Farmers vs. state fund sweeps on May 18

Christian Palmer//May 13, 2009

Farmers vs. state fund sweeps on May 18

Christian Palmer//May 13, 2009

A conglomerate of Arizona farmers will get their day in court May 18 as a Maricopa County Superior Court judge will hear arguments on the legality of the Legislature’s 2008 fund sweep of money meant to advance agriculture interests.

In September, the Arizona Farm Bureau, the Western Growers Association, Arizona Wheat Growers Association and the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association challenged a provision of the 2009 state budget that called for pulling about $160,000 from several state-operated agricultural accounts.

The group of farmers claim the state violated the U.S. and Arizona constitutions by illegally sweeping funds, which were voluntary private contributions meant to pay for agricultural research projects and advertising campaigns.

The funds were operated by the Arizona Iceberg Lettuce Research Council, the Arizona Grain Research Fund and the Arizona Citrus Research Council Fund.

Joe Sigg, of the Arizona Farm Bureau, said the lawsuit intends to recoup the cash and to set the legal precedent that the private industry funds are, in essence, a trust that the state cannot take.

“We say it looks like a trust, walks like a trust and smells like a trust,” he said. “It’s a trust.”

Assistant Attorney General Bill Richards disagrees with that contention, noting the accounts have been established in state law and therefore the money can be redirected by lawmakers.

“The state’s position is that the money involved is public money subject to appropriation and transfer through the appropriations process of the Legislature,” Richards said.

The lawsuit targets former Gov. Janet Napolitano, State Treasurer Dean Martin, Attorney General Terry Goddard, former House Speaker Jim Weiers and Former Senate President Tim Bee.

The case, numbered CV2008-020928 is being heard by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Craig Blakey.