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Bill giving sheriffs more control over budget fails again in Senate

Another attempt to give county elected officials more control over their budgets was once again rejected by the Senate today.

The legislation already failed early last month, but backers managed to persuade enough legislators to do another vote.

The final tally today was 12-17. During the first vote, on March 1, SB1411 failed 11-18.

With today’s vote, the bill is now all but dead. Under Senate rules, it would need unanimous consent, an impossible hurdle, to revive the measure again.

As drafted, the bill would have permitted county boards of supervisors in the state’s three largest counties only to give lump sum budgets to other county elected officials – like sheriffs and treasurers – but would have barred them from dictating how that official spent the money.

Once that money is appropriated, it would have given the elected officials wide latitude in how to handle their budgets.

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, the bill’s sponsor, told colleagues the legislation is bipartisan — that is, it would accord Republican and Democratic county officials alike the same leeway over how best to manage their budgets.

But the argument didn’t sway a majority of his colleagues.

In defense of the measure, Senate President Russell Pearce earlier said the bill doesn’t take away a board’s authority to approve a budget. But, once the money is appropriated, he argued, supervisors should steer clear of interfering with other elected officials’ decisions as to how to spend their budget.

But critics argued that the bill would alter checks and balances in the county by stripping a board of the oversight it has over the budgeting process.

It’s hard to separate the bill from what happened in the state’s largest county.

In Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the board of supervisors have been feuding over a $465,000 inmate-transport bus the sheriff purchased.

The sheriff’s office bought the bus during a 2008 countywide freeze on major purchases. It was purchased with the Jail Enhancement Fund, which receives its money from court fees.

In response, the board refused to license the bus over concerns about how it was bought, forcing Arpaio to keep it parked.

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