9/8/2011Arizona: Federal Judge Overrules Legislature on Transit Subsidies
Federal judge rules Arizona has no choice but to continue subsidizing casino trips for seniors.
Arizona must subsidize those who ride on buses, vans and light rail, regardless of the desire of state lawmakers or voters to do otherwise. US District Court Judge David G. Campbell on Friday overturned a state law enacted in March last year to curtail excessive spending by slashing such subsidies. The legislature canceled the Local Transportation Assistance Fund, which had doled out $127 million in taxpayer cash since 1998 to various mass transit programs using funds from the Powerball lottery.
A group of left-wing activists in Maricopa County filed a "citizens' lawsuit" under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to get that money back. The federal law allowing such suits also requires certain areas of the country file "state implementation plans" (SIP) outlining what steps they would take to meet stringent air quality standards. These plans must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which allows a narrow set of mitigation strategies that give a high priority to so-called "mass transit" programs, even when these programs do not actually move a large number of people.
For example, Arizona funnels public money into privately run van service companies, counties, municipalities and Indian tribes under the federally authorized Section 5310 mass transit program. The grants provide capital funds for the purchase of vehicles that are used mostly to provide subsidized transport for people over the age of sixty. The University of Arizona received one of these grants through Pima County to buy three golf carts in 2008. Bullhead City offers complimentary paratransit service with 15 percent of its senior citizen passengers boarding at the Laughlin Casino Resort.
"Defendants assert that this lawsuit has no significance to air quality or transit services in the Phoenix area," Judge Campbell wrote. "But the advisability of requiring lottery funding for transit, or other policy considerations that went into the SIP, are not for this court to decide."
Campbell's order effectively nullified House Bill 2012, which had repealed the Local Transportation Assistance Fund. He also ordered the state to provide up to $18 million in funding each year to such programs.
"This circuit has made clear that provisions of an EPA-approved SIP are federally enforceable in district court through the CAA's citizen suit provision," Campbell ruled. "Absent prior approval from the EPA, the Arizona legislature lacked authority to repeal the portions of A.R.S. Section 5-522(A) that are included in the SIP, and that the legislature's attempt to do so therefore is null and void and the lottery funding requirement included in the SIP remains in full force and effect."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 90k PDF file at the source link below. Pictured: a van purchased by the Apache Junction Parks and Recreation department using LTAF funding.