During law school, I mostly fell asleep during trusts, wills, and estates. But one lesson pierced the slumber: when you have a trustee relationship with someone, you'd better take it seriously.
Unfortunately, Governor Janet Napolitano and the lawyer members of the state legislature seem to have missed that class altogether. For in their zeal to close the state's soaring budget deficit without serious spending cuts, they "swept"-actually, the better term is "swiped"-funds held by the state in trust for Arizona farmers.
The farmers contribute funds to designated accounts to pay for agricultural research grants. The state holds the funds in trust until the grants are awarded. The money never belongs to the state, yet the most recent budget appropriated the trust funds for general spending programs. It's a bit like depositing money in your bank account, receiving a statement reflecting a zero balance, and being told that the money was needed to pay the bank president's salary.
The Arizona Farm Bureau, joined by a number of other agriculture groups filed a lawsuit challenging the fund sweeps. The fund sweeps are brazenly illegal under state law. It will be impossible for Attorney General Terry Goddard to defend against the lawsuit with a straight face. Instead, he should confess the state's error and avoid compounding it by spending taxpayer funds to defend the indefensible.
This legerdemain is the latest indication of how the political power structure addressed the budget deficit this year: a little trimming, lots of smoke and mirrors, and, it turns out, a bit of thievery.
Next year's budget deficit will be far worse. We'll be there with recommendations for addressing the problem while following the law. Let's hope that this time, the statesmen outnumber the pickpockets.
Clint Bolick is the director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
Goldwater Institute: "Piercing the Fog: A Call for Greater Transparency in State and Local Government"