Judge: Arizona owes schools $300 million it illegally withheld

2014-07-11T10:07:00Z 2014-07-11T13:15:59Z Judge: Arizona owes schools $300 million it illegally withheldBy Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX —  Arizona lawmakers must come up with $300 million immediately — and potentially $2.9 billion over five years — to make up for aid to schools they withheld illegally, a judge has ruled.

In an order released today, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper said the measure voters approved in 2000 clearly requires lawmakers to increase state aid to public schools each year to compensate them for inflation. She said the evidence presented when the case previously went to the Arizona Supreme Court shows it is clear the state did not do that for several years.

Despite that high court ruling, attorneys for the state had hoped to convince Cooper they should not be forced to cough up extra funds now. They argued that in some years, prior to the budget cuts, schools actually got a bigger increase in state aid than was merited. That, they said, should mean that schools really aren't owed anything.

And they also said the state simply cannot afford the payout. That argument left Cooper cold.

"Cost does not defeat jurisdiction,'' she wrote.

"The court finds no legal authority for that proposition,'' Cooper continued. "As a practical matter, if it did, the courts could never order anyone to anything that costs money.''

But Cooper was careful not to order exactly how the missed funds should be obtained, whether through higher taxes or cutting other state programs.

"This court cannot (and will not) tell the Legislature or treasurer how to fund the adjustments, past or future,'' she wrote. "The court assumes that the Legislature will do what the law requires to enable the state to comply with the Supreme Court decision.'

Check back later as this story is updated.

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