Arizona school districts may not use leftover bond money on projects that were not specifically approved by voters, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge has ruled.
Judge Eileen Willett declared a year-old state law that allows the use of leftover bond funds on other projects violates both the Arizona and United States constitutions.
The ruling prevents the Cave Creek Unified School District from spending $13 million to renovate a school cafeteria.
Voters had intended that money to go for a new school building, according to the conservative Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, which sued on behalf of a district voter.
Willett found a section of the state law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010 unconstitutional because it “essentially abrogates the voters’ rights existing at the time of their bond vote, and by so doing, strikes a blow to the election process and violates both the Arizona and federal constitution.”
Christina Kohn, a Goldwater Institute staff attorney, said: “This decision protects voters’ constitutionally guaranteed rights and makes it crystal clear that school districts cannot ignore their agreements.”
In November 2000, Cave Creek voters approved a $41 million bond program to build new schools.
The district had $13 million left after building two schools, and wanted to use the money on projects that were not approved by voters.
The new law allowed a district to spend leftover bond money on other construction projects without voter approval up to nine years after an election.
About 3% of school districts in the state have leftover bond money that would be affected by the law, Kohn said.
While the legislation specifically mentions school districts, the legal ruling would affect all government entities that can impose taxes, according to Clint Bolick, litigation director for the institute.