The Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday gave its stamp of approval to a proposal that would give Pinal County’s Republican sheriff $5 million to help fight smugglers.
The panel passed HB 2718 with an 8-4 vote along party lines.
The legislation transfers $5 million from the photo enforcement fund, which collected cash for the state’s now-defunct photo radar system, to the Department of Public Safety, which is instructed to purchase equipment and supplies for border security operations in Pinal County.
Sheriff Paul Babeu plans to use the funds to purchase armored vehicles and aircraft with ground based radar systems to help combat some of the drug cartels funneling through the county.
Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, expressed his support for the bill during today’s hearing, while other senators were more concerned with using the funds to further their own agendas.
“The reason why it is so needed is because Pinal is not a border county, and is not really eligible for the same (federal) funds that border county sheriffs get – yet 80% of
gal (immigrant) traffic comes through Pinal County,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re at the wrong end of the stick.”
Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, was not convinced by Smith’s argument. She voted against the bill, saying Arizona’s citizens are in dire straits because of the state’s budgetary crisis and the money could be put to better use.
“We are in such poor economic times, so many groups, so many agencies being cut. How is it you justify taking $5 million at a time when every penny counts?” she said.
Smith responded with his own rhetorical question, asking how anyone can look at the families of those affected by the drug cartels, drug smugglers, murderers, and deaths and do nothing about the problem.
Although she agreed that Pinal County is a corridor for drug cartels, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, proposed using the money to fund an organ transplant program defunded last year by lawmakers. She suggested that Babeu turn to private fundraising to get the money he wants.
“I think it would be cheaper for us to fundraise privately for Sheriff Babeu, because he needs $5 million a year, and under the transplants, we pay $1.2 million and we get a triple match from the feds. So, in order to raise money for the transplants, we have to raise more than $5 million,” Sinema said.
The bill now heads to the Senate Rules Committee for a constitutional check before going to the floor for a debate by the full chamber. It previously won approval in the House by a 41-18 vote, with two Democrats supporting it.
If it receives 20 votes in the Senate, it will be enacted immediately upon the governor’s signature. If it is passed with fewer than 20 votes, the funding won’t be provided to Pinal County until 90 days after the legislative session ends.