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Updated Apr 11, 2014 - 4:57 pm

It’s official: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signs $9.2 billion budget

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday signed the Legislature’s $9.23
billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, calling it principled and
fiscally prudent and a step in the right direction because it adds spending for
child welfare services.

But the Republican governor used her line-item veto power to cut some spending,
including $1.3 million to help counties who will see lower revenue because of a
bill eliminating electricity taxes for manufacturers that she signed earlier in
the day. Other cuts include $1 million for special technical education high
schools, money for northern Arizona law enforcement and part of the money
allocated for a new English language learning software program.

The largest item in the budget is for K-12 schools, spending $3.8 billion, $189
million more than the current year. Other top spending areas include the state’s
Medicaid plan at $1.3 billion, $768 million for universities and $72 million for
community colleges.

The state will also spend nearly $1 billion on prisons, a $25 million increase
from the fiscal 2014 spending plan.

Overall, Brewer called the more than $57 million in additional spending for
child welfare “a significant step in the right direction for our state.”

But she reminded lawmakers that they had agreed to revisit the child welfare
issue and its funding once a report is released on setting up a new agency to
take over from the old Child Protective Services. Brewer ordered CPS separated
from its parent agency in January after the discovery of more than 6,500
uninvestigated child abuse and neglect cases.

Some of her line-item vetoes targeted spending she believed wasn’t needed now
and could be better used when the new agency is formally created. That included
an extra $200,000 for the state ombudsman office to handle additional work from
the new agency.

“A new agency must have the resources it needs to succeed in its core mission
to safeguard Arizona’s abused and neglected children,” she said in a veto
letter to House Speaker Andy Tobin. “Furthermore, I have line-item vetoed
certain appropriations in the budget in order to maintain a fiscally prudent
spending plan and preserve crucial resources for our reform efforts. Child
safety is a core focus, and our state budget must reflect that.”

Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, chafed at the governor’s veto of the
money for the ombudsman’s office, which investigates complaints of government
wrongdoing.

He said the ombudsman’s office helps people who cannot afford to hire attorneys
and noted that a third of all cases that are heard by the office are related to
the child welfare agency.

“If people believe state government is encroaching and taking away their
rights, the ombudsman office is supposed to be there for them to complain and
resolve problems.”

A group of lawmakers and others are working with Brewer’s staff to write
legislation to make that executive order permanent and expect to release it by
May 1. Brewer is expected to call a special legislative session when that report
is ready to formally created the agency and ensure it has needed funding.

In all, Brewer cut more than $4 million from the budget, including $10,000 for
an airstrip in northern Arizona which she said had an unclear state purpose and
added liability and operating costs.

House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said he was disheartened by Brewer’s veto
of the money to replace revenue counties are losing because of the elimination
of taxes on electricity and natural gas purchases made by manufacturers.

“We were just trying to level the playing field for them,” Tobin said.

He was also disappointed by her vetoing extra funding for rural career and
technical education programs for high school students, saying that rural
communities often incur extra costs for transportation.

“That was something our rural folks really wanted,” he said.

The $1.3 million appropriation for counties was negotiated by rural lawmakers
who worried that Brewer’s proposal to cut sales tax charges to manufacturers and
smelters would hurt local budgets. Brewer signed Senate Bill 1413 on Friday
morning in a move she said was needed to make the state more attractive to large
businesses.

The power tax cut is expected to cost the state general fund at least $17
million a year.

In her veto letter, Brewer called the appropriation an “unnecessary
appropriation” because the loss to individual counties would be so small.

“More importantly, this appropriation would have set a policy precedent that
would undermine future efforts to improve the competitiveness of Arizona’s tax
code.”

The House and Senate spent three weeks fighting over the budget proposal before
reaching a compromise on Monday. The overall spending plan is about $133 million
less than Brewer requested and does not make the $50 million deposit she wanted
into the state’s rainy day fund.

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Follow Bob Christie at http://twitter.com/APChristie

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