Lawmakers made a difficult decision when they cut more than $200 million from the state’s health care system for the poor, but doing so wasn’t unconstitutional, Senate President Russell Pearce and House Speaker Andy Tobin argued yesterday in a brief opposing a lawsuit that aims to block the cuts.
“It is the job of the Legislature to prioritize. That is its constitutional role. This year, faced with a $1.47 billion-dollar shortfall, one of the worst in state history, the Legislature was forced to make very difficult choices,” legislative attorneys said.
Earlier this month, a liberal public interest attorney filed a special action with the Arizona Supreme Court asking it to halt an enrollment freeze in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System that was approved earlier this year as part of the state budget, which goes into effect July 1.
Further, the legislative leaders said that lawmakers have never been bound to spend state general fund money to provide health care for all Arizonans who make less than the federal poverty level, even though voters called on them to do so in 2000.
The ballot measure required the state use money Arizona received from a multi-state tobacco lawsuit settlement to pay for the increased AHCCCS caseload. It also required funding “be supplemented, as necessary, by any other available sources including legislative appropriations and federal monies.” Attorney Tim Hogan contended in the original legal challenge that prohibits legislators from making the cuts.
But legislative attorneys said it is impossible for voters to require future legislatures to spend money.
“No one can take that power away from a future legislature. The same holds true for the (voters) when they act in a legislative capacity through the initiative and referendum process,” Pearce and Tobin argued in the filing.
Both the Governor’s Office and Attorney General’s Office also filed motions this week asking the court to reject Hogan’s request for an injunction that would block the cuts.