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Redistricting commission prepares to ask for more money

Redistricting Commission seeks cash for defenseAs the 51st Legislative Session approaches, the state’s redistricting commission is preparing to negotiate with lawmakers, once again, over money.

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is set to run out of money near the beginning of April, according to its staff’s calculations.  The commission is preparing a request for an additional $2 million dollars to make it to the end of June.

Executive Director Ray Bladine explained at a commission meeting on Dec. 21 that the commission’s current appropriation was made with the assumption that it would not be sued over its new district maps.

That was not the case.  The commission was challenged over the applicability of open meeting laws.  It now faces two lawsuits questioning the legality of the maps and another challenging the constitutionality of the commission’s existence.

Attorney’s fees associated with those cases have drained the commission’s coffers, Bladine said.   The commission faces further costs from continuing lawsuits and the possibility of having to redraw the maps if a court orders it.

Using the cost-per-lawsuit that the previous redistricting commission faced and adjusting for inflation, the commission’s staff estimates the cost of each current suit to come to $1,362,000. Mary O’Grady and Joe Kanefield, the commission’s attorneys, estimated a figure lower than that, but the commission chose to go with the higher estimate.

Using the higher calculation, the commission’s current $650,000 legal budget would leave a $712,000 deficit.

The commission’s staff estimated that redrawing the maps would cost $811,000, based on what it cost the previous commission to do so after a 2003 lawsuit and adjusting for inflation.

That brings the deficit to $1,523,000.

Bladine added a $500,000 “cushion,” bringing the total $2,023,000.

He also said he wants to ask the Legislature to make the appropriation “non-lapsing,” meaning the commission would be able to carry funds across fiscal years, minimizing the repeated requests for more money each year.

John Kavanagh, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said he and other members would look carefully at the commission’s proposal before making any decisions, but that he is aware of the legal requirement for the Legislature to fund the commission.

“Obviously, at the Legislature we serve two masters,” Kavanagh said. “We want to be true to our legal mandate to fund the IRC, but we also serve the taxpayers of Arizona.”

Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he would be skeptical about a non-lapsing appropriation, as he and other members of the Legislature would prefer to have continued oversight when it comes to the commission.

“We like our relationship with (the commission),” Kavanagh said. “We want to be able to continue to chat with them.”

Kavanagh also said he is skeptical about the request for an additional $500,000 that could cover unforeseen costs.

“That sounds awful high for a cushion,” he said.

 

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