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Updated Jan 22, 2014 - 1:26 pm

Jan Brewer releases $9.4B budget plan for coming year

PHOENIX -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has released a $9.36 billion spending plan for the coming budget year that includes nearly $74 million to set up a new Child Protective Services department and hire more than 200 new child welfare workers.

The proposal released Friday also asks the Legislature to approve more than $15 million to be spent right away to begin hiring workers.

"We've never broken apart an agency of this size before," said John Arnold, director of the Governor's Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting. "We don't exactly know what it's going to entail but we want the resources there to make this as successful and timely transition as possible."

The governor wants the money as part of a developing plan to completely overhaul the state's Child Protective Services department. The troubled agency has been shaken by revelations that more than 6,500 child abuse and neglect reports were ignored in recent years as a way to deal with understaffing and high caseloads.

Brewer ordered CPS pulled out of its parent department this week and wants $25 million to create the new agency.

Other key items include $40 million for a new education funding plan rewarding schools that show test score improvements.It also puts more emphasis on growth in test scores rather than high scores alone.

Those revisions are intended to counter one of the biggest criticisms of last year's plan. That plan allowed higher-performing schools that are often in affluent areas to draw extra money for their high test scores, while schools in poorer areas with lower test scores had little chance of a funding boost.

Arnold said the funds could be used to us Internet speeds at rural Arizona schools to meet national standards.

"The national standard for K-12 broadband is 100 megabits per second into the school," he said. "We only have 11 percent of our schools that meet that standard. Forty-one percent of our schools are below 10 megabits per second.

"We have three schools that are still on dial-up."

The plan also uses all new money, so schools that don't win extra cash won't see their regular funding drop as with last year's plan.

Brewer's budget includes more than $27 million to finish a ``parity'' plan designed to even out funding at the state's three universities.

After that's done, future increases will be based on performance standards adopted by the universities.

University funding boosts otherwise are paltry, including $3.5 million for the University of Arizona's cooperative extension for agriculture programs and a $15 million, five-year appropriation to support T-Gen, a private biotech research group focused on medical diagnoses.

Brewer also proposed $9.2 million for a new veteran's home in Yuma.

The 60 to 90 bed facility would be the third in the state. The other two are in Phoenix and Tucson.

Brewer budget director John Arnold says the federal government will pay for two-thirds of the cost of the home. The facility won't require state money to operate once it is built.

The state Veterans' Affairs Department says it looked at putting a home in Yuma, Flagstaff and the Kingman area and decided Yuma needed the facility the most.

If the Legislature approves the money by July and a federal matching grant is received by late 2015, the new facility could open by October 2017.

Brewer's plan left out any money for county highway and infrastructure projects that are a top priority for counties.

The state has taken $120 million a year to fund the Highway Patrol, and counties want it back.

Instead, the plan will allow counties to level their own funds to bring in more federal money with the state's help.

Restoring the funding has the support of both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives, so lawmakers might put that money in the budget they pass.

Friday's release covers what Brewer wants the Legislature to approve for the budget year beginning on July. 1. The governor's plan serves as a roadmap for lawmakers who must pass the budget.

A key member of the Republican-controlled Legislature said the plan appeared to focus on top priorities while not breaking the bank.

``The areas that she is advocating for I think a lot of people in the Legislature are advocating for, said Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. ``So I think we'll be able to work together on most of these areas. It's just a matter of resolving the final amount, which is typical.''

Democrats also were generally pleased, with the usual caveats.

``It's a good start, but we want to see some improvement in some areas,'' said Rep. Ruben Gallego, the House assistant minority leader. ``We're happy obviously that we're starting to address the CPS problem,'' but he's skeptical about how many caseworkers can be hired and said the plan lacks cash for preventative services.

KTAR's Bob McClay contributed to this report.

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