State agencies brace for government shutdown - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

State agencies brace for government shutdown

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Posted: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 9:20 pm | Updated: 2:36 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

State agencies were scrambling late Tuesday to figure out what services they can and cannot provide Wednesday if lawmakers failed in their overnight attempt to adopt a new budget.

State budget countdown: Time's up!

Gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said plans are in place to maintain "essential" services if there is no budget - and no authority to spend money beginning Wednesday morning. He would not provide additional details.

But several departments already were moving in that direction.

Ellen Bilbrey, who works for the Arizona Parks Department, said her agency is presuming everything will be closed. That even includes Kartchner Caverns near Benson even though the entry fees from that park more than cover the operating costs.

Bilbrey acknowledged that people have made reservations months in advance for the underground tour. She said staffers will be making calls and telling people not to come.

The Motor Vehicle Division, which processes driver license applications and vehicle registrations, will also be closed. But agency officials said motorists still will be able to renew their registrations online and get a printed confirmation, even if there is no one in MVD offices to actually mail out the renewal tab.

Monica Coury, lobbyist for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, said she doesn't know what will happen to the more than 1 million people who get their health coverage through the program.

"This has never happened before," she said.

Coury said the state normally makes monthly payments to health care plans on the first of the month. Those plans then reimburse doctors and other health care providers.

She said it would be up to the doctors and others to decide if they're willing to provide treatment to AHCCCS enrollees under the presumption they will eventually get paid.

The Department of Economic Security will continue to perform those services that are federally funded. That incudes screening applicants for AHCCCS and food stamps.

The same is true for unemployment insurance. The funds for payments come from a tax on employers, and the program is administered using federal dollars.

And a constitutional mandate requires the state to continue to run its workers' compensation system, which pays lost wages and medical bills of those injured on the job.

Bart Graves, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Gov. Jan Brewer has told his agency to keep the Highway Patrol running as is, at least for the time being, as an essential service.

"The No. 1 mission of this agency is to ensure public safety," he said.

Graves said, though, if there is no deal soon it is possible that the number of officers on the roads will be reduced, and no one will respond to some lower priority calls.

Motorists who like to speed will still be at risk: The statewide photo radar system will keep operating - and snapping photos of errant drivers - because the system is operating under a contract with a private firm. And that firm will continue to send out notices of violation.

As to administrative functions, like processing permits for concealed weapons and security guards, Graves said applicants may have to wait a long time to get approval.

At the Department of Health Services, Janey Pearl said the state laboratory will remain open to accept things like samples from possible rabid animals. The agency also will continue to fund its program to screen newborns for certain diseases because "days matter."

The Arizona State Hospital, which houses those with mental health problems, also will remain open.

There also are plans to keep inmates behind bars.

But public schools will not be affected - at least not immediately. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said his agency will be distributing $600 million in funds due to schools Wednesday.

As for higher education, University of Arizona President Robert Shelton sent a message late Tuesday to staffers saying operations will continue "regardless of whether the budget is resolved tonight."

He said it would be "legally and practically impossible" to shut down the campus, what with thousands of students on campus for summer session, federally funded research projects under way and patients in the university hospital. Shelton said even if the state doesn't provide any aid, there is enough money from tuition and federal dollars to keep operations going "until the state budget is formally passed."

The possibility of shutting down state services does not worry several legislators who are balking at approving the tax hike.

"A lot of times people down here act as if everything in the world hinges on government, that every move in the world hinges on what the government's going to do," said Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City. But he said the experience of what happened in the mid-1990s when Congress didn't approve a new budget showed "it wasn't catastrophic."

"Nobody passed away because of that," he said. "And it showed you how little government actually has to do with your life other than to drag you down."

Despite the failure to line up the votes, Brewer said Arizonans should not be worried about a shutdown.

"I'm very hopeful that when they wake up Wednesday morning that we have a budget and that everything is good," she said.

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