Unfunded Mandates Unbridled Hypocrisy

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What an irritating political spectacle. The Gila County Board of Supervisors this week wrestled with the potential impact of SB 1070, which requires local police to enforce federal immigration law on routine stops. Bizarrely enough — the law also invites citizens to sue police departments if those citizens think police aren’t doing enough to round up undocumented workers.

The Gila County Supervisors want to make sure that the state gives them enough money to enforce this “unfunded mandate.”

The position has a certain irony. The same state lawmakers that fume and sputter about getting stiffed by the feds don’t mind letting cities and counties pick up their check. That applies not only to immigration law — but to a whole range of budget-balancing hat tricks.

But how much will the new law cost Gila County? Sheriff John Armer says it’s no big deal: deputies already check for documents when it seems warranted.

The feds need to secure the border, provide needed labor, make employers obey the law and treat people with justice and compassion. The feds haven’t done it.

The ironies here are bitter and layered.

ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy reports that the number of illegal immigrants entering the state annually has dropped by nearly 50 percent in the past decade, and may have nearly ceased as a result of the recession.

Moreover, major crime has dropped throughout the state in recent years. There are still a high number of illegal immigrants committing serious and sometimes deadly crimes against law-abiding Arizona citizens.

Smugglers pose a real danger along the border, as do the hundreds of people entering this country illegally every day through Mexico from a variety of countries.

The supervisors are frustrated that legislators keep pushing new costs onto the county. The Legislature has transferred many costs to county government, and that is wrong. The Legislature needs to find a different way to balance its budget, and not just switch the burden to cities and counties.

State Parks: Bitter pill but also a useful lesson

Asked once how he liked being President during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln reportedly recalled the story of a man who was tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail. When asked how he felt about the experience, the man replied: “If it weren’t for the honor of it, I’d just as soon walk.”

Well, Payson may have a similar reaction next week when the Arizona State Parks Board holds its two-day meeting at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

The board moved its latest budget trauma meeting to the world’s largest natural travertine arch, in part, to recognize Payson’s creative and constructive role in saving the state parks system from wholesale devastation.

After months of discussions, Payson struck a deal with the state parks board to provide about $30,000 and a host of volunteers to keep the Rim Country’s best-known tourist attraction open, despite the Legislature’s steadfast efforts to destroy the work of generations.

Led by Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, who worked his political connections relentlessly to save the park, Payson found a way to keep the park open all year.

Payson’s deal gained additional significance when other towns followed suit. State parks is in the process of working out arrangements that could prevent the closure of fully half of the system’s 28 sites.

The Legislature not only stole money from taxpayer-approved funds, but it also rifled the cash boxes at the entrance to every state park — pocketing even the gate fees so the tiny state parks system ended up subsidizing schools and medical care and highways and the other big-ticket state budget items.

The $9 million the Legislature stole hardly made a dent in the $3 billion budget deficit, but it has devastated the state parks system.

Some good may come of the whole sorry, sodden mess. The crisis has spawned vital alliances between state parks and rural communities. Moreover, the state parks board has been forced to consider innovative approaches, which might in the future include private contractors with the resources to make the parks more self-sufficient.

Still, Payson must be feeling a little of the same rueful sense of irony Lincoln expressed, elected to unite a country as it fell tragically to pieces. Alas, we can’t help but note that the folks that ought to get the tar and feather treatment most likely won’t be attending the meeting — since most of them are running about now for re-election.

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