Arizona’s lawless legislature loses in court again on education funding


Earlier this year I told you about Our lawless legislature lost in court, now it’s fighting a settlement that saves taxpayers money:

The latest example of our lawless legislature pissing away your tax dollars on fruitless litigation comes from Howard Fischer, Public schools seek deal to drop $1.2 billion suit against state:

education_appleThe fight surrounds the 2010 decision by lawmakers to ignore Proposition 301, a 2000 voter-mandated requirement to make annual inflationary increases in state aid to public schools. But last year the Arizona Supreme Court ruled they violated the Voter Protection Act, a constitutional provision prohibiting legislative tinkering with anything approved at the ballot.

That ruling, affirming an appellate court decision, cemented in an additional $82 million in aid for the current school year and put the schools in line for another $80 million for next year.

The high court ruling left unsettled the question of all the aid that was not provided during the court fight.

Arizona public schools have offered to give up their claim to more than $1.2 billion in lost aid if the state will simply agree to adjust the current formula to recognize the fact that lawmakers broke state law.

But state lawmakers are balking.

So what’s holding up this settlement? I mean, besides the fact of having to admit that the legislature broke state law? (Which they do all the time, so it should be old hat by now).  You guessed it — this guy:

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said he is willing to settle . . . [but] said what Peters wants is not a good deal, even if it gets the state off the hook for possibly $1.2 billion in aid the state should have paid schools while the lawsuit was pending. He said the state should get credit for all the years, going back to 2000, when lawmakers provided more additional cash to schools than was legally required.

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[Kavanagh] said the state should pay a lot less than what Peters wants.

He said there were years in the early part of the last decade where state aid actually increased more than the minimum required.

“We should get credit for that,” Kavanagh said. He wants to start with the per-student funding in 2000, calculate what was the minimum increase required each year, and then set the new baseline based on that.

“If there were years we gave over additional money for inflation, then that should be part of the overall calculation, too,” he said.

Our lawless legislature failed to settle this case on favorable terms, and the case went back to the Maricopa County Superior Court for further proceedings. Today the Court ruled against our lawless legislature again. the Arizona Republic reports, Arizona schools win $1.6 billion in court fight:

Arizona’s public schools are due an additional $317 million in funding for the coming budget year, a court ruled Friday, a decision that could cost the state an extra $1.6 billion over the next five years.

But the court left undecided Friday the fate of $1.3 billion in back payments that schools argue they’re due for unpaid costs related to inflation.

The Ruling on school funding (.pdf) by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Cooper comes after the state Supreme Court last year ruled the Legislature failed to honor the direction voters gave in 2000, when they approved a ballot measure calling for annual inflation adjustments to the school-funding formula.

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Cooper, following the direction set by the Supreme Court, ordered the state to adjust base funding for schools in the coming fiscal year to $3,560 per student, a collective increase of about $317 million.

That increase will boost overall school spending by about $1.6 billion over the next five years but also could strain a budget that lawmakers say can’t withstand the increase. Budget officials have already projected a possible shortfall in the budget year that begins in July 2016.

Cooper said another hearing is needed to determine how, or whether, to disburse $1.3 billion in back payments to schools. Those dollars, missing for four years, would have paid for teacher salaries and other classroom improvements.

“The court must determine whether the facts support the disbursement of yesterday’s funds today,” she wrote. The schools have argued they can put the money to work on classroom equipment, such as computers and building renovations; state officials argued they don’t have the funds to cover that cost.

Cooper rejected nearly all of the state’s arguments, including lawmakers’ objection that only the Legislature can appropriate money.

But Cooper said that issue was decided by the Supreme Court: It held the Legislature violated the Voter Protection Act by not following the will of the voters when they approved a ballot measure in 2000 increasing school funding.

The good news is our public schools will have more money to educate students this year. The bad news is that the gimmicky “balanced” state budget just had a hole blown in it — it is no longer balanced —  and future budgets will be impacted by this decision, and any later court decision regarding the $1.3 billion in back payments to schools.

Arizona needs to repeal Prop. 108 (1992), the two-thirds super-majority requirement for raising taxes, because we now have no choice but to raise taxes to meet this additional funding demand. We cannot allow a tyranny of the minority of anti-tax zealots backed by the “Kochtopus” Death Star, the Goldwater Institute, to block much needed tax reform.

Democratic candidate for governor Fred DuVal issued the following press release:

Fred DuVal Applauds Court Decision to Reinvest in Our Schools

Phoenix, AZ — Business and education leader Fred DuVal, who is running for Arizona governor, released the following statement today applauding the Superior Court’s decision to reset Arizona’s base funding level for education.

“The Court ruled that Doug Ducey, Jan Brewer, and the Legislature broke the law when they cut millions of dollars from our kids’ schools,” said DuVal. “Doug Ducey, Jan Brewer, and the Legislature thought they could pull an end-run around the voters, but – fortunately – a group of teachers, concerned parents, and school officials stood up to their ‘cut schools first’ mentality.”

“When I’m Governor, there’ll be no more cuts to our children’s schools. I will work with teachers and parents to make Arizona’s education system the fastest improving in the country.”