PHOENIX -- State Treasurer Dean Martin said Thursday he will find the cash to put up to 3,000 armed National Guard soldiers along the border if he is elected governor.
"Illegal immigration, not securing the border, has a lot of intrinsic costs to the state,' said Martin, who hopes to be the Republican gubernatorial nominee. "It could be in the billions of dollars.'
Martin did not immediately have a price tag for the move.
But he said that the money would be available -- if lawmakers agree to his plan to refinance the state's $4.5 billion in debt. Martin said stretching out what the state owes over 20 years would produce an extra $1.4 billion in up-front cash in the next two years.
Martin's position puts him at direct odds with incumbent Jan Brewer, one of his foes in the GOP primary.
While she also wants additional troops on the border, the governor won't pick up the tab. Brewer said it would be unfair to ask state taxpayers to assume the financial burden because of the failure government to secure the border.
While Martin's statement comes during the Republican primary race, his stance is not new: He sponsored legislation in 2006 to actually force then-Gov. Janet Napolitano to put Guard units in Southern Arizona to deal with illegal immigration. Napolitano, now the head of homeland security in the Obama administration, eventually vetoed legislation with money to put troops there.
"The border situation hasn't gotten better,' Martin said Thursday. "It's gotten worse.'
Martin said the spending would not stop with Guard troops on the border. He promised to find state dollars to complete a secure fence along the border where one has not yet been erected by the federal government.
"Public safety is a core responsibility of state government,' he said.
Martin rejected the possibility that once the state starts spending its own money to harden the border that will take the pressure off of federal officials to do more. In fact, he argued, having state-paid troops securing the border might have the reverse effect.
"If we do a deployment and we're catching more with our deployment, it really embarrasses them from making the cuts in the first place,' he said, saying they have scaled back funding both for fencing and more Border Patrol officers in Southern Arizona.
Martin said he sees the soldiers as being "in a high-profile but secondary jurisdiction,' with the main responsibility remaining with the Border Patrol.
At the very least, he said, having armed, uniformed soldiers will serve as a deterrent.
"A lot of the criminal activity that moves through, they're not worried about a rancher, they're not worried about the Minutemen, they're not worried about the Border Patrol, to some degree,' Martin said. "I mean, they've been shooting and taking shots at them.'
But he said having soldiers who have seen actual combat duty in the Middle East is "going to give that drug dealer some second thoughts.'
Martin also said he would provide a larger role for the Department of Public Safety in border security, not necessarily in actually patrolling the area but in providing intelligence and coordinating the efforts of various local law enforcement agencies.
He also promised to provide at least $50 million in state funds for local agencies for overtime and other needs. That compares to $10 million Brewer just made available in federal stimulus dollars for border-area police agencies.