Brno: Phoenix airport Uber, Lyft fees ‘likely’ unconstitutional

The Sky Train at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Photo by Cortney Bennett | Cronkite News

Phoenix’s increased airport fees on rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft likely violates a constitutional provision barring the imposition of new fees by governments in Arizona, Attorney General Mark Brnovich said Thursday.

Because of that, Brnovich said he will ask the Arizona Supreme Court to review the fees and issue a final decision on whether they are legal. 

The $4 fees, which were approved in December, are scheduled to take effect on Feb. 1. By 2024, the fee is scheduled to increase to $5 per trip. The city has said that the fees will be used to recover some of the $26 million that the airport spends on infrastructure, including curbs, roadways and the Sky Train that ferries travelers around the airport.

Brnovich’s review of the law came in response to a complaint lodged by Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, alleging that the fees violate a provision of the Arizona Constitution barring new taxes, fees or assessments on services. Voters approved the prohibition in 2018 when they passed Proposition 126. 

The challenge is known as an SB1487 complaint, named after the 2016 law that permits any legislator to ask the attorney general to review an action by any municipality or county if they believe that action violates state law. If the attorney general finds a violation, the offending law must be repealed or the violator loses 10 percent of the money it receives from state tax revenues.

An attorney for the City of Phoenix argued earlier this month that the fees were constitutional for a variety of reasons, including that they aren’t “transaction-based” and that companies that would be required to pay them would only do so as part of the permitting process that allows them to use “valuable, limited” airport resources to conduct business.

But Brnovich disagreed, writing that the city “cannot overcome the language that the voters put into the Constitution” barring “any” new or increased government fees.

“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 cannot be,” Brnovich wrote.