Arizona Senate approves $8.8 billion budget plan - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Arizona Senate approves $8.8 billion budget plan

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Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2013 9:45 pm

State senators approved their version of a new $8.8 billion budget Thursday -- but not before adding millions of dollars to the original Republican plan.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, succeeded in taking on $9 million in additional funding for Child Protective Services. That includes an extra $4 million for caseworkers and $1 million to help underwrite the cost of grandparents who agree to care for their own grandchildren.

Another amendment increases the amount of money to be divided up between Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University from $10 million to $15.3 million. There also is an extra $4 million for the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, succeeded in restoring the $5 million a year for performance incentives for all three universities, with the extra cash available if they meet certain standards for graduations and numbers of degrees.

And Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, tacked on an extra $5.1 million a year for the Transitional Genomics Research Institute.

But one of the biggest changes pushed through, over the objections of the Senate president and some other GOP lawmakers, actually has no financial cost -- at least not now.

As approved earlier this week, the new budget permanently froze in place current funding levels for education.

State law requires lawmakers to provide certain dollars for various needs, such as books and computers. And Crandall acknowledged that lawmakers, facing record deficits, have not fully funded those formulas for years.

But he said it's wrong to abolish those formulas -- and essentially take away any promise that the money will be restored as Arizona's finances improve. So he urged colleagues to leave the formulas in place even if there is no additional cash.

"We as a body are only going to fund whatever we have the capability to fund,'' Crandall said. And he said retaining the formulas doesn't cost anything whatsoever.''

The successful additions came as a coalition of Democrats and some Republicans united to provide each of the changes the necessary 16 votes. But that did not mean every proposal was approved.

Lawmakers rejected a proposal by Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, to take money from a special fund to help clean up underground fuel tank leaks and instead use it to help repair roads. He said the leaky tank fund is not using all the money it has.

But Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, said the better alternative is to reduce the amount of money being taken from fuel station owners. The result, she said, will be to reduce gasoline prices by a penny a gallon.

And senators also rejected a bid by Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, to eliminate $2.4 million from the budget which is designed to set up a new performance funding system for public schools. That system, pushed by Gov. Jan Brewer, would reward schools with high achievement or academic improvement with additional state aid.

The House has yet to review, much less debate, the Senate spending plan.

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