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Judge: Ducey acted illegally in pushing 2016 ballot measure

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Posted at 5:28 PM, Oct 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-01 23:06:33-04

PHOENIX  — In 2016 many saw Prop 123 as the best way to solve Arizona's education funding crisis. It was offered up by the governor and endorsed by the legislature.

Supported by teachers and parents, Prop 123 allowed Arizona to siphon $2.2 billion from the state's land trust fund over a ten year period. All the money would go to public education.

Almost everyone thought it was a good idea, but former State Treasurer Jeff DeWitt was not among them, "It's a terrible financial decision and it's really unfortunate," DeWitt said at the time. He thought the proposition was illegal.

A federal judge agreed, saying Arizona did not get congressional approval prior to moving forward with the land trust payouts.

The Governor's office was quick to react. In a series of early morning tweets, Governor Ducey's spokesman Patrick Ptak called the decision "incoherent, poorly reasoned." "Rarely," Ptak said, "have we seen such a blatant disregard of the facts," Ptak says Arizona will appeal the decision.

"Judge Wake overstepped. Judge Wake puts on a robe in the morning and thinks he is God. He is not. I want to tell you what everyone down at the courthouse needs to know. It's time for Judge Wake to retire," said Ducey.

The judge's ruling allows the state to continue to tap into the state land trust fund to pay for education through 2025. But after that lawmakers will need to have a permanent source of funding in place.

"The idea with Prop 123 was to be a temporary stop-gap," Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas says, "Keep those dollars coming in to give us time to have an adult conversation and figure out where those dollars are going to come and put them into schools."

Thomas says there have been no conversations between educators and lawmakers regarding long term funding. He hopes the ruling will prompt the governor or legislators to start considering permanent funding options. "So in 2025 we'll see $300-million thereabouts disappear from education funding," Thomas said. "We'll have to replace that with something."

But a governor who has taken the state from a billion-dollar deficit to a billion-dollar surplus without raising taxes may have little interest in solving the next public education funding challenge. Governor Ducey terms out in 2024.

Any urge to solve the problem may have to wait until his successor takes over.