Arizona AG sues governor for attempt to swipe opioid funding for Department of Corrections

Kris Mayes (D-AZ) fought to freeze a transfer of $115m in opioid settlement funds from being used for deficit

Published June 20, 2024 8:53PM (EDT)

Governor-elect of Arizona, Katie Hobbs (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Governor-elect of Arizona, Katie Hobbs (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

An Arizona judge has temporarily blocked Governor Katie Hobbs (D-AZ) from accessing the state’s share of a national opioid settlement to fill a budget gap, at the request of the state’s Democratic attorney general.

Movement of a $115 million sum, part of Arizona’s $1.14 billion portion of the settlement funds from pharmaceutical companies that exacerbated an opioid crisis across the United States, was halted by a Maricopa County judge on Thursday evening as Attorney General Kris Mayes accuses the governor of pilfering it to close a budget shortcoming.

Part of the money, which the attorney general’s office says must be used for one of 12 opioid crisis-related purposes per the state’s agreement, was earmarked by the state’s recent budget for the Department of Corrections, a move that Mayes called unlawful.

“Though I repeatedly warned them this is an unlawful use of these funds, they proceeded with moving forward anyway,” Mayes wrote in a statement on the budget. “This is an egregious grab. I will do everything in my power to protect these opioid settlement funds for all Arizonans.”

Mayes noted that the shortfall was the result of cuts and spending increases from GOP policies, including a school voucher program, which Save Our Schools Arizona Director Beth Lewis said made up much of the deficit.

“The ESA voucher program has shown in a nonpartisan report last week that it’s driving half of the budget deficit. So, you know, anything that’s driving hundreds of millions of dollars of deficit should clearly be the first thing on the table to be reined in,” Lewis told local newspaper AZ Family.

Mayes’ momentary victory in court sets up a June 27 hearing on the matter, as she vows to fight the governor’s attempts to the furthest extent she can.

“Unless this Court acts today, $75 million intended to help Arizona citizens recover and rehab from opioid addiction will instead be used to plug a routine budget hole,” Mayes wrote in an emergency motion Thursday afternoon. “In two weeks, another $40 million will similarly disappear, a total of $115 million diverted from opioid treatment to routine government expenses.”

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