updated 11/12/2010 3:56:43 PM ET 2010-11-12T20:56:43

An Arizona appellate court says it was legal for the Legislature to take $161,400 from three agricultural research and promotion funds in 2008 to help balance the state budget.

The Court of Appeals decision issued Friday overturns a Maricopa County Superior Court judge's July 2009 ruling in favor of the Arizona Farm Bureau and three other farm groups that challenged sweeps of money from funds for marketing, promotion and research involving grain, citrus and lettuce.

The group's lawsuit contended that the state couldn't take the money that had been paid or donated by farmers and growers.

The Superior Court judge ruled that the money couldn't be removed from the farm funds and placed into the state general fund without changing state law to authorize the transfers.

However, the new court ruling concluded that state law didn't prohibit the transfers made under 2008 budget legislation. And the money wasn't held in trust as the farm groups contended, the ruling said.

That means the Legislature can use the money as it wishes, even though the farmers and growers that paid fees into the funds viewed them as intended only to serve their industries, the ruling added.

Farm Bureau representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling.

Besides the Farm Bureau, groups which sued were the Arizona Wheat Growers Association, the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association and the Western Growers Association.

The case is one of several lawsuits challenging budget-balancing steps taken by legislators in recent years. The other cases included challenges dealing with transfers of money from special funds for transit projects, underground water storage and injured workers.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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