PHOENIX -- Facing a threatened lawsuit, the state House voted 36-20 Tuesday to give the Independent Redistricting Commission another $700,000.
But lawmakers made it clear they were not happy about it.
The funds are part of $1.1 million that Ray Bladine, the commission's executive director, said is necessary to pay existing bills as well as finance operations through the end of the budget year on June 30. Much of that involves payments to lawyers who are helping to shepherd the new maps for the 30 legislative and nine congressional districts through U.S. Department of Justice review.
But several lawmakers complained that the commission would not have run out of cash had it not spent money battling both a bid by Gov. Jan Brewer to fire the chairwoman as well as a lawsuit by Attorney General Tom Horne charging the members with violating the state Open Meeting Law. The commission won both legal battles.
Rep. David Smith, R-Scottsdale, said his concerns go beyond those fights.
"We're giving $700,000 with no restrictions," he said. "They could spend it the way they want to."
He said if the commission wants the money it should justify the needs to lawmakers. And Smith said the commission, which already has received $3.5 million, will be asking for another $1.7 million for the new budget year that begins July 1.
But Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, said while those concerns are legitimate, the constitutional amendment creating the commission approved by voters in 2000 requires the Legislature to provide it enough funds to carry out its duties.
"That's pretty vague language," he conceded. But Crandell voted for the funding, saying that unless and until the constitution is changed, lawmakers have no choice.
Bladine has not used that description. But he said in letters to legislative leaders that the failure to provide the cash would result in a lawsuit.
None of that convinced Rep. Terri Proud, R-Tucson, who said voters created the commission on the promise it would take the politics out of redistricting.
"But what Arizona really got was an uninformed, unaccountable group of five politically appointed people," said Proud, who tried earlier this year to get colleagues to ask voters in a special election to abolish the commission and return the task to the legislators themselves.
The Senate is set to take up the issue today.