The state's highest court Tuesday refused to force lawmakers to dip into the treasury to pay for Massachusetts' Clean Elections law, which offers taxpayer money to candidates who agree to spending and fund-raising limits.

Supreme Judicial Court Justice Martha Sosman ruled that only the governor and Legislature can appropriate funds from the Treasury.

The Clean Elections law was passed overwhelmingly by voters in 1998.

Backers of the law asked Sosman on Monday to order the money be released to qualified candidates, including Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Warren Tolman.

But Sosman said the money should come from a separate account for paying legal judgments against the state, which was exhausted by a $582,094 payment to Tolman.

Tolman is owed an additional $220,000 and a second candidate is owed $8,100. The judge warned that if lawmakers do not replenish the account, the court could order the state to sell off property to pay the candidates.

The court previously ruled that lawmakers must fund or repeal the law, but did not say how they should come up with the money.