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Updated Oct 20, 2013 - 1:53 pm

Arizona redistricting panel running out of money

PHOENIX -- Arizona's redistricting commission is running low on money to pay its lawyers working to fend off Republicans' legal challenges to maps of congressional and legislative districts now in use across the state.

The commission's staff said money to pay the commission's lawyers will run out in December, which could throw the legal defense of the maps in disarray, the Arizona Capitol Times reported.

The commission meets Thursday to consider options that include authorizing a lawsuit against the state for a court to order more funding, suspending the commission's legal defense of the maps and asking for a special legislative session to consider additional funding.

However, talks with state officials indicate a special session "does not appear possible," the commission's two top staff officials said Friday in a memo.

Arizona voters created the commission to take the politically sensitive work of drawing legislative and U.S. House districts out of the hands of legislators and the governor.

Redistricting carries high stakes politically because the makeup of districts can give advantages to one party or another.

The constitutional change approved by voters over a decade ago requires that the state provide funding for the commission, but the appropriation for the current fiscal year was half of the commission's request.

"Without an additional legislative appropriation, the commission is in jeopardy as to compliance with the Arizona State Constitution which requires the commission to defend the adopted maps," the staff memo said.

The commission has already told its lawyers to minimize their work on the three pending lawsuits to save money and it also moved money around within the commission's budget to help pay for legal work.

A ruling in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the map of legislative districts could come any time. A panel of three federal judges heard arguments and received final briefs in that case months ago.

"If the court were to rule that new mapping activity is required, the commission does not have the funding to comply with the court's decision," the staff memo said. "The state's election process could be severely disrupted if it is not clear at an early date what constitutes the various district boundaries."

The two other cases are in earlier stages of litigation. Those lawsuits, one in federal court and one in state court, challenge the congressional map.

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