KNAU and Arizona News
10:56 pm
Tue January 17, 2006

Napolitano unveils budget proposal

Phoenix – On paper, the governor's budget is a 22 percent jump over current year funding. But George Cunningham, Napolitano's chief financial adviser, said that's not really true. He noted that includes a deposit into the rainy day fund and paying back money borrowed previously from special funds. That still leaves a $9.7 billion spending plan, more than 18 percent over this year. But Cunningham insisted that also is not a
legitimate reflection of Napolitano's budget. He said the real increase amounts to only $217 million, or 2.7 percent. And he bristled at reporters' questions about why that number is right -- and the higher figures are wrong.

(Look. Obviously you have the right to report this any way you want. I think it is, I think I'll make the point one more time: You may be accurate. But it would be misleading to give the impression that somehow the governor is increasing the budget by $18 million for new programs and for new initiatives and for new kinds of activities.)

Cunningham, who meant to say 18 percent, said Napolitano is not responsible for more than $686 million in automatic growth due to more children in public schools, community colleges and universities, and more people eligible for health care and other state benefits. And he said the state has to comply with various federal and legislative mandates. Cunningham also said Napolitano's decision to include nearly $193 million to extend existing programs should not be counted against her, nor should her plan for $215 million in pay raises. But Senate President Ken Bennett wasn't buying the governor's contention that she was proposing only a tiny hike. In fact, he said the governor's budget is irresponsible, no matter how you look at it, because it spends more than even the $9.2 billion Napolitano believes the state will collect next year. The governor does that by spending an anticipated $1 billion the state expects to have at the end of this budget year.

(It's still a huge increase in spending. It's still using almost every dollar of cash on hand to be spent by the end of the budget year and basicaly be right back into a touch-and-go $25 million ending cash balance.)

Bennett said a $9 billion budget would be more appropriate and still amount to a 9 percent spending increase. The governor gets to spend more than Republicans want because she wants only $100 million for tax relief, versus the $250 million GOP plan. She also would put less into the state's rainy day fund. On that spending side of the equation, she wants $45 million for teacher pay to guarantee a $30,000 starting salary and raise the wages of others already making that much. And her budget contains an extra $105 million to provide state-funded full-day kindergarten to all 78,000 youngsters and a 7.5 percent pay hike for state employees -- all proposals that Republicans may trim or eliminate. In Phoenix, for Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.