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Updated Mar 20, 2014 - 9:17 pm

Arizona Senate passes $9.2 billion spending plan

PHOENIX — The Arizona Senate gave final approval to a $9.2 billion
spending plan for the coming budget year late Thursday, potentially setting the
stage for an early close to the Legislature’s 2014 session.

Senate President Andy Biggs said he believes the changes adopted by the Senate
will get Gov. Jan Brewer and the House of Representatives on board. Brewer
spokesman Andrew Wilder said, however, that no deal had been finalized.

Brewer’s chief of staff, Scott Smith, said there was still one major sticking
point and several smaller ones keeping her from fully supporting the plan.

“I think what they have put together reflects the vast majority of our
priorities,” Smith said. “However, there are still some outstanding and we are
working to get them addressed.”

“But we’re very, very close,” he added.

Smith declined to detail the governor’s concerns. But budgets contain not only
spending details but some policy law as well, so the sticking points may not be

It also remained unclear if leaders in the House of Representatives fully
supported the plan.

But Biggs said not only had he added all the items requested by House leaders,
but he also made changes to get Brewer to sign off.

`”he amendments you saw on the Republican side, many of them were to
facilitate the governor feeling comfortable with the budget,” Biggs said. “I
don’t want to speak for her, but we negotiated this out and I am very, very,
very, very, very, very optimistic that she’s going to sign this.”

The budget was written by Republicans who control the Senate, without
Democratic input.

“Unfortunately, this budget falls way, way short of what the state can do to
help families to help kids,” said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix.

The package of nine bills passed on 16-13 party line votes and now heads to the
House, which could begin action on the plan Monday.

Biggs, R-Gilbert, sponsored amendments adopted Thursday allowing an extra $15
million to create a new child welfare agency, bringing the total to $20 million — just $5 million less than the governor wanted. He also added $8 million for a
new student assessment test opposed by conservatives who don’t like the state’s
new Common Core standards, although $3 million of that will go to maintain the
old test.

A host of other smaller changes were also proposed, including more money for
adult protective services, community college technical education, and state and
university building repairs.

Republicans who control the Senate rebuffed numerous amendments proposed by
minority Democrats, including more money for the state’s child welfare system
and implementing the Common Core education standards.

Democrats tried to add more than $30 million in additional child care subsidies
for low-income Arizonans so someone can take care of their children while
they’re at work, and for in-home preventative services. They also wanted full
funding for new child-welfare workers that Brewer requested, but Biggs said his
plan provided more than 200 new workers.

“We do not give the support needed for single-mom families, for single-dad
families, to do what they need,” said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson. “If we can
spend money to keep a kid safe, we will not be spending money in the future.”

But Biggs pushed back on the amendments by Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, saying
there’s no proof child care subsidies prevent neglect.

“This discounts the case that there are families and charitable institutions
and churches that step into the breach,” Biggs said.

Democrats and Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, also wanted more money for the
University of Arizona, but that was rejected. Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor,
D-Phoenix, wanted an extra $1.5 million for subsidies for adults caring for
their grandchildren. That effort also was thwarted.

Brewer is seeking $9.36 billion in spending, and Biggs’ revised plan remains
about $175 million less than that. But it does restore some funding for county
and city road-building that was cut during a budget crisis five years ago, a key
issue for many rural House members. They wanted $120 million a year, but they
will get $30 million under the proposal.

The Senate budget includes a retroactive ban on public school districts
converting schools to charter schools. Districts get more per-student funding
for charters.

Other changes to school funding include cutting money for Brewer’s planned
school broadband plan, but Biggs now is including more cash for her
school-performance funding plan and the student assessment test. That assessment
test is designed to replace the old AIMS test and measures how students are
learning under new standards known as the Common Core.

Democrats said the plan shortchanged children and education.

“We all knew that coming into the session the two critical issues were CPS and
education,” said Sen. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, the minority leader. “And those
two issues have not been addressed in this budget.”

If a budget is adopted and signed in the next couple of weeks, the Legislature
could adjourn by early next month.

The one major outstanding issue is the legal creation of a stand-alone child
welfare agency.

Brewer ordered CPS pulled from its parent agency in January and created a
Cabinet-level post to oversee it after more than 6,500 uninvestigated abuse and
neglect reports were revealed in November. 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, although it could come earlier.

Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin said this week that they could adjourn and
come back for a special session to pass legislation creating the new department
if needed to avoid unnecessarily dragging out the regular session.


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