The Arizona Tribune

Arizona Lawmaker Wants to Spend $20 Million More on Drought Plan

There were tons of discussions about getting additional federal grants to help Pinal County farmers quickly transition back to pumping groundwater at the time of Drought Contingency Plan being passed just ahead of the deadline.

As per supporters, the state could serve as a “backstop” to that federal money, or offer a “bridge loan,” spending now in amounts that could be covered later by federal grants.

This idea is also in the law in the “legislative intent” section. It reads, “Because the timing for the issuance of grants from federal agencies is uncertain, the legislature may consider other appropriations to be made available to the irrigation districts for these constructions and rehabilitation projects after reasonable attempts are made to secure the funding, and those federal monies were not provided timely to carry out the purposes of the fund.”

Here the term timely may mean that federal grants should be forthcoming in two weeks or less.

It is so because Rep. David Cook, a Globe Republican, has introduced a bill that would give an additional $20 million appropriation to Pinal County irrigation and water conservation districts. The bill, HB 2590, is a simple appropriation, not framed as a down payment or loan by the state to be paid back by federal grants.

Cook said, “That’s the remaining funds needed to complete this part of DCP.”

He explained that no rules had been written yet for the federal grants that Arizona irrigation districts plan to apply for. There’s no time to wait for the rules to be written, applications submitted, then grants awarded, Cook said.

“All of that is uncertainty, but what we need to have is certainty,” he said.

There is no doubt that the legislators were aware of this before the drought plan was signed into law Jan. 31. As it was, the governor presented a plan earlier that would have appropriated $5 million to help the Pinal County farmers with their groundwater transition. The legislators then inflated that to $9 million. They deliberately did not go further, choosing instead to explain the intent to go after federal money and maybe provide a state backstop in the meantime.

Rep. Kirsten Engel, a Tucson Democrat, said, “I feel like we had this fight and they lost, We appropriated as much money as people felt was warranted, and it was not an inconsiderable amount of money going to groundwater infrastructure.”

But it doesn’t show us the full story. But an essential part of the politics of the Drought Contingency Plan was that each chamber, the House and Senate, needed to pass the bill with a supermajority of two-thirds of both chambers voting yes. This would facilitate the law to have an emergency clause and take effect immediately.

Republican leaders needed Democrats to vote yes, in order to get all those votes. And once this was all hashed out, after lengthy hearings, Democrats did.

“Those Democratic votes would not have been there, had there been an additional $20 million in there for groundwater infrastructure,” Engel said.

But as of now, Republicans don’t need Democratic votes to pass Cook’s simple appropriation. They just need a majority.

But it needs to be watched now if Republicans have the stomach for handing over $20 million more now. It would seem natural that, if this “timely” spending is to happen, it would be on the condition that the state gets paid back with whatever federal grants Arizona can get for the same purpose.

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