KNAU and Arizona News
9:55 am
Tue December 22, 2009

Brewer unveils budget plan

Phoenix, AZ – Governor Jan Brewer came up with a 10-point plan Monday designed
to help get the state over the fiscal hump. Arizona Public
Radio's Howard Fischer analyzed some of the elements and looks at
what they would -- and would not -- do.

The problem is that, even with a $194 million fix enacted by
lawmakers just last week, Brewer still pegs the gap between
revenues and expenses for the current fiscal year at $1.5
billion. The governor made no mention during her open Cabinet
meeting Monday of her request that lawmakers let the public vote
on a temporary sales tax hike, a request she has been unable to
get enacted. Instead, Brewer detailed things she can do on her
own to help. One involves a directive to interim Corrections
Director Charles Ryan to release some illegal immigrants now
being held in state prisons.

"Director Ryan, please prepare for the orderly return of those
prisoners who are eligible for release under existing law to the
custody of the federal government for return to their country of
origin, and reduce your prison beds and budget accordingly."

Some illegal immigrants already are eligible for deportation
after completing half of their sentences under a plan the state
has used since 2005. But that program is open only to those who
have committed minor felonies and are not repeat offenders. But
Ryan minimized the risk of releasing about 400 inmates who were
not eligible for that half-sentence release. Anyway, he said,
said these people would have to be released to Immigration and
Customs Enforcement 90 days later no matter what. There's another
issue in the governor's plan dealing with illegal immigration.

"I'm restating my Arizona only directive to state agency
directors to ensure that public benefits are only provided to
those who are legally in this country and reside in this state.
This is especially urgent when we are denying benefits to our own
citizens."

But it already is law that the state must check for legal
residency, a law that legislators reinforced just last month.
Along the same lines, Brewer said she wants those who are legally
eligible for state services to contribute more to their benefits.

"Effective immediately, agencies are to implement means testing
and sliding fee schedules to ensure the neediest among us receive
the most help."

But state agency representatives said that already is the case
for virtually all state programs. The one notable exception is
that the Department of Health Services doesn't check the income
of the seriously mentally ill who need help. Brewer also said she
wants a -- quote -- hard cap on enrollment in a program that
provides subsized child care for the needy. But officials at the
Department of Economic Security say that pretty much exists now,
with more than 10,000 on a waiting list that was established back
in February.

Some other things in Brewer's plan could provide
some savings -- or at least help the state with its cash flow.
She wants to delay payments due to public schools and
universities. And she want no more families enrolled in the Kids
Care program that provides nearly free health care to the
children of the working poor.

Brewer, after reading her plan from
a script, refused to take questions afterwards about details.
plan. She also ignored a question of whether the open Cabinet
meeting -- the only one of her 11-month administration -- was
staged to burnish her image of being in command of the situation.
But there were political components to the event: In attendance
were Grant Woods and Mary Peters, the co-chairs of her 2010
election bid, and Doug Cole, a hired political consultant to the
campaign.