Southwest Book Reviews
9:59 am
Sat January 16, 2010

Budget cuts many programs funding

Phoenix, AZ – The problem facing Brewer and lawmakers is double: Getting the
current spending plan into balance with revenues and then dealing
with the $3.2 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year. That
will mean spending cuts -- lot of them. One way the state is
doing this is by shifting the burdens elsewhere. For example,
there are currently close to 500 youngsters in the custody of the
Department of Juvenile Corrections. Brewer wants to kill the
agency, a move that would make each county responsible for
housing -- and paying for -- the youngsters that judges say need
to be locked up. But John Arnold, the governor's budget director,
said the move wasn't specifically designed to save money.

(The national movement is to decentralize the holding of
juveniles. They do better when they're kept in their local
communities in smaller settings. The county facilities have had a
large capital investment over the last 10 years.)

But Brewer does not intend to give any of the $63 million to
counties the state will save by closing the facilities and laying
off 980 workers. The governor also wants to cut the share of
lottery proceeds that now helps local governments with
transportation needs and reduce tourism funding. She wants
counties to pay the full costs of housing sexually violent
predators from their communities in the state hospital rather
than the current 25 percent share. And she wants lawmakers to
repeal laws requiring the state provide comprehensive care for
about 17,400 seriously mentally ill, instead funding only crisis
intervention programs and medications.

(This was one of the most difficult proposals that the governor
reached. I've heard her talk about it in depth and with emotion.
And it's just a recognition of where we're at in terms of fiscal
difficulty.)

Brewer's plan also includes eliminating state funds for full-day
kindergarten programs. Arnold said the state will continue to
provide cash for half-day programs, as it did before the program
was expanded by lawmakers in 2006. And he said schools that want
to keep all-day kindergarten can do what some did before the law
was changed -- fund it with local dollars or charge parents.
There also are cuts to funds for schools to purchase what are
called soft capital supplies, everything from books and computers
to school buses. Universities won't take a hit because their
funding is already at 2006 levels. And the state had to promise
not to go below that to qualify for federal stimulus dollars. For
the same reason, university workers won't be subject to the 5
percent pay cut that is being required of all other state
workers. Other budget-balancing plans include more borrowing and
selling off and leasing back more state buildings. And then
there's Brewer's tax hike. At one time Brewer proposed asking
voters for a one-cent increase in state sales taxes. Now she
wants lawmakers to enact the tax hike themselves. Arnold said
there's a good reason for that.

(What if the election fails? And that's why going and having the
Legislature put the revenue stream in place is really critical.
At least we have that leg out there to work with.)

But that's not the only tax hike Brewer wants. She wants to
create the first major exception to existing laws which say that
people pay sales taxes only on products, not on services. Her
plan would require the state tax be levied on an entire repair
bill for everything from toasters to Toyotas, both parts and
labor. Some of what the governor wants would need voter approval.
That includes her previously announced desire to scale back the
Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid
program, to cover only what is required by federal law plus what
can be financed by the revenues from the state's share of a
settlement of a lawsuit against tobacco companies plus money
coming from tobacco taxes. Brewer also would need permission to
repeal the requirement the state set aside $20 million each year
for open space preservation and to take the $124 million now
sitting in that account. But no vote is needed for Brewer's plan
to eliminate the Kids Care program that provides nearly free
health coverage to children whose parents don't qualify for
AHCCCS but earn less than twice the federal poverty level. For
Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.