Capitol Media Services
by Howard Fischer
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/113104
PHOENIX — The stalemate over funding for English-instruction programs means the state missed its court-ordered midnight Tuesday deadline to avoid fines of $500,000 a day.
But no one is sure when the state needs to start paying, who can authorize the payments and where the money will go.
Attorney Tim Hogan, who represents parents of English learners and got the judge to set the deadline, said he believes the fines are "self-executing," meaning they began automatically once the deadline passed.
State Treasurer David Petersen is responsible for writing out checks. But Petersen said he won't do that until he gets the OK from the Legislature.
House Speaker Jim Weiers said there will be no such legislative directive until he sees a new court order.
Meanwhile, an aide to Attorney General Terry Goddard said he doesn't think the state actually has to start writing checks, at least not just yet.
Andrea Esquer said Goddard compares the $500,000 daily penalties with overdue fines for not returning a library book, albeit on a larger scale. The fine becomes due when the total is known, meaning when the book is returned.
Esquer said Goddard believes the state will have to write one big check for the accumulated amount, if and when it finally complies with the judge's order.
Goddard argued a different approach Wednesday, however. At the behest of Gov. Janet Napolitano, he asked U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins to direct the treasurer to cut daily checks, payable not to the court but to the Department of Education, which would divide the cash among districts based on their English-language learner students.
Weiers responded angrily that would amount to the governor, with the help of a federal judge, illegally directing the state how to spend its money, the purview of the Legislature. He said lawmakers may hire their own attorney.
But Napolitano said it's only right that children should benefit from the failure to comply.