January 17, 2020
By Jon Riches
The Goldwater Institute has argued that the Phoenix City Council’s imposition of new ride-sharing fees at Sky Harbor Airport is unconstitutional—and now, the Arizona Attorney General agrees.
On Thursday, the state Attorney General completed his investigation into Phoenix’s illegal fees on ride-sharing services at Sky Harbor and agreed with Goldwater that the fee increases “very likely violate” the Arizona Constitution. This was an excellent outcome for ride-sharing drivers, passengers, and the many visitors to this state and will ensure that the city’s illegal action gets prompt and definitive resolution from the Arizona Supreme Court.
Last month, the Phoenix City Council adopted an ordinance that raised fees for ride-sharing services at Sky Harbor by more than 200%. At the time, the Goldwater Institute warned the Council that the city’s action violated Proposition 126, which amended Arizona’s Constitution to prohibit any city from imposing any new fees or raising any existing fees on services offered in the state.
The City Council ignored significant opposition from the public and the Goldwater Institute’s warning that the fee increase violated the state Constitution.
Fortunately, under Arizona law, a state lawmaker may submit a request to the Attorney General to investigate city actions that violate the constitution. If the Attorney General finds a likely constitutional violation, he can send the case directly to the Arizona Supreme Court for expedited review.
In this case, the Attorney General concluded that the city’s fee increases “very likely violates” Proposition 126, as the Goldwater Institute had warned.
In his report, the Attorney General dismissed the city’s mumbled and contradictory arguments as to why it imposed the fees as policy preferences, not fidelity to the law. The Attorney General wrote, “What the City seeks is to effectively rewrite the Constitution in light of the City’s policy preference, placing the powers of government above the rights of the people to whom the government must always answer.” That is exactly correct.
The Attorney General also said that he will now file an action directly in the Arizona Supreme Court and “expeditiously seek relief” against Phoenix’s illegal action. The Supreme Court must give that case precedence.
If the Attorney General had found a violation of Proposition 126 outright, his option would have been to direct the State Treasurer to withhold Phoenix’s share of state revenue. But, the city undoubtedly would have challenged that action in trial court, likely bogging this case down for years while the traveling public awaiting resolution.
The Attorney General’s decision, instead, has the benefit of getting clarity on Proposition 126 from the state’s highest court on an issue of statewide concern that is bound to repeat itself as cities try to impose ever higher, and ever more creative, taxes and fees.
The Attorney General’s investigation and report, in other words, ensures that the city’s punishing fee increase will be quickly and finally resolved in the courts. It vindicates the Goldwater Institute’s warning to the city—and we are confident the Supreme Court will also hold true to the Constitution and set aside the city’s illegal action, and others it might contemplate, once and for all.
Jon Riches is the Director of National Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.