Arizona tax agency head fired after defending education tax

The director of Arizona’s tax collection agency has been abruptly dismissed from his job after he hired outside lawyers to defend Proposition 208, a new voter-approved tax on the wealthy that will boost education funding.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s office announced a new leader for the Department of Revenue on Dec. 29 without mentioning that Carlton Woodruff was out as director. Woodruff has worked with Ducey since the Republican governor was state treasurer and was appointed to lead the tax agency in 2018 after serving in other state leadership roles.

Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin said he could not discuss personnel matters, but then appeared to link Woodruff’s defense of Proposition 208 to his departure.

"The role of state agencies is not to take policy positions but to implement the law," Karamargin said. "Courts in this case will ultimately decide what the law is and our expectation is that state agencies will follow the law."

Proposition 208 passed on Nov. 3, but two lawsuits challenging its constitutionality were then filed. They argue in part that under the Arizona Constitution, the power to tax and spend state funds rests with the Legislature.

RELATEDLawsuit filed against Prop 208, 'largest income tax hike in Arizona history'

The lawsuits were filed by the Republican leaders of the Arizona Legislature, a retired judge, a business owner and taxpayers.

The state of Arizona and the Department of Revenue are named as defendants, and the group that backed Proposition 208 has intervened to defend the new law.

Ducey, however, has not directly acted to defend the law, although as governor he is charged with implementing laws passed by either the Legislature or the people.

Ducey opposed Proposition 208, as did the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a major Ducey backer.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s spokeswoman, Katie Conner, said the state sometimes hires outside counsel to defend lawsuits, although that’s normally his job. Outside lawyers can be hired for staffing or expertise reasons or because of a conflict of interest.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge heard arguments last week in the combined lawsuits and is considering whether to block collection of the tax while the case moves through the courts. Judge John Hannah did not say when he would rule on the request.

Ducey named the tax agency’s deputy director, Rob Woods, to serve as interim director.

A listed personal phone number for Woodruff wasn’t available.

Get breaking news alerts in the FOX 10 News app. It is FREE! Download for Apple iOS or Android.