State agencies are proposing early release of convicted felons, eliminating health care for children of the working poor and ending programs to help students pass the AIMS test as measures they would have to take if lawmakers balance the budget with sharp mid-year spending cuts.
The plans, made public Friday, are in response to estimates by the governor's budget office that, even with already enacted spending cuts, revenues will still fall about $1 billion short of what is needed. As a result, Eileen Klein, director of the governor's Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, asked state agencies to detail how they would deal with a 15 percent reduction in state funds.
Some of the most dramatic changes would be in the state prison system, which would have to slash more than $153 million to take a 15 percent cut.
Corrections Director Charles Ryan said he can get some savings through administrative spending reductions, but the real money gets saved by having fewer people behind bars.
For example, he could pick up more than $27 million by expanding who can participate in a "home arrest" program. Ryan said that might make sense, "given the improvements and enhancements in electronic monitoring."
Far more controversial would be having lawmakers alter state law to sharply reduce - in some cases by half - the minimum sentences that inmates would have to serve. But Ryan said that carries its own risk.
"Rewriting the criminal code and releasing thousands of prisoners is neither realistic nor in the best interest of public safety," Ryan wrote to the governor's office. "Releasing thousands of prisoners because of the budget deficit will place the public at risk and is akin to turning our back on the law-abiding citizens of Arizona."
At the Department of Public Safety, director Roger Vanderpool said the best-case scenario of having to absorb a 15 percent cut would result in eliminating 359 positions - one out of every five workers - a move he said would "return DPS to a staffing level not seen since 1999." And he said the worst-case scenario would eliminate 570 law enforcement positions, the equivalent of the entire Tempe Police Department.
Vanderpool also said even some of the less drastic options would have an effect.
For example, he said if DPS eliminates all overtime, there will be 3,834 fewer traffic citations issue and 56 fewer stolen vehicles will be recovered. And Vanderpool said officers will seize 1,747 fewer pounds of marijuana.
Other agencies have their own warnings of what would happen if they're forced to make sharp cuts.
The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System proposes to eliminate the Kids Care program, which provides nearly free health care for more than 46,000 children of parents who earn too much to qualify for free coverage. For a family of three, that figure is $36,620 a year.
Agency officials, in their memo to the governor's office, warn that Arizona already has the fifth-highest rate of uninsured children in the nation. Scrapping this program, they said, would push Arizona into third slot, with 18 percent of children younger than 18 without coverage.
"The Institute of Medicine notes that uninsured children are more likely to be hospitalized for preventable conditions and for missed diagnoses of serious or life-threatening conditions," the memo warns. And the cost of that care is borne by hospitals and, more generally, by everyone else who pays more for insurance.
The Board of Regents did not provide a specific plan of how it would deal with having to slash $135.2 million from state aid to the three universities. Instead, Ernest Calderón, president of the board, detailed for the governor the magnitude of what the cuts would mean - assuming the regents decided to use only a single solution.
For example, he said it equates to hiking tuition by $1,300 a year, eliminating 2,200 positions throughout the system or eliminating all state support for Northern Arizona University.
And that's only the half of it - literally. Calderón said having to cut university budgets by 15 percent in the middle of the fiscal year effectively means the schools have to cut 30 percent of what's left for the last six months.