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Taxpayers should be free to challenge unconstitutional government spending

January 29, 2016

Two years ago, when officials in Maricopa County invested $10 million of government money in a start-up insurance company, taxpayers went to court to argue that the deal violated the state constitution’s Gift Clause.  That’s the provision that forbids the government from giving away taxpayer money away to favored individuals or groups. But last October, the Arizona Court of Appeals blocked the lawsuit, holding that taxpayers had no standing to sue because the government fund from which the expenditure was made contained both property tax money and other, non-taxpayer monies.  Since taxpayers could not prove that the money being spent came from tax dollars, they were barred from suing.

The taxpayers have asked the state’s Supreme Court to take the case, and the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation has filed a “friend of the court” brief on their behalf.  The Institute—which for years has championed the rights of taxpayers to challenge illegal expenditures of their money—argue that the precedent would bar taxpayers from seeking enforcement of the state constitution, and would eliminate crucial protections for government accountability. State and local governments’ general funds almost always commingle taxpayer and non-taxpayer money. Forcing taxpayers to prove that their specific dollars went to a challenged project would bar the door to meritorious lawsuits and cripple the constitutional prohibition on corporate welfare.

Goldwater’s brief argues that whenever taxpayers have contributed to a government fund that contains both tax money and non-tax money, the burden of proof should be on the government to prove that the expenditure was valid. Saddling the taxpayer with the impossible task of tracing tax money, dollar-for-dollar, to prove taxes were spent illegally is unreasonable, since it’s the government that commingled the money in the first place. Given the importance of this constitutional guarantee, the government—not the taxpayer—should have to toe the line.

You can read our Amicus Brief here:Brief of Amicus Curiae, Goldwater Institute in Support of Petitioner/Appellants Arizona Public Integrity Alliance, Inc. and Pace Ellsworth (1/29/2016)



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