Saying more needs to be done to balance the budget, Gov. Jan Brewer unveiled a 10-point plan to get the state over the fiscal hump.
“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary action,” the governor said Monday in a speech to her Cabinet, a meeting specifically open to the media.
Saying more needs to be done to balance the budget, Gov. Jan Brewer directed the early release of illegal immigrants from state prisons who have committed serious crimes.
"Extraordinary times call for extraordinary action," the governor said Monday in a speech Monday to her Cabinet, a meeting specifically open to the media. Brewer said while the Legislature needs to do more to resolve the current deficit - a figure she put at $1.5 billion even after a just-approved $194 million fix - she also needs to take unilateral action.
"It is the raw truth, filled with unpleasant facts and painful answers," she said of her plan.
One element requires the Department of Corrections to turn over to Immigration and Customs Enforce any illegal immigrant inmate who is within 90 days of his or her mandatory release date.
Some illegal immigrants already are eligible for deportation after completing half of their sentences under a plan the state has used since 2005. But that program is open only to those who have committed minor felonies and are not repeat offenders.
Interim Corrections Director Charles Ryan, however, minimized the risk of releasing about 400 inmates who were not eligible for the half-sentence release. He said it simply shaves 90 days off from the date that each would be required to be released anyway; this way could save the state $1.9 million between now and July 1.
Anyway, Ryan said, most would be deported, though ICE could allow some to stay in this country, possibly because they have families here. But to ease legislative concerns, Brewer promised to work with lawmakers to enact stiff penalties for those who reenter this country illegally and commit new crimes.
Some other elements of what Brewer announced Monday may have little real effect:
Brewer wants "means testing" for state programs to require a showing of need. But state agency representatives told Capitol Media Services that already is the case for virtually all services, the one notable exception being help for the seriously mentally ill.
The governor ordered a cap on enrollment for a program that provides subsidized child care for needy families. But that cap was put in place in February, with more than 10,300 already on a waiting list.
Brewer said she was "restating" her directive that state agencies provide benefits only to those in this country legally. That already is law, with the Legislature tightening the statute a month ago.
She told state agencies to take money lawmakers gave them for special programs and instead use those funds for core operations. Authorization to move around that cash, however, already was granted to agencies by the Legislature.
And the governor directed the Department of Administration to prepare rules to allow a 5 percent cut in pay for state workers.
But gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said Brewer is not actually ordering such a move. Instead, it simply lets agencies make those reductions, which were authorized last week by the Legislature as a money-saving option.
Brewer, who read solely from a script, refused to take questions afterwards about the plan or why she didn't mention her demand for lawmakers to let voters decide whether to hike state sales taxes.
She also ignored a question of whether the open Cabinet meeting - the only open one of her 11-month administration - was staged to burnish her image of being in command of the situation.
But there were political components to the event: In attendance were Grant Woods and Mary Peters, the co-chairpersons of her 2010 election bid, and Doug Cole, a hired political consultant to the campaign.
Some things Brewer ordered Monday could have more effect.
She prohibited more families from enrolling in the Kids Care program. It provides nearly free health care to about 47,000 children of the working poor, families earning too much to qualify for free care but below twice the federal poverty level, about $36,620 a year for a family of three.
She also established a Privatization Commission to have outside firms do the work now being performed by state employees. Done properly, Brewer said, these contracts "will help the state reduce operational costs, improve service delivery and quality, and lead to innovation."
Brewer also promised to bring together legislative leaders from both her own Republican Party as well as the minority Democratic Party. There were bipartisan talks this summer about resolving the budget until the Democrats said they were no longer invited.
Separate from Brewer's speech, John Arnold, director of the Governor's Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, detailed the rising costs of running government.
Since 2004, the state has added nearly 145,000 students, boosting the price tag of running public schools by more than $1 billion.
The prison population in the same time has ballooned by 11,600 inmates, to more than 40,000. And enrollment in the state's free health care program is up 475,000 - including 207,800 in the last year alone - to nearly 1.3 million as of last count.
But cuts cannot be made in to K-12 education or universities because the state accepted federal education stimulus dollars: If state funding drops below 2006 levels - where it is now - the stimulus funds have to be repaid.
And the state's acceptance of other stimulus dollars prohibits making it more difficult to qualify for free health care.
There is no prohibition against cutting prison costs. But lawmakers have refused to alter sentencing laws to reduce the length of terms that judges can impose.