Arizona Republicans vote to continue border wall
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Republican lawmakers are ready to use state funds to build a wall along the border with Mexico.
The only question that remains is how much they're willing to spend.
On Wednesday the Senate voted 16-12 to allocate $700 million to "administer and manage the construction of a physical border fence.''
Only thing is, the critical 16th vote for SB 1032 came from Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa. And he made it very clear that while he supports the concept, he won't vote for a final budget that includes an allocation that large.
"That would be a misuse of state funds,'' Pace said.
So that, in turn, leaves the question of how much is acceptable.
On Thursday, the House voted 31-28 for an identical bill -- but with just $150 million.
"I would like to spend $700 million,'' said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, the sponsor of HB 2317. But he told Capitol Media Services that his years in the legislature -- he was first elected in 2006 -- convinces him that it's just not politically possible.
Anyway, Kavanagh said, that $150 million would be enough to build about 20 miles of wall. And he said if it works out, lawmakers can approve more in future years.
But even that may be too much for Gov. Doug Ducey whose budget includes only $50 million for "physical barriers'' at the border.
The debate about spending state money follows the decision by the Biden administration, shortly after taking office last year, to suspend further construction of the walls that were being built by his predecessor.
Trump managed to erect about 450 miles of border barrier, much of which replaced existing barricates and fencing, including 226 miles in Arizona. And of what Trump planned, which did not cover the entire 372-mile border with Mexico, about 18 miles remained uncompleted.
Since that time, the Department of Homeland Security has determined it will do some additional work. That, according to the agency includes completing drainage projects to prevent flooding, disposing of materials not required to complete work and closing "small gaps that remain open from prior construction activities and remediating incomplete gates.''
The exact locations for the projects, however, have not been identified, although the agency said some will be in Arizona.
That leaves the question of what Arizona might do on its own -- and how much in tax dollars it is willing to spend.
The governor, speaking to reporters Thursday, sidestepped a question of whether $700 million was too much.
"We're negotiating right now with the legislature on the physical barriers where Arizona can build that,'' he said. "And I'm confident we'll be able to get those resources.''
Kavanagh said that any state dollars would have to be used on land already owned by the state. But he said they also could be used to build a wall on private property with the consent of the owners.
That, however, still leaves vast sections of the state's southern border without walls -- and beyond the reach of the state. That specifically includes the Tohono O'odham Reservation.
Aside from the $50 million Ducey wants for barriers, his budget request also includes $25 million for the state Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. And state law allows that agency to use those dollar for preventing human trafficking and illegal entry, including administering and managing construction of a physical border fence.
"I do think Arizona is going to do everything it can in its power,'' Ducey said about securing the border. "I don't think any other state in the nation is doing more.''
And he said it isn't just about physical barriers.
Ducey said the state is giving money to communities to enhance law enforcement and prosecution of those who are here illegally and violate other state laws. And the state has deployed deploy about 200 Guard soldiers to the border in support roles like monitoring surveillance cameras, analyzing data and providing administrative support to local law enforcement.
The governor, however, has brushed aside a legal opinion issued by Attorney General Mark Brnovich that the actions of drug cartels and smugglers on the border constitute an "invasion'' that allow him to use the Guard to "engage in war.''
Brnovich, hoping to become the Republican nominee for US. Senate, said the state can defend itself when invaded. And he said that definition is broad enough to be applied to "invasion by hostile non-state actors such as cartels and gangs.''
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