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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

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

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

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

KTAR’s Bob McClay contributed to this report.


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