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Possible Snag in Arizona Settlement

Last month, Arizona’s governor and legislature attempted to settle the five-year-old Cave Creek lawsuit by agreeing to spend an additional $3.5 billion on education over the next decade.  About 60 percent of this money would come from increased withdrawals from the state’s permanent land trust fund, and the rest from the general fund. Cave Creek Unified School District v. Martin.

The settlement must, however, be approved by the state’s voters in a special election to be held in May if it is to go into effect. A dispute has erupted, however, between Arizona State Treasurer Jeff DeWit and the lawmakers over the language that will appear  in the pamphlets provided to voters that outlines the proposition they will be voting on. DeWit is threatening to go to the State Supreme Court to change the wording.

DeWit has two objections.  First, he says that the ballot measure  statement that it will not dip into the principal of the trust is a lie designed to sway votes. DeWit calculates that 10 years hence, the trust ( now estimated to be worth $5.1 billion) will be worth $ 100 million less than it otherwise would be if the proposition is approved. Second, DeWit said he believes the larger distributions cannot take place unless Congress amends the law that gave Arizona the land in 1912 when it became a state. He said that’s important for voters to know because if Congress refuses, the entire deal to end the school funding lawsuit falls apart. Former Congressman John Shadegg says that DeWit is wrong on this point. He said a 1999 amendment to that 1912 law that he sponsored is broad enough to allow Arizona voters, by approving the required amendment to the state Constitution, to decide how they want to spend the trust.

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