A state Senate panel voted Thursday to spend $20 million of state tax dollars to lease ground radar systems for one year to help locate and catch people sneaking into the U.S. illegally.
The 4-3 vote came despite objections from some that Arizona taxpayers should not be picking up the cost of a burden that should be borne by the federal government.
“This is really no different than us paying $20 million to put the National Guard down there,’’ said Sen. Bill Brotherton, D-Phoenix. “My concern is we’re using more and more of our budget to basically pay for what is a federal government role.’’
Sen. Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, said he agrees with Brotherton — at least philosophically.
“But they’re not doing it,’’ Flake said. And the result, he added, is that Arizona taxpayers are getting socked with millions of dollars of costs for both providing services to and arresting those not here legally. “I think (the radar investment) will save money in the long run.”
SB1273 is being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Tim Bee. The Tucson Republican said the system, being provided on loan to the Marine Corps by Scottsdale-based Sensor Technologies & Systems Inc., has proven its reliability in southwest Arizona, where the Marines are using it to protect the Barry M. Goldwater Range from intruders, both for the security of the facility as well as to protect civilians who wander into the area.
Sen. Jim Waring, RPhoenix, who saw it in operation, called it a “relatively flawless system.’’
It consists of two parts.
One is the radar unit, which can spot people up to three miles from the unit or larger targets, like cars, six miles away. It normally is linked to cameras so that monitors can see what the blips on the screen are and, if appropriate, notify U.S. Border Patrol.
But Sensor lobbyist Larry Pike conceded the $20 million in the legislation buys only so much, perhaps protecting only 50 to 100 miles of the state’s 370 miles of border. And the funding, while leasing the system, does not include the staff to watch the computer screens and video monitors, though Pike told lawmakers his company would provide training. Bee said he presumes that local police departments would do the monitoring.
The legislation, even if approved, does not guarantee that the Scottsdale firm will get the contract. Pike said other companies that have similar technology will be entitled to submit bids.
While the measure was approved on a party-line vote, with Republicans in favor, it remains unclear whether Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano would support it.
The governor included funds in her proposed budget for equipment and technology for law enforcement to deal with issues of border security. One item she suggested was “smart fence infrared detection technology.’’
Napolitano’s spokeswoman Jeanine L’Ecuyer said she did not know whether the ground-based radar was sufficiently similar to get Napolitano’s support.