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Updated Mar 17, 2014 - 7:27 pm

Arizona Senate to propose $9.2 billion budget

PHOENIX — A $9.2 billion spending plan that trims more than $150 million
from Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposal was introduced in the Arizona Senate on Monday,
but Senate President Andy Biggs’ proposal faces an uncertain future in the House
and with Gov. Jan Brewer.

The spending plan Biggs introduced trims some money from the governor’s
proposal to set up a new state child welfare agency. Also being trimmed is her
proposed $50 million deposit into the state’s rainy day fund, which currently
stands at $450 million.

But Biggs plans added money for highways, a major priority of many in the
Legislature that Brewer left out of her budget. They wanted $100 million, but
Biggs’ plan cuts the amount to $30 million.

Biggs said he expects his budget proposal to pass by the end of the week. But
Democrats predicted his proposal was all for nothing.

“What I’ve heard about it is it is a very slim and trim budget that the House
Republicans and the governor have not agreed upon,” said Sen. Anna Tovar,
D-Phoenix, the minority leader. “You’ve got a budget here in the Senate that
will go nowhere in the House. So how productive is that?”

House Speaker Andy Tobin hasn’t commented on the proposal. But Brewer’s
spokesman, Andrew Wilder, said she is not on board.

“We’re glad to see that the Senate has put something forward,” Wilder said.
“But Gov. Brewer does not support this proposal and it is far off from what the
governor will accept.”

Senate Majority Leader John McComish said the budget may not survive in its
present form, but it gets the conversation moving with the House.

“We’re helping to focus their efforts,” said McComish, R-Phoenix.

The House hasn’t unveiled a proposal.

Biggs says despite the cuts his plan is designed to get the governor’s support,
although he declined to provide many details.

“I’m not going to negotiate this in the press,” he said in an interview.
“I’ll just say that we have tried to address all of her fundamental issues and
the things that we think she has made a priority. And we’ve tried to address the
things that we think are important to the state. And our constitutional
obligation is public safety, education and transportation issues.”

Brewer wants a budget that includes $9.36 billion in spending for the fiscal
year that begins July 1. Her plan includes nearly $74 million to set up a new
Child Protective Services department and hire hundreds of new child welfare
workers, investigators, supervisors and support staff.

Although Biggs said his budget proposal is about $9.2 billion, and analysis by
the Joint Legislative Budget Committee puts its spending at $9.13 million.
That’s more than $200 million less that Brewer asked for in her January
proposal. The discrepancy couldn’t be immediately reconciled late Monday.

Biggs cuts $20 million from the $25 million she wants to pull CPS from its
parent agency and set up the new department. Brewer ordered that done after more
than 6,500 ignored abuse and neglect cases were discovered in November. He also
cuts millions from her overhaul of CPS’ computer system. Brewer wanted a $10
million down payment on system that would cost the state $40 million. Biggs says
she should get $15 million in all over three years.

“We put some money in there, but it’s not the final word,” said Sen. Don
Shooter, R-Yuma, the appropriations committee chair. “We’re certainly open to
working with the governor to put the proper amount.”

Brewer’s plan is a 5 percent increase in spending from the current year and
depends on using part of a nearly $900 million surplus to balance.

Biggs said money is included for school performance funding that Brewer wants
and $20 million to help pay schools for inflation funding that was foregone in
recent years but the state has been ordered to pay.

Biggs said his plan will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee
Tuesday, with a final Senate vote planned Thursday. He dismissed concerns that
neither the House the governor were on board with his proposal.

“This is our budget, we’ve worked hard on it,” Biggs said. “We continue to
negotiate with the governor’s office, we continue to negotiate with the House.”


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