Arizona GOP lawmakers make budget proposal - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Arizona GOP lawmakers make budget proposal

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Posted: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 11:55 am

Senate Republicans are proposing a nearly $8.8 billion spending plan for the coming year, a tiny -- 1.6 percent -- hike over current levels.

The measure includes more money for Child Protective Services for caseworkers and group homes. Gov. Jan Brewer had made that a priority.

There also is $82 million in new funding for K-12 education. That is designed to comply with a ruling in January by the state Court of Appeals that lawmakers were breaking the law by refusing to adjust state aid for inflation.

But there's actually less there than meets the eye.

The Senate GOP plan makes other adjustments in formulas. So the $3.6 billion allocation for K-12 education really is just $55.2 million more than this year.

And the proposal does not include the funds Brewer wants to provide in a new performance plan designed to increase aid to schools which show academic improvement or achievement.

Universities will have to live with the same state aid as this year. With increasing enrollment, that will make them more dependent on tuition, including increases recently approved by the state Board of Regents.

There is, however, an extra $7.8 million for Arizona State University and $2.2 million for Northern Arizona University. This is part of an ongoing effort to equalize per-student funding with the higher levels long enjoyed by the University of Arizona.

Overall, the Senate spending plan is only about $100 million less than Brewer proposed in January.

But the package includes no money at all for the plan by Gov. Jan Brewer to expand Medicaid. Senate President Andy Biggs remains opposed to any such move.

That means it will be up to Democrats who want the expansion along with moderate Republicans to try to push for funding in the budget over Biggs' objection.

But even if they are successful they will run into a problem in the House where Speaker Andy Tobin on Tuesday unveiled his own Medicaid alternative, one that involves taking the issue directly to voters. (See related story.)

Brewer declined Tuesday to say exactly what she thinks of the Senate spending plan -- other than the lack of a Medicaid expansion plan.

"We've just had it in our hands for just 30 minutes,'' the governor said. But Brewer said she has been waiting for this day: Her spending plan was released the second week in January.

"I am just grateful that we have things on the table and we have something to discuss, something to debate,'' she said.

That debate, Brewer acknowledged, could get intense. She said even though her bottom-line spending figure is little different than the Senate proposal, the fights will come over "millions of dollars for people's pet projects.''

The package of bills gets its first look Wednesday in the Senate Appropriations Committee, with floor debate on Thursday.

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