Change of direction? Budget before illegal immigration laws

Change of direction? Budget before illegal immigration laws

CREATED Jun 30, 2011

Reporter: Craig Smith

PHOENIX (KGUN9-TV) - A new direction at the state capitol.

When the President of Arizona's State Senate declared he was putting the state budget ahead of illegal immigration laws, was it a change of heart or a change of tactics?

Senate President Russell Pearce has been aggressively pushing laws to discourage illegal immigration in Arizona.

So when he declared the laws he'd made a signature of his political career would take a back seat to balancing the state budget, it raised questions of whether lawmakers are getting immigration fatigue and the issue's running out of steam.

Demonstrators filled the capitol plaza to oppose and support Senate Bill 1611, Senator Russell Pearce's most comprehensive illegal immigration bill yet.

As Senate President, in a political party that holds an overwhelming majority, Pearce has a lot of power to push his priorities.

But now he says the state budget crisis will be his top priority, not immigration.

KGUN9 asked Tucson lawmakers how they see the move.

Republican State Rep Vic Williams says Republicans are still dedicated to discouraging illegal immigration---and that it does raise the cost of government services---but the state's budget crisis requires spending cuts first.

"Right now we need to take care of the budget as it stands now," said Williams. "If we continue to make this state less desirable for illegal aliens to migrate to, we will ultimately see, long term, a positive effect on our budget.  But it's a little difficult to say that we're gonna come in and try to eliminate illegals from the state to balance the budget."

Democratic State Senator Olivia Cajero-Bedford believes the budget should have always come first, but she thinks illegal immigration isn't on the back burner at all.  She thinks the budget will become leverage to push illegal immigration laws.

"If the governor wants certain things within her budget, then I think the fact that she would have to acquiesce and sign some of the immigrations bills," she said. "That is my take on the situation right now."

"So they're bargaining chips?" asked KGUN9 Reporter Craig Smith.

"Absolutely.  Absolutely," replied Cajero-Bedford.

Senator Cajero-Bedford says Republicans have unfairly cut the Democratic minority out of the budget process so they will have no say on what state functions will be cut.