Federal judge in Arizona rules against Gov. Ducey in Prop. 123 lawsuit

Oct 1, 2019, 11:13 AM | Updated: Oct 2, 2019, 8:10 am
In this May 26, 2016, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, second from right, signs a proclamation ...
In this May 26, 2016, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, second from right, signs a proclamation at the state Capitol in Phoenix, certifying the results of Proposition 123 on school funding. (AP file photo)
(AP file photo)

PHOENIX — A federal judge ruled Monday that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey acted illegally by withdrawing money from a state land trust to fund education without congressional approval.

A spokesman for the governor’s office called the ruling “incoherent” and “poorly reasoned.”

State resident Michael Pierce sued the governor after Proposition 123, which allocated $3.5 billion from the trust and the state’s general fund to education, was narrowly approved in 2016.

Pierce argued the state dipping into its land trust to fund schools without congressional approval was illegal.

The governor’s office argued that the action was legal because voters supported it and Congress subsequently approved it in the Consolidated Appropriations Act in 2018.

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake disagreed in his ruling, saying the state “took those monies illegally and spent them.”

He said a single provision about the withdrawals in the 2,400-page appropriations bill that likely went unnoticed was not enough to be considered congressional approval.

Wake wasn’t expected to force Arizona to pay back the money from the state land trust. Instead, the ruling bars Arizona from adopting a similar tactic to boost withdrawals from the land trust in the future.

“This decision is terrible and will be overturned on appeal,” Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said on Twitter.

“Rarely before have we seen such a blatant disregard of facts, precedent and common sense to push forward the agenda of one biased, activist judge.”

Andrew Jacob, an attorney representing Pierce, a retired construction worker, said the governor was claiming he wouldn’t have to seek congressional approval in the future.

The judge wrote that if Ducey ignores the requirement of congressional approval again, he would issue an injunction against the governor.

Jacob said his client didn’t feel it was appropriate to try to get the state to pay back money to the state land trust. His client was more concerned about the way the state conducts itself in the future, Jacobs said.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said the ruling will not affect schools’ current funding amounts.

“Proposition 123 was approved by voters to pay schools what they were owed, and these critical dollars will continue to flow to Arizona schools until funding expires in 2025,” she said in a statement.

“The next step our state must take is finding a sustainable revenue source that will fully restore education funding to pre-recession levels.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Federal judge in Arizona rules against Gov. Ducey in Prop. 123 lawsuit