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Updated Mar 28, 2014 - 5:39 pm

Senate now has to agree on $9.24B Arizona budget

PHOENIX — Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs on Friday dismissed as
“ridiculous” a provision in a House-passed state budget requiring the
Legislature to revisit child welfare funding when details of what’s needed to
overhaul Child Protective Services are released in coming weeks.

Biggs, R-Gilbert, also appeared skeptical that a deal with House members that
continued funding for school districts that convert schools to charters could
win support in the Senate.

Changing either of those provisions could doom the $9.24 billion spending plan
for the budget year beginning July 1 if it returns to the House. A group of
Republicans negotiated to get the provisions as a condition of their support for
a smaller plan passed last week in the Senate.

“The budget is a package. So if you change one piece of the package, the
entire package is back up for review,” said Rep. Heather Carter, one of the
Republicans who initially opposed the package. “Everything, the CPS, the
charter issue, the spending in other areas.”

The House passed the budget late Thursday after days of fits and starts as
Republican Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, negotiated with opponents of the
Senate plan from his own party.

Gov. Jan Brewer ordered Child Protective Services 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.

Adequately funding that new agency was a key goal of the House lawmakers who
blocked the Senate budget Monday. They negotiated an extra $3 million for the
new agency over the senate plan, but more importantly, added a legislative
intent clause, which drew Biggs’ disdain.

“The document is not worth the paper it’s written on,” Biggs said. “It’s
just a clap trap of crazy ideas. We’ve made the commitment, you don’t’ need that
in there. It’s … an amorphous statement that is full of sound and fury but
without any meaning.”

Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, negotiated the document’s inclusion to
commit lawmakers to providing necessary funding. She included a sentence that
laid out the need for funding for early intervention not now included in the

“I don’t understand his rationale,” she said of Biggs’ comments. “But
obviously he doesn’t appear to understand mine. I needed something in place to
reflect what I was being told, and I didn’t think it was unreasonable to ask.”

The Senate takes up the House budget early next week. If they adopt the House
plan unchanged it goes to Brewer, although changes are quite possible.

The House revisions to the $9.18 billion budget adopted by the Senate last week
add an additional $54 million in spending, bringing the total to $9.24 billion.
The revisions include $33 million to keep about 60 new district charter schools
running for another year, an additional $3 million for child welfare and $2.5
million for the University of Arizona. Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, said the money
could help it start a planned veterinary school.

Biggs has been pushing the charter school revocations, saying the state could
be on the hook for hundreds of millions in additional spending if they continue.

Charter schools get more money per student, but backers of the rollback argue
that the campuses also can tap voter-approved bond money and overrides and end
up with more money. Supporters of charter conversions say the extra money lets
districts focus on innovative education and improve student performance.

Carter, who fought to keep district charter funded for another year, said Biggs
should be on board.

“I don’t know why the Senate president would have trouble, because his
language survived the House,” she said Friday. “The only real change is that
they get funded for one more year.”

The deal also restores funding for low-income medical services like podiatry
and emergency dental care and insulin pumps for adults that were cut during the
budget crisis several years ago.

And Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, managed to secure $900,000 in extra
funding for private prison operator GEO Group. GEO operates two state prison
facilities, and Kavanagh said it has cut rates for emergency beds during the
recession and the new cash only partially resorts that.

Democrats howled at the provision, saying the state was choosing private prison
operators over school funding.


Associated Press writer Astrid Galvan contributed to this report.


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