VOL. 17 ISSUE NO. 7   | FEBRUARY 16 – 22, 2011


CCUSD loses bid in court for increased funding

Plaintiffs were acting like spoiled children

PHOENIX – Oral arguments were held on Feb. 9 in Cave Creek Unified School District, et al. v. Dean Martin, et al. before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge J. Kenneth Mangum, who issued his ruling later that day, granting the state’s motion to dismiss.

The complaint was filed last year by CCUSD, Casa Grande Elementary, Crane Elementary, Palominas Elementary and Yuma High School districts, along with education associations, unions, a school board member and two school employees, in an attempt to have the court mandate the legislature increase base support and other funding for public schools each year to keep pace with inflation, as they assert was approved by voters in 2000 via Proposition 301.

According to the complaint, the legislature did not make an adjustment for inflation to the base support level for public education for fiscal year 2011, by either 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, as required by Prop. 301.

For 2011, plaintiffs said the required inflation factor should have been 1.3 percent.

However, instead of applying the increase to the base support level, the legislature applied the adjustment only to student transportation route miles, approximately $55 million less.

Statute reads: “… the legislature shall increase the base level or other components of the revenue control limit by a minimum growth rate of either 2 percent or the change in the GDP price deflator … whichever is less, except that the base level shall never be reduced below the base level established for fiscal year 2001-2002.”

According to Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, the statutory language extends discretionary power to lawmakers to adjust the entire formula or a portion of the formula.

Components that can be adjusted include transpor-tation and utilities. For the 2011 budget year, lawmakers chose to increase only the formula for transportation, a $5.4 million statewide increase, rather than the $61 million to which school districts felt entitled.

While Donald M. Peters, attorney for the plaintiffs, noted the use of the word “or” in his briefs, he claimed the legislators really meant “and,” stating, “It is common for legislative bodies to confuse the words ‘or’ and ‘and.’”

Before heading to oral arguments, Pearce defended the legislature’s actions and stated, “‘Or’ means ‘or” and said the legislature’s lawyers assured them the budget was legally put together.

Pearce said it doesn’t matter if the legislature previously approved increased funding for all elements until now because “we’re out of money.”

He said, “The state is bankrupt,” and stated the plaintiffs were acting like spoiled children, raised with an “entitlement mentality.”

Newly elected Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who inherited the case to defend on behalf of the state, said it may have been the intent of voters in 2000 to fund the inflation adjustment in full, but the word “or” means what it seems.

Horne stated when language is unambiguous, the language normally prevails, and, absent ambiguity, he said, “You don’t look to intent.”

The school districts hoped the court would rule on “the real meaning of Prop. 301,” and require the legislature to “amend and correct the fiscal year 2011 budget by applying the same increase that is currently being applied to student transportation route miles to the base support level.”

Mangum, in noting the plaintiffs “clearly have standing,” stated, “However, the court is convinced that the legal prerequisites for recovery by plaintiffs have not been met.”

He went on to explain, “For example, while Proposition 301 states the intention of the voters of Arizona that an appropriation be made to protect schools from the effects of inflation, the proposition by itself is not self-executing. Moreover, as a method of lawmaking, the voters cannot require the legislature to enact a law that provides for that appropriation.”

Instead of statute containing direct language “that plaintiffs would prefer it had,” Mangum said the law “essentially states that the legislature shall pass a law appropriating the inflation adjustment.”

He asked, “But how can any legislative body be ordered by an earlier pronouncement (by the Senate and House or the voters at the ballot) to undertake such action? Moreover, if the later legislature passes the appropriation but the matter is vetoed by the governor, what is the remedy … an order to the governor to rescind the veto?”

In conclusion, Mangum stated, “Plaintiffs argue that the legislature has violated Arizona Constitution’s voter protection provisions, which provisions prohibit repealing or amending an initiative or referendum, etc. However, failing to appropriate the statutory amount is a failure to do what the law requests, not what the law requires. The statute is thus precatory (a wish or suggestion), not mandatory.

If the statute were written in a manner that is self-enforcing as are other statutes, Mangum stated the relief by injunction would be appropriate.

He ended by saying, “There are California court decisions in support of the plaintiffs’ argument but the court does not find them compelling.”

Speaker of the House Kirk Adams issued a brief statement about the ruling on Friday, stating, “This is a good decision for the rule of law. 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. I applaud Judge Mangum for maintaining and enforcing the constitutional process for fiscal appropriations.”