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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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3/19/2014 8:04:00 AM
AZ Senate proposes $9.13 billion budget

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services


PHOENIX -- Senate Republicans proposed a $9.13 billion spending plan for the state, notably with less money for child welfare than sought by Gov. Jan Brewer.

Senate President Andy Biggs said he's not necessarily disputing the governor's contention that she needs $74 million this coming year to fund the new Division of Child Safety and Family Services. That's what's left of the old Child Protective Services after her executive order creating the new agency.

And Brewer actually wants to have that made a Cabinet-level department.

But Biggs said he thinks the governor's plan actually is based more on estimates than a real computation of what it would cost. So he wants the GOP-controlled Legislature to give her what she initially needs, with a commitment to add more money next year if that proves necessary.

Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said the plan is a non-starter with his boss.

"Gov. Brewer does not support this proposal,' he said. "It is far off from what the governor will accept.'

Some of the changes, particularly in the child-welfare budget, are significant.

For example Brewer's proposal includes $25 million in a special "transition fund' to create the new agency.

Biggs said he sees that as a "placeholder' figure based on nothing in particular. So the Senate Republican plan instead plugs in just $5 million.

Nor was he confident in some of the other numbers in the governor's plan.

Biggs said, though, telling the governor "no' now on her full request does not mean lawmakers are shutting the door.

He said legislators have been responsive in the past when needs have exceeded funding. Just this past January, for example, lawmakers approved an extra $6.8 million boost for the new child-welfare agency.

But Biggs said there are no plans to simply give Brewer and her agency a blank check.

One of Brewer's requests includes $10 million to start replacing an antiquated computer system that tracks child abuse complaints.

Biggs said it appears the governor eventually wants $40 million in state funds. And he said the federal government will provide a dollar-for-dollar match.

That brings the price tag to $80 million, something Biggs said seems awfully high for a computer system.

His plan proposes $15 million over three years, plus that federal match.

Overall, the Senate GOP budget is close to $200 million less than what Brewer sought in January.

The Senate GOP budget also does not include $50 million Brewer wants to put into the state's "rainy day fund.'

"The money isn't there,' Biggs said. Anyway, he said there already is $450 million in the bank, enough to deal with immediate emergencies.

But there are spots in the Senate spending plan that are more generous than Brewer proposed.

Biggs said one priority for his members is phasing out a practice used in prior years to balance the budget by diverting cash from the Highway User Revenue Fund. That enabled the dollars, which come from gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, to instead help cover the operating costs of the Department of Public Safety rather than using other tax funds.

There is strong sentiment to have that cash instead used for needed for road construction and repair.

Debate on the plan begins today (eds: tuesday) in the Senate Appropriations Committee with a vote byh the full Senate on Thursday

What happens after that, though, is unclear.

Biggs said he was unable to convince House GOP leadership to draft a joint legislative plan. That raises the possibility the House could make sharp changes to satisfy its own members.

House Speaker Andy Tobin did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Taylor Waste

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