Farm groups fire first legal volley against Arizona for funding raids

Western Growers Association, Arizona Farm Bureau, and Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association have filed a claim with the Arizona attorney general to reinstate research funds appropriated by the state to meet Arizona's 2008 budget shortfall.

The scheme used to balance the budget was to take so-called surplus money from a number of industry-funded commodity, pesticide, fertilizer, and seed programs, according to Western Growers.

The raid on the funds was carried out despite the vocal opposition from agriculture.

In the first legal volley, the farm groups are asking the attorney general to return the $41,400 taken from the iceberg lettuce research fund and the $40,000 taken from the citrus research fund. The Arizona Grain Research and Promotion Council (AGRPC) and Farm Bureau have also asked that $80,000 be returned to the AGRPC.

Western Growers' Arizona legislative consultant Robert Schuler said if the claim is rejected, as is expected, a lawsuit will be filed in Arizona state court challenging the legality of taking the money.

Shuler said to balance Arizona's budget in both 2008 and in the just-completed legislation for 2009, the Arizona Department of Agriculture and the programs it administers have taken a big financial hit. There are proposals circulating that greatly increase the user fees in many of the state-administered agricultural programs.

Particularly galling, Shuler said, are proposals that would increase fees in programs where surplus funds were raided. He said Western Growers will continue its efforts to fight this raiding of fees through regulatory, judicial, and legislative action.

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