The Arizona House of Representatives today gave preliminary approval to a plan that would give the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission $700,000 to get through the rest of the fiscal year, after a series of costly court battles drained the commission’s $3.5 million in yearly operating money.
Though far less than the $1.1 million the AIRC requested, the $700,000 supplemental appropriation can still avert a lawsuit – if both legislative chambers approve it and Gov. Jan Brewer signs it by Wednesday.
The IRC has said for weeks that it is prepared to sue to force the Legislature to give it the money. Executive Director Ray Bladine said that the lawsuit would likely be filed if the funding isn’t approved by Wednesday.
During debate of HB2862, Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, the measure’s sponsor, said that although he and many of his fellow Republicans disdain the commission because they believe it worked to create Democrat-friendly maps, the Legislature has no choice but to fund the commission.
Kavanagh said he’s been advised that a lawsuit against the Legislature would be a “quick slam dunk” in favor of the commission, since the Arizona Constitution requires adequate funding for the commission.
“Don’t shoot the messenger,” Kavanagh told his colleagues.
Despite Kavanagh’s request that his colleagues hold their nose and approve the appropriation, it didn’t stop House members from launching into the partisan bickering over the commission that has practically defined the current redistricting cycle.
Republican House members again accused the commission of partisan gerrymandering and said the huge legal bills incurred to fight an attorney general’s investigation into possible violations of state open meetings laws, and the subsequent removal of the IRC’s chairwoman, should not be rewarded with additional money.
Democrats countered by saying that both legal battles were the appropriate response to Republican attempts to disrupt the independence of the commission.
Bladine said the $700,000 would keep a lawsuit at bay for now, but he doesn’t believe it will be enough to keep the commission running through the end of the fiscal year in June. If it proves inadequate, he said the commission may have to come back to the Legislature again to ask for more money.
“We’ll have to go one day at a time,” Bladine said. “It doesn’t make the commission very independent if we have to keep going back to ask for more money, but perhaps we’ll have to do that several times.”