(The Center Square) – Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has a warning for U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen: withholding federal COVID-19 funds over local masking policies is going to result in a lawsuit.
Brnovich, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, responded Wednesday to a Jan. 14 letter from the Treasury to Gov. Doug Ducey’s office. It said that the state has two months to rescind any grants that would award schools for not requiring masks or taking other pandemic-era precautions in schools.
Brnovich told Yellen Arizona would “not be intimidated by the heavy hand of the Biden Administration forcing Arizona to comply with ambiguous and unrealistic national standards.”
At issue is a $163 million Education Plus-Up Grant program Ducey announced last fall. The funds would be allocated to schools on the contingency that they stayed open for in-person learning for the entire school year. A school that closed its classrooms due to the spread of COVID-19 would be disqualified.
Ducey’s office said on Jan. 18 that the funds had yet to be dispersed, so it would not negatively affect the state budget should it be clawed back to Washington for any reason.
Brnovich said the Treasury warning is similar to threats that led to a federal court challenge over punishing states that would cut spending or taxation in exchange for federal COVID-19 relief funds from the American Rescue Plan.
“As you know full well, Arizona filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Treasury and federal officials, challenging the Tax Mandate because it threatens to penalize states by withholding federal COVID-19 relief funding if they lower taxes in any fashion,” Brnovich said. “We believe that this mandate is unconstitutional and threatens state sovereignty.”
Later in the letter, Brnovich cited the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which gives states deference to matters not explicitly enumerated to the federal government, as reason for the Biden administration to back off.