PHOENIX -- A Senate panel voted Tuesday to give the Independent Redistricting Commission more money to cover its expenses, avoiding for the moment a new lawsuit between the panel and the Legislature.
But it remains unclear exactly how much of the commission's $1.1 million request will be approved.
The version of SB 1533 approved by the Appropriations Committee allocates only $1. Lawmakers said they would put in a final figure some time later.
The 10-3 vote came after Ray Bladine, the commission's chairman, said the $3.5 million already given to the panel is going to be gone by the middle of the month. He estimated it will take another $1.1 million to pay the bills just through the end of the year.
He acknowledged that the commission already has finished creating the maps for the state's 30 legislative and nine congressional districts.
Both were sent off last month to the U.S. Department of Justice which has to review them to ensure the new lines comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. That specifically precludes the state from doing anything which dilutes minority voting strength.
But Bladine told lawmakers the commission needs money to pay the attorneys to respond to any questions from Justice Department lawyers. He said that might simply be a request for additional information before approving the maps or an outright rejection of either or both maps.
And not responding -- or not responding in a way that pleases federal attorneys -- is not an option: Without federally approved maps, Bladine said, the 2012 election could be thrown into disarray.
Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, grilled Bladine about where the money has gone.
Bladine conceded some of it went to pay for the commission to sue Gov. Jan Brewer after she fired Colleen Mathis, who chairs the panel. Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, said he was not happy with those expenses.
But Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, pointed out that the Arizona Supreme Court sided with the commission -- and against both Brewer and the Republican-controlled Senate which ratified the firing -- concluding the dismissal was unconstitutional. She said that made the expenses legitimate.
Gould disagreed, saying nothing in the Arizona Constitution gives the Supreme Court any say in the governor's decision.
"The court is out of control on this issue,'' he said.
But the GOP lawmakers who control the committee and the Legislature also acknowledged that denying the commission any additional funds might lead to another lawsuit.
Bladine said commissioners believe that, as a constitutionally created agency, it must be provided with funds to do its work. He said that means the Legislature cannot thwart its work by denying it the necessary funds.
And Bladine noted that the commission voted last week to go to court if the cash is not forthcoming.
Republicans used the funding request as an opportunity to again air their dissatisfaction with the
"Stevie Wonder could have thrown a bowl of spaghetti at a map and do a better job than these guys,'' said Shooter.
Prior to 2000, state lawmakers drew the lines for the legislative and congressional districts.
That year voters approved creation of a five-member panel, no more than two from the same party, to do the job. Proponents said that would take the politics out of the decennial process.
"A cruel hoax has been played on the voters of Arizona,'' said Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson. He said having two Democrats and two Republicans essentially gives all the power to the fifth person.