AG blames Democrats for state budget cut

Gary Grado//July 1, 2013

AG blames Democrats for state budget cut

Gary Grado//July 1, 2013

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne attends the official election canvass approval signing at the Historic Senate Chambers at the Capitol, Monday Dec. 3, 2012, in Phoenix. Horne is being investigated by the State Bar over allegations stemming from an investigation into alleged campaign finance violations. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Attorney General Tom Horne sniped at Democrats for eliminating a $1.2 million fund that has been used for combating Mexican drug cartels in southern Arizona since 2009.

Horne said the money has been used to secure hundreds of felony cases against drug cartel members and millions of dollars in seized funds.

He said police around the state are going to be hurt by the budget cut because 75 percent to 85 percent of the seized money goes to police agencies.

The Attorney General’s Office first got the money in fiscal year 2009 in the form of a federal grant to backfill cuts to the office’s budget. The grant expired in fiscal year 2012, and the Legislature approved a one-year appropriation.

Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix and the Arizona Latino Caucus pushed for the budget cut.

Gallardo said he asked for the money to be removed during budget negotiations because he opposes immigration enforcement policies practiced in recent years by Republicans, such as workplace raids.

“It’s no secret that I don’t support Tom Horne’s or Joe Arpaio’s ways on immigration and if that money can be used for other areas for fighting crime, then let’s use it.” Gallardo said.

Gallardo said there were already dollars allocated to county attorneys and sheriffs for prosecutions related to illegal immigration, so the push was made to cut out the cross-border enforcement fund.

Senate Majority Leader John McComish, the leader of the Republican faction that joined Democrats in passing the budget, said he did not remember the issue. Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, sponsor of the budget legislation was not immediately available for comment.

Horne said in a press release June 24 that Democrats were mistaken in thinking the money would be used to fight illegal immigration and he complained that Democrats used their new-found leverage in budget negotiations arising out of the Medicaid expansion debate. Democrats were able to make a mark on the budget because of Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s push for the expansion, which was opposed by all but a few Republicans.

Gallardo said Horne shouldn’t have taken the funding for granted and he should direct his complaints to Republicans and Brewer because Democrats are still in the minority.

“He should have come down to the Legislature and lobbied for it like every other state agency, every other elected official who comes to talk with us about their budgetary needs,” Gallardo said. “Mr. Horne believes we are mind readers, that we know what his needs are.”

Gallardo said Horne’s lobbying priority this year was trying to kill a provision in the omnibus elections bill, HB2305, that retroactively authorizes the Secretary of State’s Office to refer alleged campaign violations directly to the County Attorney’s Office instead of the attorney general if the complaint involves the attorney general personally.

The secretary of state must send such cases to the attorney general, who is then required to declare a conflict of interest and refer it to another agency. A Superior Court judge in May booted the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office form the case against Horne and staffer Kathleen Winn after Bennett bypassed the attorney general and referred the case directly to County Attorney Bill Montgomery last year.

Art Harding, the attorney general’s director of legislative affairs, declined to comment on Gallardo’s statement about Horne’s lobbying priorities.

But Harding said he informed Gallardo how the fund was used on June 12, hours before the budget was introduced in the special session.

Harding said the fund was in Brewer’s budget proposal and the original Senate budget passed in regular session.

He said Gallardo seemed to grasp that the money was used for cartels.

“The next thing we saw as the closed-door meetings went down, the budget comes out that evening, so we’re scrambling, trying to make phone calls to people and trying to find out who’s actually doing the negotiation on this stuff, but nobody was accepting responsibility,” Harding said.