PHOENIX — Attorney General Mark Brnovich used his inaugural speech Monday to point up a key disagreement he has with Gov. Doug Ducey.
In listing the accomplishments of his first four years, Brnovich said his office is dedicated “to thwarting would-be terrorists, foiling con artists and bringing criminals to justice.” And he said his agency has returned more than $60 million to Arizona consumers who did not get what they paid for.
But he also cited his goal “to stop skyrocketing tuition at our public universities.”
That is a direct reference to the lawsuit that Brnovich filed in 2017 against the Arizona Board of Regents, claiming the tuition being charged to state residents violates a constitutional provision that instruction be “as nearly free as possible.”
But, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes last year tossed his case out of court.
She said the way Arizona law is worded, Brnovich can file lawsuits only when he has specific legislative authority or permission of the governor. And in this case, Contes said, he has neither.
Nor is he likely to get it.
After Brnovich sued, Ducey said the state’s three universities are in compliance with the constitutional mandate, no matter what the attorney general contends.
“Our universities are accessible and affordable,” the governor said. And Ducey said while the universities had to make do when state aid was cut during the recession — including by raising tuition — he sees no legal problems with where tuition now stands.
Brnovich disagrees, citing what he computes to be tuition increases of more than 315 percent between 2002 and 2017 when he filed suit. He said those increases far outstrip inflation overall and even increases at other public universities.
Brnovich charges that the regents set tuition not based on actual costs but on a variety of other factors, including what is charged elsewhere and access of students to financial aid. None of that, he contends, is constitutional.
But for the moment, those arguments are largely academic, as Brnovich can’t make them until he gets Contes’ ruling overturned, legislative authority or permission to sue from Ducey.
The governor, for his part, is unhappy with Brnovich for even going to court in the first place rather than trying to resolve the issue by speaking with the regents.
“I’m not a big fan of lawsuits,” the governor said after Brnovich sued. “When I can I like to reduce the number of lawsuits rather than expand them.”
Gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak would not comment after Brnovich’s inaugural speech Monday, instead citing the governor’s 2017 comments.