- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - The city of Tucson wants the Arizona Supreme Court to find that a 2016 law requiring the state to withhold funding from cities with ordinances that conflict with state laws violates the state Constitution.

The legal move comes after Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich determined in November that a Tucson policy to destroy guns seized by its police department may violate a 2013 state law requiring the weapons to be sold.

Brnovich wants the high court to make a final decision and trigger the provision that allows the state to withhold tax money from the city.

Both sides will make their case at a hearing Tuesday in the first legal test of Senate Bill 1487. Nearly $1.1 billion in income and sales taxes was distributed to 91 cities and towns in the budget year that ended June 30, 2015. Tucson said it get about $170 million a year.

Deputy Attorney General Paul Watkins wrote in his court briefing that the Tucson ordinance violates the state law that sets up a legal structure to ensure cities aren’t breaking the law.

The process kicks in if a state legislator complains to the attorney general and triggers an investigation. If the probe finds a conflict, the city or county would lose its state-shared revenue unless it repeals the law in 30 days.

A possible violation automatically triggers a state Supreme Court review.

Tucson’s lawyers say the law is unconstitutional because it removes the attorney general’s discretion to act and illegally delegates the Legislature’s appropriation authority by allowing Brnovich to trigger the withholding provision.

In addition, a requirement that a city post a bond equal to half its yearly state-shared revenue is an unconstitutional blockage to judicial review, wrote Richard M. Rollman, who is representing the city of Tucson.

“The provisions of (SB 1487) are a single unitary scheme designed to coerce compliance with the demands of a single legislator…,” Rollman wrote.

Watkins wrote in his brief that the Legislature has the authority to set up the process penalizing cities that disobey the law.

“SB 1487 is a constitutional exercise of the Legislature’s authority to condition appropriations,” he wrote.

The high court has not yet decided if it will actually accept the case. It will consider Tuesday whether it can do that; if the law is constitutional; what remedy it should allow if it finds in favor of the state; and whether withholding state revenue is allowable.

The Tucson City Council put the gun destruction ordinance on hold in December, with Councilwoman Regina Romero calling the state funding law “an assault on charter cities in Arizona” that requires a legal challenge.

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, filed a complaint in October against the practice of destroying guns, saying charter city status doesn’t give Tucson a free pass.

City records show that the Tucson Police Department has destroyed 4,820 guns since the beginning of 2013.

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