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Mayes says Hobbs, Arizona Legislature will have to sue to get opioid settlement funds

Kris Mayes
Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0
Kris Mayes

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes says if state lawmakers and Gov. Katie Hobbs want to immediately seize $75 million out of an opioid settlement fund to balance the state budget they're going to have to come and get it.

And she says she's prepared to go to court to fight them.

The budget plan set for final vote Friday proposes the dollars from the settlement into the state Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry. That agency is facing new costs, at least in part because of a federal court order finding it has failed to provide proper medical care for inmates.

But that is just part of a larger problem that has the state currently running $729 million in the red for the balance of this fiscal year that ends June 30 and a $690 million deficit for the coming budget year.

What's wrong with what lawmakers and Hobbs want, Mayes told Capitol Media Services, is that the $1.14 billion settlement of the multi-year lawsuit with manufacturers and pharmacies has specific requirements on how those dollars can be spent. And giving those dollars to lawmakers as part of their plan to fix the budget deficit is not one of them.

More to the point, Mayes said violating the terms of that deal endangers future payments for the next 16 years. There is still more than $1 billion owed.

But Sen. John Kavanagh who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it is Mayes who is off base.

"Eighty percent of prisoners are addicted to drugs or alcohol,'' he said. "There's more than enough patients there affected by opioids to spend the money on treating them and rehabilitating them.''

Mayes said Kavanagh is just partly right.

The attorney general said she has set aside $10 million for opioid treatment of inmates, a number she said is appropriate to the size of the problem. Anything more, she said, is simply a "scheme'' to balance the budget for the current fiscal year.

And it is a scheme, she said, shown by the fact that the budget-balancing plan would take $75 million out of the allocation with just two weeks to go before the end of the fiscal year.

Gubernatorial press aide Christian Slater said his boss, who was involved in negotiating the deal to transfer the money, has no comment.

Arizona was one of many states, along with some local communities, who sued manufacturers and pharmacies, contending that they engaged in policies that were designed to get people hooked on opioids. The result, according to the lawsuits, was that Arizonans got hooked and governments were stuck with dealing with the fallout, including health care, incarceration and treatment.

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