A legislative panel that is looking into border security skirted a nagging question at a meeting this morning – what to do with roughly $260,000 that was raised to build a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The committee has to decide how to spend it. I can scream all I want [about] how and when I want to spend it, but that’s irrelevant,” said Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa. Smith authored the border fence project.
The funds are insufficient to build a mile of concrete fencing, and there have been suggestions to use them for other border security purposes.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said there’s no way a fence can be built with a few hundred thousand dollars – but he would gladly welcome the money if it is given to his office, he said.
“If they gave us $260,000, we would put that towards more enforcement against drug cartels and smuggling,” he said.
However, the 2011 law that created the border fence project says the money must be used for “the construction and maintenance of a secure fence along the Arizona-Mexico border line.” There are multiple references to “border fence” throughout the statute, and one subsection explicitly says that “all monies in the [border security] trust fund shall be used exclusively to carry out the purposes of this section.”
When the committee met last month, it struggled over the question and considered going into executive session to hear legal advice about options.
It now appears that the committee won’t meet behind closed doors. Instead, the panel is expected to hear from Dan Bell, a southern Arizona rancher.
The panel is also expected to discuss an update on its website.
Despite the setbacks, Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, who originated the idea of raising private money to build a fence on the Southern border, isn’t giving up.
He maintains that even with only $264,000, something tangible could be built on the border.
He said many have approached him with different ideas, including putting up a “virtual fence.”
But he said the first thing the border panel should do is determine where it wants to build a fence. Once an area has been identified, its landscape will dictate what type of building project is feasible, he said.
“There actually is a lot that you can do, believe it or not, with very limited funds,” Smith said.
But another member of the panel, Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, acknowledged that the project simply did not collect enough money to build something concrete and effective.
“A fence would be helpful, but I don’t think we can do much with two hundred and whatever thousand dollars, so I have no ideas as to how we use in any effective sort of way that is in compliance with what I believe is a pretty strict application [of the law],” he said.