Ariz. Judge Won't Order Expanded Inflation Funding - FOX 10 News | myfoxphoenix.com

Ariz. Judge Won't Order Expanded Inflation Funding

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The $55 million question of whether "or" means "and" in a voter-approved school funding law will have to wait for another day -- if ever -- for an answer.

That's because a judge has dismissed a lawsuit by school districts and education groups, ruling that the 2000 law does not require legislators to make an appropriation to adjust school funding for inflation.

Instead, the law effectively only requests an appropriation, Judge J. Kenneth Magnum of Maricopa County Superior Court said in the ruling issued Friday.

Arizona voters can approve laws in which the voters themselves make appropriations -- specific authorizations for spending by the state -- but they can't pass laws that require legislators to make appropriations, Mangum's ruling said. He cited a 1948 state Supreme Court ruling on funding for a state agency.

At issue in the current case is the Legislature's decision last year amid the state's budget crisis to only adjust part of the K-12 school per-student funding formula for inflation. The state previously adjusted the entire formula.

The difference is about $55 million. That amounts to between $50 and $60 for each public school student.

Legal arguments in the case initially centered on wording in the 2000 law that directed the state to adjust the entire formula "or" part of it.

A 2001 attorney general's opinion said "or" actually meant "and" in context because a full inflation adjustment was the intent both lawmakers who put the measure on the ballot and voters who approved it.

The Legislature until last year went along by providing a full inflation adjustment, even as some fiscal conservatives grumbled.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs said they will appeal Magnum's ruling.

"We think the people do have the power to ensure that certain kinds of appropriations get made," said the lawyer, Don Peters.

The or-vs.-and issue will be considered anew by the Court of Appeals, he said.

Current Republican legislative leaders whose lawyers helped defend the budget decision hailed the ruling.

"This is a good decision for the rule of law," said House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa. "The Constitution requires specific legal authorization for all payments from the state treasury. This requirement is especially important now as we face unprecedented financial challenges."

Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said Mangum "found legislative discretion in the language, and that's why you see such a clear ruling."

"The ruling also supports responsible inflation funding for the school districts this fiscal year, and provides guidance as we sit down to put together a budget for the state for the years ahead," Pearce added.

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