the attorney hired by the group.

Blanchard said county recorders disqualified a large number of the names for technical reasons, like having an incorrect or missing date next to the signature. But he said courts are permitted to declare those names valid if there is "substantial compliance" with legal requirements.

Arizona got about 10 million acres from the federal government when it became a state in 1912. The state constitution requires it be either leased or sold for the highest value, with most of the funds earmarked for public education.

About 9.3 million acres remain. Proposition 103 would amend the constitution to exempt specific parcels scattered throughout the state from that requirement.

The Arizona School Boards Association voted earlier this year to oppose Prop. 103. That group's key concern is whether taking what could be highly desired parcels off the market would hurt classroom funding. The Arizona Education Association, which represents teachers, has backed the measure, saying there will be no loss.

Acreage, by county, Prop. 103 would have preserved:

  • Apache 17,540
  • Cochis 82,715
  • Coconino 36,423
  • Graham 635
  • Maricopa 62,661
  • Navajo 3,142
  • Pima 181,391
  • Santa Cruz 30,242
  • Yavapai 71,563
Source: The Nature Conservancy