State Capitol News
2:02 pm
Fri October 23, 2009

Early childhood education funds targeted

Phoenix, AZ – The news that Arizona is 2 billion dollars in the hole has some
lawmakers looking for creative ways of plugging it.

Rep. John Kavanagh said he's in favor of spending cuts beyond
what already has been enacted. But Kavanagh said there are
limits. State aid to education is close to half the budget. And
the state had to promise to maintain its efforts there to get
$800 million in federal stimulus funds. On top of that, a
constitutional amendment now prohibits lawmakers from tinkering
with any program approved by voters. That means no cuts to the
health insurance system. And it means that proceeds an 80-cent-a-
pack cigarette tax enacted three years ago for early childhood
development programs can't be touched. Kavanagh, who heads the
House Appropriations Committee, wants a special election to ask
voters to let lawmakers take the cash that is accumulating.

"$350 million is sitting there. I'd like to use that money for
preschool children health care and other issues that they need.
So, we need all the cash we can get."

That move will get a fight from the First Things First committee
that pushed the tax hike and is starting to award grants. In a
prepared statement, organization spokeswoman Liz Barker Alvarez
said it is the state's obligation to fund safety net services and
lawmakers should look elsewhere for the cash.