Despite a festering budget deficit, lawmakers have found a way to grant Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu’s request for funds for border-related immigration enforcement.
But Babeu will only get a fraction of the $5 million that he had initially asked for.
The Legislature instead set aside $1 million from the general fund to the sheriff.
Under SB1398, the state aims to recoup the amount from a new subaccount that is being created within the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM), making the appropriation for Pinal’s sheriff ultimately revenue neutral.
Under the measure the Senate passed in the early hours of Wednesday morning, GIITEM, a statewide multi-agency task force on gang and illegal immigration enforcement, will be getting a portion of a $13 assessment for criminal and civil traffic offenses.
The bill also eliminates the exclusion of Pima County from receiving GIITEM funds, a move the Legislature earlier adopted as part of the budget.
That earlier decision was criticized as a payback against Pima Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who had said he won’t enforce SB1070. Senate President Russell Pearce countered the criticism by saying enforcing immigration laws is a condition of getting that money.
The changes mean the money for Babeu won’t come from funds that go to county prosecutors, which are used to improve processing of criminal cases. Several legislators vigorously opposed that scheme, arguing it makes no sense to take money from prosecutors to give it to police.
But the bill still takes money, at least for a year, from the State Aid to Indigent Defense Fund, which helps public defenders, and deposits it into the GIITEM subaccount. Some legislators balked at the concept of dipping into funds set aside for county attorneys and giving that money to law enforcement.
Those who support giving the money to Babeu have argued that the county faces border-related problems, but doesn’t get the financial aid that border counties do. Although it doesn’t share a border with Mexico, Pinal County gets 80 percent of the illegal immigration traffic, said Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa.
But critics said the money could be better used somewhere else, particularly at a time when government services have been severely cut.