An Arizona Superior Court judge has ruled that the state should not have swept up $160,000 from three dedicated agricultural funds to help balance the fiscal 2009 budget.

The Arizona Farm Bureau Federation and other plaintiffs successfully contended that the funds do not contain tax revenues but consisted of voluntary fees and donations from farmers for specific uses, including marketing and research.

Judge Craig Blakey ruled last week that the farmers’ contributions “are not general-fund monies that can be swept or utilized for any legislative purpose.” He said the money could be taken only if the special funds had been established by specific legislation, and they were not.

However, the ruling does not require the state to return the funds.

The case is the first of several suits seeking to overturn the capture of millions of dollars of state funds for budget-balancing purposes over the past 18 months. One pending case filed by eight health-professional associations in 2008 wants the state to return $11 million it took from several special public health-related funds.

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