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PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona lawmakers are considering taxes on electronic cigarettes as a way to help cover a $1 billion budget shortfall, a central Arizona weekly has reported.
"It's one option of many that we should look at at the Legislature," said state Democratic Rep. Stefanie Mach of Tucson, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee. "It certainly isn't going to come close to the amount of money that we need to make up the deficit, but any little bit helps."
Some legislators are lighting up at the idea of taxing e-cigarettes to cover a huge deficit expected by fiscal year 2017, but how to regulate the devices has been a source of debate.
Legislators in dozens of states last year were faced with bills related to electronic cigarettes. Two states have already enacted "sin taxes" on them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. On the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration has struggled since 2011 to implement rules on how to categorize and regulate them as well as liquid nicotine.
Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, of Fountain Hills, told the Arizona Capitol Times taxing e-cigarettes could discourage people from using them in an effort to quit smoking.
"The e-cigarettes, I am told, are not nearly as damaging to the body as tobacco is, and part of the reasoning for the tobacco tax is to compensate society for the additional costs in medical care that smokers cause," said Kavanagh, who also serves on the House Appropriations Committee and running for a Senate seat.
The financial impact for Arizona from e-cigarette taxes is difficult to determine since proposals vary and cigarettes have about $2 in additional taxes per pack.
Arizona so far hasn't enforced many restrictions on the electronic devices. Last year, the state made it illegal to sell them to minors. But Attorney General Tom Horne recently said e-cigarettes do not fall under the Smoke Free Arizona Act. Thus, patrons can smoke them inside restaurants, bars and other public places. However, cities such as Tempe have banned them.
The battery-powered devices heat liquid nicotine and create a vapor that the user can inhale. They are available at most convenience stores and "vape shops."
Ben Denny, who works at a downtown Phoenix vape shop called Butt Out, said the industry would be open to some reasonable taxes but not to the same degree as cigarettes. The growing e-cigarette community would likely fight any legislation that advocated otherwise.
"Nobody serious is even getting close to claiming that (e-cigarettes) do similar harm (as smoking tobacco), so by attempting to tax them the same way, lawmakers are making a claim nobody else is making. And really, they're just saying they want to bring in more money," Denny said.
PHOENIX -- State lawmakers cannot ignore a court order to provide more funds for schools now while they appeal the findings, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper rejected arguments by attorneys for the Legislature that her decision the state owes schools what translates to an extra $331 million is somehow not in effect. They had argued that her July ruling was subject to an automatic "stay'' while they seek Court of Appeals review.
She said her ruling simply ordered lawmakers to start complying with a previous decision by the Arizona Supreme Court that they had ignored a 2000 voter-approved mandate to adjust state aid to schools each year to account for inflation. More to the point, her order calculated exactly how much needs to be added to basic state aid "to fulfill that mandate.''
What that means, she said, is her order is in effect -- and enforceable.
Peter Gentala, an attorney for the state House, said Cooper is wrong in believing the state has to start paying the money before the Supreme Court gets a chance to see how she calculated the figure.
Gentala also said that ignores the state's financial problems. He pointed to a report released Tuesday from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee projecting a $200 million deficit for this fiscal year even without the payment to the schools.
Don Peters, who represents the school districts that sued, said Tuesday's order does not require the Legislature to come into session immediately to appropriate the funds.
But what it does, Peters said, is provide options the schools can seek to ensure the money starts flowing and is not held up by delays caused by appeals. And he said it even could provide a method of getting the money even if lawmakers balk.
Peters said the judge could simply direct the state treasurer to hand over the money to the Department of Education to be distributed to schools. That would bypass the Legislature entirely and make legislative inaction irrelevant.
And he said that order could have teeth, with Cooper empowered to jail for contempt those who ignore their orders -- including the treasurer.
Peters stressed, though, he is hoping it does not come to that.
Lawmakers at first fought the whole question of whether they were obligated to comply with the voter mandate, contending that 2000 vote was not binding on them.
That argument, however, was rejected last year by the Supreme Court. That left it up to Cooper to decide what was really owed.
That $317 million figure is what Cooper said would have been available this year to schools had legislators not ignored the inflation-funding mandate for several years during the recession. In essence, she looked at state aid for the last year when there was compliance, computed each year's inflation, and came up with a number.
Senate President Andy Biggs, however, contends that number needs to be offset by the money lawmakers gave to schools above and beyond what was required by inflation. He puts that figure at about $240 million.
Cooper, however, ruled in July that's not the way the law reads. And Tuesday's order says unless the appellate court intervenes, it's time for lawmakers to start paying up.
Peters said there is precedent for what the judge is doing -- and for the schools to seek some sanctions if lawmakers balk.
One is directing the treasurer to distribute the funds under threat of contempt. But he said there are other options.
Two decades ago the Supreme Court ruled that the system of funding school construction violated state constitutional provisions for a "general and uniform'' school system. The justices said it resulted in gross disparities between the ability of "rich'' and "poor'' districts, with some being able to afford domed stadiums while others had crumbling bathrooms.
But the justices did not spell out for lawmakers how to fix the system. Instead, they ruled that if lawmakers did not come up with an acceptable plan, they would bar the treasurer from distributing any funds to schools, a move that would have effectively shut down the education system.
It never came to that. And Peters said he presumes the same sort of compliance if the courts issue a similar order in this case.
"There have been times the Legislature didn't like court rulings,'' Peters said. "But there's never been an occasion where they just said, 'We're not going to do it.' ''
He said no one wants to see that kind of stalemate.
"But I will also tell you that if it comes down to that, I'm going to bet on the courts,'' he said. "Because they can send somebody to jail.''
Cooper is separately considering a claim by schools they are entitled to about $1.3 billion they did not get in inflation funds for prior years. A hearing on that is set for later this month.
Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia.
State lawmakers cannot ignore a court order to provide more funds for schools now while they appeal the findings, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Republicans may try to block independents from participating in future party primaries after their turnout in last month's election — close to one vote out of every seven — may have affected some races.
Rejecting a last minute plea for a reprieve, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered state officials to immediately start coughing up more than $300 million for public schools.
A Texas state senator being forced out of office by a Tea Party Republican is helping Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer raise money to elect like-minded candidates to Congress.
Rejecting arguments the state cannot afford it, a judge has ordered Gov. Jan Brewer and the Republican-controlled Legislature to come up with an extra $316 million immediately — and potentially $2.9 billion over five years — to make up for aid to schools they illegally withheld.
The Chandler City Council in a special meeting on May 19, approved several amendments to the 2014-15 proposed budget. These amendments will become part of the tentative budget that will face a final adoption vote on June 12.
WASHINGTON — House Republicans are proposing to let some schools opt out of healthier school lunch and breakfast programs if they are losing money.
Gov. Jan Brewer asked lawmakers Thursday to immediately approve nearly $60 million in cash to create a new child welfare agency and revamp how Arizona handles abuse and neglect complaints.
Gov. Jan Brewer inked her approval to a new $9.2 billion spending plan Friday – but not before using her constitutional power to excise some items she does not like.
The fate of a $9.2 billion state budget could depend on lawmakers crafting a commitment for future child-welfare funding that does not actually commit them to doing anything.
House Republicans gave preliminary approval late Thursday for a new budget that adds some – but only part – of what dissidents sought for their needed votes.
Some people are watching a new bill moving forward very closely - worried it could hurt wildland firefighters.
House Republicans failed for a second day Tuesday to reach accord on a new budget even as state senators continued to find new ways to spend money.
A $9.2 billion spending plan that trims more than $150 million from Gov. Jan Brewer's proposal was introduced in the Arizona Senate on Monday, but Senate President Andy Biggs' proposal faces an uncertain future in the House and with Gov. Jan Brewer.
Arizona public schools have offered to give up their claim to more than $1.2 billion in lost aid if the state will simply agree to adjust the current formula to recognize the fact that lawmakers broke state law.
The share of education tax dollars that actually wind up in Arizona classrooms slid again last year to the lowest level in the 13 years the state has monitored it.
Saying it will protect students from “maniacal, homicidal” killers, a House panel voted Wednesday to let schools designate one employee at each site have access to have a gun.
State lawmakers hope to use fees paid by medical marijuana users and dispensaries to convince everyone else not to inhale.
A House panel agreed Wednesday to help Glendale with some of its 2015 Super Bowl costs, but with a warning that similar relief may not be available to other communities.
An Arizona House panel on Monday gave initial approval to a plan to spend $30 million to install 350 miles of "virtual fence" along the state's southern border with Mexico.
State lawmakers are moving to make it easier for anyone to sue a city over its gun laws, and the sponsor said he's specifically aiming it at Tucson.
A House panel agreed Tuesday to stiffen penalties for those who abuse pets, but only after carving out what essentially amounts to special treatment – and looser regulations – for farmers and ranchers.
A House panel voted Thursday to increase the penalty for pointing lasers at aircraft in hopes it would lead to more prosecutions.