Originally Published: March 18, 2016 6 a.m.
PHOENIX – Ignoring a last-minute plea from cities, Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Thursday that will financially penalize those that do not fall in line with state law.
SB 1487, which takes effect later this year, requires the state treasurer to withhold revenue sharing dollars from any city or county once the attorney general concludes their local laws or policies are contrary to state statutes.
Thursday’s action was not a surprise, with Ducey having threatened to take such action on his own during his State of the State address in January.
“As Gov. Ducey has made clear, for Arizona to be competitive, we can’t have a patchwork of different laws across the state,” said gubernatorial spokeswoman Annie Dockendorff. “This legislation ensures everyone is playing by the same rules.”
Ducey’s action comes just hours after three top officials from the League of Arizona Cities and Towns urged the governor to veto the measure.
“This bill is heavy-handed, intrusive and minimizes the important role of local elected officials,” wrote Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell, Jay Tibshraeny of Chandler and Mark Nexsen of Lake Havasu City.
The three mayors said local officials, like those at the state level, take an oath to uphold the state constitution and statutes.
“Yet this bill second-guesses their deliberations and decisions, prosecutes them in a likely unconstitutional manner, and punishes them without the benefit of due process,” they wrote.
That issue goes to the way the system would work under the new law.
It allows any legislator to demand the attorney general to investigate “any ordinance, regulation, order or other official action” by a community to see if it violates state statutes or the constitution.
If the attorney general does find a conflict, the local community is given 30 days to “resolve the violation.” And if that does not happen to the satisfaction of the attorney general, he or she tells the treasurer to withhold all state revenue sharing dollars from that community and redistribute it to everyone else.
But if the legality of the local measure is unclear, the law requires the attorney general to file a complaint with the state Supreme Court which has to give that case priority over all other cases. And if the community decides to fight, it has to past a bond equal to the amount of shared revenues it has received in the prior six months.
“What possible hubris could drive one single legislator to think he or she has more wisdom that the local elected officials who have been chosen by the voters to govern their communities?” the mayors wrote to Ducey. “What happened to the principle of ‘presumption of innocence’ in our legal system?”
Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said there’s nothing improper about the process the legislation sets up.
“This is dealing with the state making decisions about the allocation of state shared revenues,” he said. “We are putting in place a process to decide that allocation.”
And Scarpinato brushed aside the contention by the mayors that there should be no loss of funding until the state proves to a judge that the local law is unconstitutional or contrary to state statute.
“What we’re dealing with is state shared revenue,” he said. “I don’t believe that the court is involved in the allocation of state shared revenue.”
Anyway, Scarpinato said, there won’t be a problem if, as the mayors claim, they are not breaking any state laws.
“And if that’s the case, then they have nothing to worry about,” he said.
The mayors, however, said there can be “honest disagreements” about the legality of a local law as well as the scope of a state constitutional provision which specifically gives charter cities the exclusive right to pass measures on matters of strictly local concern. But they said the practice has always been to resolve that through a court that has procedures for due process.
That’s what they said should happen in one of the disputes that apparently led to this legislation: the decision by the city of Bisbee to ban plastic shopping bags, something it had done before the Legislature voted to declare such laws illegal. Despite that 2015 law, city officials have refused to back down, concluding the issue was a matter of local concern which, as a charter city, they were entitled to enact.
“Whether this is a purely local issue that should be governed by city charter or by state statute is a matter for the courts to decide,” the mayors wrote. “It certainly should not be resolved in the draconian manner provided for in SB 1487.”