PHOENIX (CN) - The Arizona Board of Regents retaliated against students at the state's three public universities for supporting a ballot initiative for a penny sales tax for education, the Arizona Students' Association claims in Federal Court.
The Arizona Students' Association (ASA) claims the Board of Regents retaliated by voting to "suspend its collection of the refundable ASA student fee that the students had agreed to pay and the Board agreed to collect since 1998," then voted to collect the fee only from students "opted-in."
The Board of Regents wanted to punish the nonprofit student association after it helped write Proposition 204, which would have extended the penny sales tax created in 2010 by Proposition 100, to fund educational programs and control tuition costs, the lawsuit claims.
In 1998, "the students at all three public universities in Arizona voted to directly fund ASA by means of a one-dollar, refundable, student fee collected by each public university in the state at the beginning of each semester with tuition payments," according to the complaint.
The fee was not mandatory; students could opt out of it.
Students voted in 2008 to increase the fee to $2, and still could opt out of it.
The ASA uses the fees "to oppose tuition increases and budget cuts to public higher education and to support student aid and increased funding of public higher education in Arizona," according to the complaint.
Several members of the Board of Regents criticized ASA for supporting Proposition 204. The student group says it "collected more than 20,000 signatures in order to qualify Proposition 204 for the ballot," "helped draft the ballot argument in favor of Proposition 204 that was ultimately published in the official Arizona Secretary of State Publicity Pamphlet," and spent $120,000 to support the measure.
Proposition 204 failed to pass in the November 2012 election. Voters rejected it by nearly 600,000 votes: 1,353,212 No to 768,422 Yes.
After the election, the Board of Regents twice voted to suspended collection of the $2 fee.
The first vote, on Nov. 26, may have violated Arizona's Open Meeting Law, so the Board voted again during a special meeting on Dec. 6 and Dec. 7.
Board members "acknowledged that the board's suspension of the two-dollar, refundable, ASA student fee was 'political' in nature and resulted from ASA's advocacy in support of Proposition 204," the complaint states.
"Students believe the regents' decision to change ASA's funding method was a direct result of ASA's support of Prop. 204," ASA Treasurer Brianna Pantilione said in a statement. "The reasons for the board's decision at its final vote were nothing more than excuses to justify retaliation."
The complaint states that on Feb. 7 the board "voted to modify its policies regarding the collection of the ASA two-dollar student fee whereby each of Arizona's three public universities would collect the ASA fee from only those students who choose to 'opt-in' to paying the fee in the fall semester of 2013 and requiring that ASA reimburse the universities for the administrative costs of collecting the fee."
The Students' Association seeks declaratory judgment that the Board of Regents' punishment of the ASA violated the First Amendment.
It seeks an injunction to stop the board "from suspending, modifying, terminating or otherwise undermining its collection of the ASA student fee."
The group is represented by Stephen Montoya and Robert Pastor, with Montoya, Jimenez & Pastor.