Gov. Jan Brewer is defending the cuts she already has made to child health programs — and those she wants to make — as she declared Monday to be Arizona Child Health Day.
Brewer said the formal declaration is designed to focus on preventative care for children, including ensuring they eat good food and exercise. She said there is nothing inconsistent about the proclamation she signed and the spending cuts she has championed.
“I think today we’re celebrating preventative care for children which we all know is very, very important to that young population to make them aware of that they can be in fact in control of their destiny in regards to properly eating good food and watching that they don’t become obese and exercise daily,’’ the governor said of the proclamation.
The move, though, comes after state lawmakers — with Brewer’s approval — have closed off enrollment to the Kids Care program, which provides health insurance to the children of the working poor, including preventative health care. That has left more than 20,000 eligible children without care.
She also wants voters to approve Proposition 302. That would kill the First Things First program designed to improve early childhood health and development.
Brewer would not talk about those moves specifically, other than to say the cuts are unfortunate. But she did acknowledge the state’s financial situation is going to require even more spending cuts.
“Now, where those will be made is not entirely clear,’’ the governor said. “But we know that we cannot sustain what Arizona has been providing for in the past because of what has happened with the economy and the revenues.’’
That assessment drew derision, both from Terry Goddard — who hopes to oust Brewer in next month’s general election — and from groups that support more spending on programs for children.
“She’s holding back stimulus money that could save some of the chid welfare programs that have been cut,’’ Goddard charged, estimating the figure at $100 million. “This is very simply the meanest budget for kids that Arizona’s ever seen.’’
He said that includes not just trying to phase out Kids Care but also reducing the child care subsidies “so working moms can work instead of sitting home and taking welfare.’’
But gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said every dollar the governor has received in discretionary stimulus dollars from the federal government — those not required to be spent on specific programs — already has been allocated.
Senseman said that includes $35 million for job training and economic development, $50 million for the prison system, $20 million for local public safety, $22 million for the state health department and $46 million to the Department of Economic Security.
Brewer read the proclamation at a ceremony in front of Maricopa Medical Center. Security guards kept a handful of protestors with signs on the sidewalk, off hospital property.
One of those was Tim Schmaltz, lobbyist for Protecting Arizona’s Families.
He said the health programs could be saved, and not by cutting elsewhere. The key is raising more money — beyond the proceeds from the temporary 1-cent sales tax hike approved by voters in May that will generate more than $900 million a year for the next three budget years.
“If we have to raise taxes, we should raise taxes to protect the most vulnerable, particularly children,’’ Schmaltz said.
He is specifically looking at the fact that Arizona law generally exempts the purchase of services — as opposed to goods — from the state sales tax, currently 6.6 percent with that temporary one-cent bump.
Brewer has so far been unwilling to consider altering the tax system. And many Republicans say higher taxes will depress the economy and slow the recovery.
“There are many sectors of our economy that are flourishing and that have flourished,’’ he said.
“There are parts of this economy that, even in this severe downturn where children are really suffering, particularly poor children, that we could do things to do something,’’ Schmaltz said. And he chided Brewer for her opposition.
“Rather than just stand up and proclaim that we care about children, we should act like we care about children,’’ he said.
Goddard also has said the state needs to revamp its sales tax structure, pointing out, for example, that spa treatments and day-care services for pets are exempt.
Senseman said the amount of money any of those would raise would not be enough to balance the budget. But Goddard said they could produce enough to save some programs for children.
Brewer also blamed some of the state’s problems on President Barack Obama, specifically on the new federal health care legislation.
It prevents the state from cutting eligibility for any programs already in existence. That has barred the state from eliminating anyone from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, its Medicaid program, which now provides free care for anyone below the federal poverty level, about $18,300 a year for a family of four.
Goddard, however, pointed out that it was Arizona voters who mandated that coverage. And even without the federal mandate, he said, it cannot be trimmed without taking the question back to voters.