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State appeals court ruling on education funding

The Attorney General’s Office is asking the Arizona Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that said lawmakers violated the will of voters three years ago when they failed to increase education funding to match inflation.

The state filed the appeal and argued that the Arizona Court of Appeals erred in its Jan. 15 decision in which it found that the 1998 Voter Protection Act allows voters to bind future Legislatures to take specific actions.

Assistant Attorney General Kathleen Sweeney argued that, while the ballot measure altered the balance of power between the Legislature and voters, it did so only by prohibiting the Legislature from eliminating or altering laws passed at the ballot.

“But nowhere does it authorize the voters to order the Legislature by statute to exercise its legislative discretion in a particular manner,” Sweeney wrote.

Attorneys Donald Peters and Tim Hogan, representing the Arizona School Boards Association and several school districts that brought the legal challenge, argued in their response brief that voters were clear in 2000 that they wanted annual increases in education funding, and the Legislature’s job in seeing that it happened “was mandatory and ministerial.”

The attorneys urged the high court to reject the case because it doesn’t present any new issues. They also argued that, if the court accepts the case now, it might have to decide the issue again in a subsequent case because of a 2004 constitutional amendment that requires a dedicated funding source for all voter-approved spending.

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