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The cost of partisanship in Arizona's independent redistricting

by Damon Eris, published

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) will be unable to fulfill its constitutional mandate if it does not receive supplementary funding. According to the commission's executive director, Raymond Bladine, if no supplementary funds are allocated by the state legislature, the IRC will run out of funds next month.

For the current fiscal year, the IRC is seeking a minimum supplementary appropriation of $530,000 to complete its ongoing work in a timely fashion as well as another $600,000 to provide for a contingency fund to cover any additional legal fees and mapping costs. The commission projects that it will require $1.7 million for fiscal year 2013. Together with the $3.5 million that has already been appropriated for the commission's work, the total cost for the taxpayers of Arizona will come to $6.33 million if all its funding requests are met.

These days, when it is not unusual to read of appropriations in the hundreds of billions, a $6.33 million investment to redraw a state's political lines may not sound like a lot of money, but it is. Yet, a $6.33 million appropriation would not be very far off the constitutional mark set for the previous Independent Redistricting Commission.

The AZ Independent Redistricting Commission was established by the state's voters in November of 2000 with the passage of Proposition 106, which amended the Arizona constitution to take the redistricting power out of the hands of sitting lawmakers. The constitutional amendment specifically allocated $6,000,000 to fund the IRC's work.

“Upon approval of this amendment . . . The treasurer of the state shall make $6,000,000 available for the work of the independent redistricting commission pursuant to the year 2000 census,” reads the state's amended constitution.

Even so, the state's legislative leadership is skeptical of the commission's request.

“I would imagine they should be embarrassed about having to ask for more money," said House Speaker Andy Tobin, as quoted in the Arizona Republic. "I would be happy to hold a hearing and ask them how they intend to spend their money," he continued.

However, according to Raymond Bladine, the commission's executive director, Tobin already knows how the commission intends to spend the money. In a letter to Speaker Tobin from earlier this month, Bladine stated:

“If you wished, I would be most happy to meet with you to explain the needs.”

He concluded:

“I am attaching an excel spreadsheet that displays the Commission's costs to date, estimated expenditures, our supplemental request and information on the last commission's expenses.”

A large portion of the commission's funds have already been spent on legal fees fighting challenges from Speaker Tobin's political allies in the executive branch, spurred on by the legislature's politicization of the redistricting process.

In November, Governor Jan Brewer took the unprecedented step of removing the Commission's chairperson, Colleen Mathis, from her position, alleging she had violated the state's constitution. Mathis was re-instated after the State Supreme Court found that the governor's allegations had no merit. The legal fees amounted to nearly $140,000. Last summer, three of the commission's five members hired counsel to defend themselves against an investigation by Arizona Secretary of State Tom Horne. The case was settled in their favor, but is currently under appeal. Legal fees in that case already total over $400,000.

Regarding funding of the IRC, the Arizona Constitution states that:

“the legislature shall make the necessary appropriations by a majority vote,” but also provides that the commission “shall have standing in legal actions regarding the redistricting plan and the adequacy of resources provided for the operation of the independent redistricting commission.”

This seems to have created the possibility of a negative fiscal feedback loop.  If the legislature chooses not to provide the requested funds, the Commission may very well sue to ensure it receives them, adding to its ballooning legal costs.