PHOENIX – Attorney General Kris Mayes is threatening to sue the governor and the legislature if they follow through with what she said are plans to take funds her office obtained from opioid makers.
In a new letter to Katie Hobbs and state lawmakers, Mayes said she is alarmed that her office and most state agencies will not be getting additional funds in the new budget, a situation she blamed on “the catastrophic drain on state resources caused by universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.”
Demand by parents to send their children to private and parochial schools at state expenses has exceeded earlier projections.
“Any budget that does not adjust the general fund during a time of inflation is a budget cut,” Mayes wrote in the three-page letter obtained by Capitol Media Services.
She listed a series of services her agency provides and how they would be impacted, like those for the Department of Child Safety. And it’s not just that there won’t be an inflation adjustment.
Mayes said she actually requested a 15% more money for salaries – nearly $3.9 million – to deal with the fact that as the caseload grows she is unable to fill positions.
She separately argued that the criminal division needs more tax dollars.
She said there are more than 18 positions that are paid for through the Consumer Protection Revolving Fund. And that is being fueled from Arizona’s share of a 2012 $50 billion nationwide settlement with lenders who cheated borrowers out of money.
Mayes said those funds will most likely be depleted by the end of 2025.
On those issues, the attorney general may be at the mercy of the governor and lawmakers who have the constitutional authority to set spending and who are looking to put the finishing touches on a budget for the coming year as early as this week.
But Mayes may have a legal tool at her disposal over what she said has been discussion about having the Legislature decide how to use dollars Arizona received through consent judgments with several pharmaceutical companies for their roles in the opioid crisis.
The attorney general said the more than $1.1 billion the state will get over the next 18 years is designed to go for opioid treatment, prevention and education. Of that total, she said, the state gets about $502 million with the rest going directly to counties, cities and towns.
Mayes said those dollars are off-limits to lawmakers.
She said those consent judgments – recorded with and enforceable by the courts – have specific requirements on how those dollars are to be spent. And giving those dollars to lawmakers to spend how they wish is not among those intended targets.
“As attorney general, I will not stand by and allow this to happen,” she warned Hobbs and lawmakers.
Mayes said she is not simply spending the dollars as she wishes, saying she intends to consult with the legislature about how she will allocate them, as required by the judgments.
But surrendering the entire decision to lawmakers, she said, is legally unacceptable.
“Any proposal that contradicts this provision by having the Legislature instead direct how the state funds will be used is not acceptable,” Mayes wrote. And it came with a warning.
“I am prepared to go to court to ensure that the state is able to obtain and properly direct those funds for opioid treatment, prevent and education if warranted,” she said.
How much traction for her demands the Democratic attorney general will get for her demands from either the Democratic governor or the Republican-controlled Legislature is unclear.
Mayes has been in an open feud with Hobbs over the lease of state land in La Paz County to a corporation that is using the property – and the water beneath it – to grow hay for cattle in Saudi Arabia.
The attorney general contends the contracts should be canceled while the governor has pushed back and questioned whether that would be illegal.
At the same time, Mayes has publicly lashed out at the state Department of Water Resources, saying it has failed to live up to its legal obligation to protect groundwater supplies.
While the attorney general has acknowledged the problems go back for years, long before Hobbs took office in January, that agency is now under the current governor’s direction. And Hobbs has kept on Tom Buschatzke who was Doug Ducey’s choice as agency director.
Hobbs press aide Christian Slater declined to address the specific questions about the budget that his boss will approve.
“Gov. Hobbs is committed to working with Democrats and Republicans to pass a budget that prioritizes the needs of everyday Arizonans and helps build a state that works for every community,” he said Sunday in a prepared statement.
As far as Republican legislators go, there may be little love for Mayes.
Many of them are allies of Abe Hamadeh who is contesting the results of the November election which shows he lost to Mayes by just 280 votes. A hearing on his bid for a new trial is set for later this month.
And then there are other legal battles.
House Speaker Ben Toma of Peoria and Senate President Warren Petersen of Gilbert are seeking to intervene in a case over the legality of a 2021 law that makes it illegal to perform an abortion if the doctor knows that the procedure is sought “solely because of a genetic abnormality of that child,” including chromosomal disorders.
That move comes because Mayes has refused to defend the law because she believes it runs afoul of a right of privacy in the Arizona Constitution.
And the same Republican leaders have filed paperwork to defend a 2022 law that bars transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports after Mayes disqualified her office from getting involved.
A spokesman for Toma said there will be no response to Mayes until at least Monday when the latest budget plans are reviewed.
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