Compare it to a high-stakes poker game.

Arizona is at risk of losing $163 million in federal COVID-19 relief, and potentially its share of $350 billion in state and local relief dollars to deal with the pandemic. The Biden administration is gambling that its authority to enforce the vaccine requirement, mask mandates and other protocols will be upheld in court.

The winner gets a political victory at the national level.

Gov. Doug Ducey and the Republican majority in the Legislature are at the center of this dispute. Measures included in the “Budget Reconciliation Bills (BRB)” are being challenged in the Arizona Supreme Court and federal agencies are threatening to strip the state of funding unless current policies are changed to fall in line with COVID-19 requirements.

Tuesday the state’s high court listened to arguments for and against provisions in the state budget. The Attorney General’s office, representing the Legislature, wants Supreme Court justices to overturn a ruling by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge that the budget bill violates constitutional requirements. Included in the budget bill are laws that prohibit schools from requiring masks, prohibits universities requiring vaccines, removes some of the Secretary of State’s authority, creates a committee to study the election audit, and defines what schools can — and cannot — teach about race, gender and ethnicity.

It will take weeks, perhaps longer, for the Supreme Court to issue its decision on the state budget and the authority of the Legislature to include non-budget related laws.

It shouldn’t take that long for the federal government to act on Gov. Ducey’s policies. Last month the U.S. Treasury Department notified the governor he is using federal dollars illegally and failing to use the money for evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. Ducey’s position on the federal threat has been based on principle. He’s responding to the media with a statement reflecting that schools that have been issued a share of the federal money are “following the law,” which is the law in the BRB that is being challenged in court. He’s also arguing that Arizona’s focus is on getting kids back to grade-level to address the impact of the pandemic on learning.

Even assuming the justices allow the state law to be enforced, that would not affect the strings the federal government has put on the money and what Treasury says is the requirement that Arizona comply or forfeit the cash.

The unfortunate reality is regardless of which sides wins this fight, a significant number of schools and other entities that would qualify for federal relief funding probably won’t get the money. Gov. Ducey has been stingy with COVID relief dollars, awarding funds to fewer than half the school districts in state and holding back about one-third of the $165 million in relief funds.

Compelling the governor to comply with federal requirements on the school funding likely will end up in court, which could take months to litigate. It could also result in Arizona losing its share of the $350 billion federal relief package.

Regardless of which side wins this political argument, the real loser will be schools, businesses and other entities that don’t get the funding allocated to address the impact of the pandemic.