PHOENIX — Universities and state agencies in Arizona are seeking at least $500 million in new spending now that the state’s economy is recovering.
The Arizona Capitol Times reports that universities want a $203 million budget increase while the Department of Economic Security, the state’s Medicaid program and other agencies are asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding.
The universities are seeking money for fire code upgrades, acquiring research equipment and an exchange program with schools in western part of the United States.
The Department of Economic Security seeks to hire hundreds of Child Protective Services investigators and caseworkers.
The increases are being sought against the backdrop of another potential budget shortfall by the middle of this decade, the result of the expiration of a temporary sales tax increase that has propped up the state during the worst of the recession and has been producing roughly $1 billion annually.
Gov. Jan Brewer and her staff are in the middle of drafting her budget recommendation to the Legislature. She is expected to announce her proposal early next year.
Some legislators are wary of spending more than the current $8.57 billion budget.
Republican Sen. Don Shooter of Yuma, who leads the Senate’s appropriations committee, said some of the requests, such as the universities’ request for a 29 percent hike in their budget, are ridiculous. “Do they have any idea that the economy is flat at best?” Shooter told the newspaper, adding, “They must be delusional because we don’t have any money.”
Arizona Board of Regents chairman Rick Myers readily acknowledged that not everything the universities asked for would be funded, but said they wanted to give the governor a better sense of the universities’ needs, and so instead of just focusing on a few items, they laid out their priorities on the table.
“I don’t want people to think that we’re sitting here in a vacuum and don’t recognize that the state continues to have some economic problems and that we’re saying that we’re more important than everyone else. That’s not the case,” Myers said. “The case is we wanted to present high-priority items and show what those are.”
The universities are asking for $81.9 million in permanent spending and another $120.9 million in one-time expenditures, which included money for renovating a library at Arizona State University and funding a study to create a new model of educating veterinarians.
Among the agencies, the Department of Economic Security appears to have the easier path to getting additional funding.
The agency is asking for another $85 million, which its director said would be spent mostly to prop up the state’s Child Protective Services.
Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter said the reason is straightforward: Reports to CPS grew by 17 percent in 2012 fiscal year and he expects the caseload to increase by 10 percent in the next two years.
Those reports must be investigated promptly, and the agency is asking for 200 more CPS investigators and caseworkers.
Carter explained that the issue is children’s health and safety that cannot be compromised.
“We understand that our request exists in the context of many other requests, but we certainly believe that the benefits, goods and services that we provide that help sustain and maintain safe and healthy communities is something that has got to be very high in that priority list,” he said.