The state Court of Appeals ruled today that lawmakers and Gov. Jan Brewer were legally wrong in refusing to fully increase state aid to schools to account for inflation.
A 2000 voter-approved measure hiked the state's 5 percent sales tax by six-tenths of a cent. It also required lawmakers to make inflationary adjustments to state school funding. Three years ago, though, lawmakers decided that the wording of the law allowed them to alter either ALL school funding or just ONE component. So they chose the latter. But the appellate judges said they cannot ignore the will of the voters. And they ordered them to come up with full funding next year, adding an estimated $82 million to the budget. The order angered Sen. Don Shooter who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"I understand they're supposed to interpret the laws, this might be legitimate -- but if you're going to do that, then it would be helpful if they could tell us where that money's supposed to come from, and so on and so forth," Shooter said.
Judge Michael Brown who wrote the opinion conceded lawmakers face challenges in preparing the budget. But he said -- quote -- our constitution does not permit the Legislature to change the meaning of voter-approved statutes by shifting funds to meet other budgeting priorities. And attorney Donald Peters who brought the lawsuit was unsympathetic.
"I guess it's unpopular these days, but the job of the Legislature is to get the revenue they need," Peters said. "If existing revenue levels won't do it, then they need to do something about the revenue levels."
An appeal to the Supreme Court is anticipated.