What’s in Your Wallet? Fiscal Notes Give States Pause Over Enforcement Laws

As states continue to crowd the immigration enforcement debate with rhetoric and white noise, other states are getting down to brass tacks. On Monday, Utah’s Legislative Fiscal Analysts office hung an $11 million price tag around HB 70, Utah’s immigration law requiring local law enforcement to check the citizenship status of those they suspect are in the country illegally. That’s a steep price to pay for a law Arizona has already proven will cost your state jobs, legal fees and tourism revenue. Kentucky also recently crunched the numbers and found their SB1070-style law (SB 6) would cost the Bluegrass state a whopping $40 million per year. As many states face budget deficits in 2011, lawmakers might be asking their constituents the same question as those Capitol One commercials, “What’s in your wallet?”

So how much would Utah’s immigration enforcement bill cost exactly? According to HB 70’s fiscal note, the price ranges from $5.3 million to $11.3 million. Further fiscal breakdown reveals:

  • $875,300 in costs to the state in 2012 and $829,800 in 2013,
  • $143,000 in costs to the attorney general’s office in 2012;
  • and $162,000 in additional cost to the Department of Public Safety in 2012.

Amazingly, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R-Orem), said that after HB 70 goes into effect, residents “would actually save money as a city” then said “maybe not in the first few months, but shortly thereafter you will. That is something we can’t quantify when you look at costs.” Unfortunately for Rep. Sandstrom, that’s precisely what Utah is trying to do—calculate the immediate costs. Sandstrom’s bill drew ire from Councilman Carlton Christensen who said he “resented the bill’s unfunded mandate.”

Yesterday, Rep. Sandstrom came back with a revised version of HB 70, a version supporters called weak and “watered down” and critics referred to as the same unconstitutional proposal “in a new dress” in a slightly different color.

Kentucky’s legislature also recently estimated the cost of implementing an Arizona-style enforcement law and arrived at $40 million per year in prison, court and foster-care fees. As if the hefty price tag wasn’t enough, hundreds of Hispanic workers rallied outside the capital in Frankfort this week to protest SB 6, which recently passed the Senate but is not expected to move in the House.

In Colorado, the anticipation of costly litigation fees and backlash from the agricultural community caused Rep. Randy Baumgardner (R-Hot Sulphur Springs) to attempt to kill his Arizona copycat enforcement bill, HB 1107, before it even reaches committee. According to Rep. Baumgardner, there were just too many problems with his bill to continue.

“After many drafts and hours of deliberation and meetings with entities, we had come to some agreement with agencies out there,” Baumgardner said. “(But) we couldn’t seem to get away from some parts of it that could be possibly unconstitutional.”

Arizona is still calculating their loss from SB 1070. Todd Landfried at the Hinckley Institute of Politics in Utah said this week that Arizona will “lose $490 million in tourism revenue this year, including $141 million in lost spending due to cancelled conferences,” as well as 3,000 tourism jobs. He also pointed out that some manufacturing jobs are moving operations to Texas.

As restrictionist lawmakers attempt to build their careers on introducing and advancing SB1070-style legislation, taxpayers and legislatures would do well to run down the long laundry list of costs associated with any SB 1070-type bill—the cost to police for increased hours spent arresting, detaining, transporting, booking immigrants, the increase in costs to jails, the cost of projected increase in prosecutorial and public-defender staff, cost of foster-care for children of detained immigrants, and the cost to the state economy in revenue loss and legal fees—and decide how much they’re willing to spend enforcing federal immigration laws.

Photo by tjkirch.

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