Supporters of initiative for cap on hospital executive pay ending fight, measure won't be on ballot

Posted at 9:12 PM, Aug 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-16 00:12:00-04

A voter initiative that would have capped the amount of pay hospital executives could earn in Arizona won't be on the November ballot after the union backing the measure decided Monday to stop defending it in court.

The decision came a day before a Maricopa County Superior Court judge was to begin hearing a challenge to the petitions that would have qualified the measure for the ballot. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce was fighting the initiative capping the annual pay of hospital executives at $450,000.

The measure was backed by the California-based Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, but it said it decided to use its cash elsewhere.

"Given the critical importance of electing Hillary Clinton, we have decided not to pursue the executive compensation initiative this election cycle so we can put all of our energy and resources into the presidential race," union spokesman Sean Wherley said in a written statement. "We remain committed to speaking out about the detrimental effects of excessive executive compensation on our healthcare delivery system."

A court filing, however, said the union had concluded after reviewing the case "that there are not sufficient valid petition signatures for this initiative."

The union turned in more than 281,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Only about 151,000 were needed.

The lawsuit filed by the Chamber of Commerce argued the hospital executive pay initiative should be blocked because the labor group failed to register as a political committee before gathering signatures. The chamber was also challenging signatures gathered by many of the circulators for various reasons.

The chamber and the attorney for the SEIU, Jim Barton, filed a stipulation in court Monday that asks the judge for an order barring the initiative from the ballot.

"We are extremely pleased that an initiative that would have severely harmed Arizona's healthcare sector and its ability to continue to deliver world-class levels of patient care will not appear on the November ballot," chamber President Glenn Hamer said in a statement. "Our complaint cited our concerns over the quality of the petition signatures that were collected and submitted. Today's agreement confirms those concerns were justified."

Two other initiatives are also being challenged in court. A judge is considering a challenge to an initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona, and a second judge is considering whether to block a measure that would raise Arizona's minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 and provide earned sick days to workers.

The marijuana initiative has been certified for the ballot by the secretary of state, barring success by the initiative opponents in court.  The secretary of state has not yet certified the minimum wage measure.