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IRC to sue state for more funding

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Committee will file suit against the state Friday in an attempt to force the Legislature to provide more funding for the remainder of the fiscal year.

In a letter Thursday, IRC Executive Director Ray Bladine informed Senate President Steve Pierce and House Speaker Andy Tobin that the commission’s attorneys will file a special action with the Arizona Supreme Court. The House and Senate appropriations committees have approved bills to provide more funding for fiscal year 2012, but Bladine wrote that the IRC expects to run out of money sometime in March and that it can’t afford to wait any longer.

The Arizona Constitution says the Legislature “shall make the necessary appropriations” to fund the IRC, and Bladine urged the Republican leaders to “save the people of Arizona the cost of this litigation.”

“This financial crisis is now upon us and the commission has no choice but to seek a judicial remedy,” Bladine wrote. “We are well aware that the majority party does not support the commission and the maps it has adopted. However, the Constitution of the State of Arizona should be honored.”

The suit will be the third court battle involving the current commission. The commission sued in November after the Senate and Gov. Jan Brewer removed IRC Chairwoman Colleen Mathis for allegedly violating the state’s open meeting law and ignoring constitutional criteria for redistricting, and the Arizona Supreme Court overturned the ouster. Three commissioners also successfully fought a suit by Attorney General Tom Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery that sought to force the commission to cooperate with an investigation into the open meeting allegations.

Bladine told the Arizona Capitol Times on Wednesday that he’s confident the threatened lawsuit will succeed.

“We haven’t lost a court case yet and our attorneys don’t see us losing this one if we need to go to court,” he said.

Rep. John Kavanagh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, called the pending lawsuit “unfortunate” and “premature” because IRC funding bills are already moving through the legislative process. Kavanagh predicted that the bills, which have already passed committee, could be on Brewer’s desk by Wednesday.

“We expect to pass an appropriation early next week. So hopefully they’ll hear that before they file. And we’ll try to communicate that to them,” said Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. “If they can wait until next Wednesday they’ll save some lawsuit money.”

But there are still open questions on the two IRC funding bills. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed SB1533, which would provide the commission with just $1 in funding for the rest of FY12, while its House counterpart passed HB2862, which leaves a blank space for the appropriation. Kavanagh said the dollar figures will be filled in later after lawmakers determine how much money it should provide.

Several Republicans in the Senate Appropriations Committee said they only voted for SB1533 because it provided a single dollar, and some indicated they wouldn’t even vote to provide that much when the bill goes to the floor.

Sen. Don Shooter, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he has “no idea” whether the Legislature can get a bill to Brewer’s desk by Wednesday.

“I know they think they’re the most important thing in the world … as personified by their arrogance. But the truth is they’re one of many things that need to be looked at as far as funding,” Shooter said, when asked why the Legislature didn’t push the funding bills this week.

Shooter, R-Yuma, criticized the IRC as an “illegitimate bunch” that has already spent too much money on attorneys and lawsuits.

“They love to give money to lawyers. As a matter of fact, that’s the only damn thing they’re good at,” he said.

The IRC’s original budget for FY12 was $3 million. But it is on pace to spend about $3.5 million because of unanticipated legal costs from the Mathis removal and the open meeting lawsuit, which Montgomery is appealing.

Bladine had initially projected that the commission would run out of money on Friday, though he told the Arizona Capitol Times that its funding might last until April 1, when it will receive an additional fourth-quarter allotment of $110,000.

But Bladine said the IRC won’t have enough money to respond if a lawsuit is filed against the commission or if the U.S. Department of Justice forces it to make changes to its congressional or legislative maps. Arizona is one of a handful of states required by the Voting Rights Act to get federal approve, or “preclearance,” for its maps.

The IRC requested an additional $1.1 million for FY12, which Bladine said would allow the commission to handle any unexpected costs or roll over some of the funding into 2013. Kavanagh said that is too much money, but he’s willing to provide about $600,000.

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