Arizona SoS, Legislature Tussle Over Election Funding

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Newly-elected Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the state legislature are at odds over election funding in the latest state budget – especially regarding funds for federal matching and for the SoS to assist localities. KJZZ has more:

Money for elections came up short in this year’s state budget, according to the Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office.

And through some changes in budget allocations, the state Legislature may have put some federal matching money in jeopardy.

There are at least two pots of money at issue. One is a federal grant for election security, the 2018 Help America Vote Act. Arizona received about $7.4 million in HAVA funds last year, provided it made a 5 percent state match. That comes to $373,184, with an appropriation due by next spring.

The second pot of money is the Secretary of State’s election services budget, about $4.4 million. At the end of the legislative session, lawmakers reduced that budget line and allocated the money to the Presidential Preference Election (PPE), which will be held on March 17.

The SoS argues that the changes in allocations mean that the state could forfeit some federal funding:

Hobbs’ office said with the money now assigned more narrowly, it can no longer pay the 5% state HAVA match. In a recent letter to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, Hobbs, a Democrat, pointed out that if Arizona does not appropriate that matching money, the state must return 5 percent of the federal money it received. In all, that would be $746,368 less for the state and counties to spend on election security.

“We’ve made it pretty clear to everyone involved that the end result is that we are likely going to need a supplemental appropriation when we come back into session next winter,” said Assistant Secretary of State Allie Bones.

Not surprisingly, legislative leaders disagree and say the state – and Hobbs – have all the money they need:

No one from the House Republican caucus was available for an interview, but House GOP spokesman Matt Specht said in an email that the Secretary of State’s Office received over $17 million from the general fund in the budget. He also said Hobbs’ office can use $1 million that was “permanently shifted from the elections services line item to the SOS’s operating budget” in fiscal year 2017.

“The SOS’s office has much more flexibility than they appear to realize,” he said. He also said it is possible to move money from the PPE budget to other priorities with approval from the Arizona Department of Administration and the Office of Strategic Planning & Budgeting, two departments in Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration.

Hobbs’ office counters that the current allocations don’t cover all of the state’s election needs – and that the legislature has underfunded the PPE based on current estimates:

Bones said its $12.4 million lump sum is for operating expenses and non-election related duties.

As for money for the PPE, Bones said the $4.4 million allocated will not cover the costs of that election. She estimates the PPE will require about $7 million if only one political party participates and about $10 million if two parties participate.

“The fact that there’s $4.4 million in the budget for the Presidential Preference is good in that it’s much more than zero, but it doesn’t quite get us where we need to be in order to put on a PPE,” said Jennifer Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties. AACo’s concern is that counties will not be fully reimbursed for the cost of the election.

Bones also anticipates additional election costs due to stricter rules the Legislature passed for ballot initiatives.

“There’s just a lot of other expenses that our office has related to elections that are not covered the way that this appropriation went through,” she said.

This kind of budget wrangle between an SoS and a legislature isn’t unusual, and in some ways it’s almost predictable given that the SoS and the legislature are now controlled by different parties. Still, it’s somewhat concerning that Arizona’s leadership is not on the same page about the budget with the 2020 election essentially ready to begin. Here’s hoping the two sides can agree on a number and make it work before preparations for the full 2020 cycle get too much further underway. Stay tuned …

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