PHOENIX - State appellate judges agreed this afternoon to continue funding for the Land Department through the end of June, funding that a trial judge concluded was illegal.
In a brief order, the Arizona Court of Appeals said it would not force the state agency to stop using the cash from a special trust fund to run the department. State Land Commissioner Maria Baier had warned that without the injunction she would have been forced to lay off 106 of her agency's 115 workers.
But the reprieve is only temporary. The appellate judges said they will keep the funds flowing only through the end of the current fiscal year.
Attorney Tim Hogan, who challenged the funding shift, said he can live with that.
``Our intent is not to shut down the Land Department,'' he said.
More to the point, he said the financial crisis is not the fault of Baier and her staff but of the Arizona Legislature which directed the Land Department to take the money from special trust funds.
Hogan said the June 30 deadline will force lawmakers to
find an alternate - and legal - source of cash.
In the interim, though, the Land Department will continue to battle the ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge who ruled in October that lawmakers illegally diverted money from the trust lands to run the department.
Donahoe said "unambiguous constitutional language" requires
that proceeds from the sale and lease of state trust lands can go only to the beneficiaries. In most cases that means support of the state's public schools.
That ruling immediately put the state on the hook for about $15 million, the amount already taken from the trust proceeds in the 1 1/2 years since the law was amended.
More immediately, it also barred the state from diverting more dollars in the future, money that Baier had planned to use to keep the doors open.
It was that loss of future dollars which caused Baier to seek appellate court relief.