Court: State wrong in refusing school aid increase
PHOENIX — State lawmakers and Gov. Jan Brewer were legally wrong in refusing to fully increase state aid to schools to account for inflation, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
The judges rejected arguments by attorneys for the Legislature that the wording of a 2000 ballot measure mandating inflationary increases permitted lawmakers to pick and choose which of several components of that aid to boost. Judge Michael Brown, writing for the unanimous court, said the wording of that law, coupled with a constitutional provision prohibiting lawmakers from altering what voters have approved, leaves legislators with no choice but to come up with the cash.
Tuesday's ruling, unless overturned, potentially blows a hole in the state budget for the coming year.
The staff of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee said properly funding for inflation according to the court's ruling this coming year will add $82 million in state aid to schools more than what lawmakers said they are required to provide under the legal theory rejected by the court.
“It's just going to mean less money for other areas of government,'' said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.
The court, however, declined to order the state to cough up the funds illegally withheld from schools this year and two prior ones. The governor's office put the figure at nearly $189 million; the Arizona School Boards Association, one of the groups that challenged the Legislature, put the figure closer to $250 million. The order to provide the additional cash angered Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, Kavanagh's counterpart in the Senate.
“If they can explain to me where we find that money or where we can get it, that should be part of their responsibility,'' he said.