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Gov. Hobbs says Republican border bill will 'bust' state budget

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs said the state can’t afford to implement controversial border and immigration legislation backed by Republican lawmakers, citing estimates that it could cost the state’s prison system hundreds of millions of dollars.

HCR 2060 would criminalize crossing the border illegally in state law and empower local and state law enforcement to enforce immigration laws. The proposal, which is currently working its way through the Arizona Senate, will go before voters on the November ballot if it passes out of the legislature. 

An amendment to the ballot referral tacked on last week by Sen. Janae Shamp (R-Surprise) would require the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry — the state’s prison system — to take in anyone who is convicted, or even just arrested under the law, if other county and local jails do not have the space to hold them.

Hobbs said the state, which is currently facing a projected $1.3 billion budget shortfall over the next two years, can’t afford that.

“This is absolutely a budget busting proposal in addition to all of the other concerns about it, so they’re certainly going to hear from me on this,” Hobbs said.

According to an Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry memo first obtained by 12News, the state officials estimated the proposed law would cost the prison system $252 million over the next five years, with around $66 million in ongoing expenses in the following years. 

The department anticipates the proposed law would force the prison system to house an additional 1,500 per year. That could cause the department to reach 100% of its operating capacity for male inmates by June 2027 and 100% operating capacity for female inmates by June 2028.

“By 2027, ADCRR will be out of usable prison beds, which includes funded private prison beds, and would need to explore building a prison for further growth,” according to the memo.

Republicans have largely dismissed concerns about the cost of the proposal, arguing it will save the state money by curbing illegal immigration.

“It cost Arizona $3.2 billion a year to deal with this crisis,” Senate President Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) said, referring to a report the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform presented to the U.S. House Budget Committee.  

The fight over HCR 2060 comes as Arizona’s prison system is already seeking significant budget increases in spite of the looming deficit, including hundreds of millions of dollars to address increased operating costs.

The budget proposal Hobbs sent to lawmakers in January included over $270 million over the next two years to help the Department of Corrections come into compliance with an injunction U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver signed last year, the latest order in an ongoing federal lawsuit over the state’s prison healthcare system. 

Even supporters of the bill have expressed concern over the costs of the proposed legislation.

“The sheriffs have, in very clear terms, articulated to everybody our concerns about the cost, not only to the sheriff's office, but to the local public safety infrastructure,” Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes, president of the Arizona Sheriffs Association, said at a press conference last week. “This can't be put on the backs of the counties.”

But Republicans continue to remain mum on how the state can cover those increased costs, and Petersen, the Senate president, declined to say whether those costs are being discussed in budget negotiations with Hobbs.

“All budget discussions are confidential until we have a consensus between the House, the Senate and the Governor,” Petersen said. “It would be speculative.”   

Hobbs said funding mechanisms for the ballot referral have not come up in budget talks yet, but she expects Republicans to bring up the topic at a meeting later this week.

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.