Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Catherine Cooper, pursuant to a mandate from the Arizona Supreme Court, ordered the state of Arizona to pay restitution to public school districts for
shorting stealing from the school districts over the past four years.
The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports, Judge issues final judgment in school finance inflation case that could cost state billions:
Judge Cooper’s ruling came about because the Arizona Supreme Court ordered her to enter a judgment consistent with its 2013 ruling in favor of school districts.
The high court ruled that the state is obligated under Proposition 301, which was approved by voters in 2000, to increase education funding annually to fully account for inflation. The Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature violated the Voter Protection Act when it only provided a partial increase that was less than the inflationary requirement.
[Judge Cooper] entered a final judgment [in this] monumental school finance case, compelling the Legislature to reset inflation adjustments for public schools at a price tag of about $317 million for fiscal-year 2015.
Gov. Jan Brewer said July 17 the state will appeal a ruling by Judge Katherine Cooper of Maricopa County Superior Court that requires the Legislature to fund each student in fiscal year 2015 as if the amount for the previous year were $3,559.62. Lawmakers have already set the amount at $3,326.54. The judge set aside a week in October for a hearing on whether to order reimbursements for schools for unfunded inflation adjustments in fiscal years 2009 to 2014, estimated at $1.3 billion.
The judgment Cooper entered today makes her July ruling completely effective.
* * *
Attorney Don Peters, who represents several school districts in the case, said he expects the state to ask for the judgment to be put on hold pending an appeal.
Peters said the appellate court in determining whether to issue a stay would consider the likelihood of the appealing side winning and the harm that would come to the various parties if the judgment were stayed.
“We’ve hurt school kids in Arizona long enough,” Peters said.
Either way, both sides are going to ask for a quick decision on appeal because money is at stake, Peters said.
A state budget analysis shows that Cooper’s decision could send the state into a severe fiscal jam at a time when revenue collections are falling short of expectations.
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee analysis concluded the total cost of the decision could reach $2.9 billion over five years, roughly a third of the state’s budget for the period.
Howard Fischer adds, Judge rules state must pay public schools $300 million immediately:
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, acknowledged the state does have the estimated $317 million needed right now. There is about $455 million in the state’s “rainy day fund.”
Kavanagh said, though, the state was looking to use those dollars to help prevent a deficit for the following fiscal year. He said if those funds are gone and the state needs another $320 million for inflation adjustments above what lawmakers had anticipated, that results in an $800 million deficit.
* * *
Kavanagh said [raising taxes is] likely a non-starter, saying he has not found a single gubernatorial candidate of either party who supports hiking taxes. There’s also the constitutional problem that it takes a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate for any such increase.
Attorney Don Peters said how they do it is not his concern — as long as they do it.
“They could get rid of some of the tax cuts that are now taking effect that have been enacted in recent years,” he said, calling them “a large reason why we’re running into the financial difficulties we’re running into.”
During a two-year period, Gov. Jan Brewer signed bills to cut taxes on capital gains, provide tax breaks for new investments and eventually slash the corporate income tax rate by 30 percent. The price tag of just those efforts, when fully implemented, has been estimated to exceed $630 million. But proponents of those moves have said it is necessary to make Arizona more competitive and attract new employers to the state.
This is now the defining issue in state legislative races and for governor in the 2014 election. After six years of Gov. Jan Brewer and a Tea-Publican dominated legislature, Brewer’s legacy is to leave this state in weak economic condition with falling state revenues and a budget deficit, due to blind faith in supply-side “trickle down” GOP tax cuts. The bill has come due for our lawless legislature stealing from the school districts for years, and now the state must find a way to pay the judgment.
It’s time to elect serious-minded adults who do not believe in childish fantasies such as supply-side “trickle down” GOP economics, and who are ready to get serious about long overdue tax reforms in Arizona, including the repeal of Prop. 108 (1992), the super-majority requirement for tax measures,which is undemocratic and only enables a tyranny of a minority of anti-tax zealots who would rather destroy this state than ever raise taxes. Restoring simple majority rule is a prerequisite to serious tax reform.