Lawmakers to again argue against voter mandate

May 30, 2013

The Arizona Supreme Court says it will give lawmakers another chance to argue they do not have to obey a voter mandate to increase funding for public schools.

The 2000 voter-approved law hiked the state sales tax by six-tenths of a cent. It also directed legislators to increase base aid to schools each year to compensate for inflation. Lawmakers complied -- until 2010 when they said there wasn't enough money.

In January, the Court of Appeals ruled legislators could not ignore what voters said, and ordered them to comply. Yesterday, the high court said it wants to decide whether the Voter Protection Act, which bars lawmakers from altering laws approved at the ballot, can also be used to force them to pay.

Attorney Don Peters, who represents the Arizona Education Association and the school districts who sued, says it comes down to interpretation of the Voter Protection Act.

"And I think what you're looking at is the fact that it says you can't amend a statute, you can't repeal or supersede one," Peters said. "Well, it never says the Legislature has to follow instructions. It doesn't say that in so many words. So if they just ignore the instruction from the people, is that a violation of the Voter Protection Act?"

If the high court rules lawmakers have to pay for the inflation formula, that would give schools another $82 million this coming year.

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