(CN) – The Arizona Legislature did not have the authority to raid $51 million from a fund of lottery proceeds meant for public transit projects, a federal judge ruled.
Part of the state’s long-term plan to clear the notoriously dirty air in Maricopa County and the Phoenix metropolitan area, in compliance with the federal Clean Air Act, the Local Transit Assistant Fund is supposed to supply about $10.8 million per year for transit projects in the state’s most populous area.
Last year, the Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer repealed the law that created the fund in 1993 and moved the money into other accounts. According to Arizona’s Democratic House Caucus, some $51 million has been taken from the fund since 2010.
The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest and two citizens sued to have the funding restored, and U.S. District Judge David Campbell recently found that the legislators and the governor violated federal law when they used the money to fill budget gaps.
Since the fund is part of the State Implementation Plan (SIP) submitted by Arizona under the Clean Air Act, is has “the effect of federal law,” which “precluded the Arizona Legislature from rescinding key provisions of the SIP without [federal] approval,” Campbell found.
The judge added that he plans to enter an injunction against Arizona Treasurer Doug Ducey, one of the defendants, to reinstate the removed funds as required by the SIP.
Sandy Bahr, one of the two citizen-plaintiffs in the case, said that “the [Arizona] Legislature is arrogant relative to federal laws.”
“They frequently think they can ignore them because they don’t like them,” Bahr, executive director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, told Courthouse News.
The defendants in the case argued that the funding program “has no significance to air quality or transit services in the Phoenix area,” according to the ruling.
But Judge Cambell said the relative efficacy of the program is not at issue.
“The advisability of requiring lottery funding for transit, or other policy considerations that went into the SIP, are not for this court to decide,” he wrote. “Compliance with the [Clean Air Act’s] CAA’s procedure for revision of SIPs ‘is absolutely essential to maintaining national standards for ambient air quality in a cooperative spirit. Without those procedural controls, the [CAA] is bereft of coherence and enforcement power.'”
The American Lung Association’s State of the Air report for 2011 lists the Phoenix metro area at No. 19 for high ozone days among 277 metropolitan areas, and No. 24 for 24-hour particle pollution.