March 19, 2005
Working parents will lose help paying for child care, children may lose health insurance, the state risks violating a court order to improve juvenile jails, and abused kids could remain in danger under the $8.2 billion budget Arizona legislators approved Friday.
The budget gives state employees a 1.7 percent pay hike, provides an additional boost for state Department of Public Safety officers and uses cash rather than borrowing money for school construction. It also includes a $22 million, four-year program to get foster children into permanent homes.
It eliminates programs for disabled adults and suicide prevention, and fails to expand several of Gov. Janet Napolitano’s pet projects, including full-day kindergarten, the Healthy Families child abuse prevention program and a new University of Arizona medical school in Phoenix.
Napolitano is expected to veto all or part of the 23-bill spending plan, which also includes up to $350 million worth of phased-in tax cuts. That would send it back to the Republican-controlled House and Senate for another round.
"This was not what she was looking for," said governor’s spokeswoman Jeanine L’Ecuyer. "When you look at what this budget does to children . . . it’s pretty mind-boggling."
The vote came early Friday after Republicans rejected a series of Democratic amendments, including proposals to expand full-day kindergarten to reach 20,000 children and lift limits on child care subsidies.
The budget will put children at risk, said David Berns, director of the state Department of Economic Security, which oversees Child Protective Services and the child care program.
"Frankly, it’s an impossibility," Berns said. "I don’t know how to do this short of leaving kids in completely unsafe situations without services."
Berns and the governor requested $11.7 million to hire 185 CPS workers and reduce caseloads. At the same time, services for children who are adopted, placed with guardians or returned to their families would increase. By year’s end, the number of kids in foster care — now nearly 9,000 children — would be down by 5 percent under their budget estimates.
The East Valley Child Crisis Center has more CPS children than ever before in its 24-year history, said executive director Chris Scarpati.
Asked whether the governor would veto the entire budget package, L’Ecuyer said, "it has happened before and it certainly could happen again. That option is on the table."
Napolitano will have a week to review the budget. Republicans lack the two-thirds majority necessary to override any vetoes.
Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, and House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, will meet Monday with the governor.
"We’re certainly not looking for a veto," Bennett said. "We don’t expect that we have exactly agreed on everything at this point. But this is a budget we feel good about for the state of Arizona."
Although the budget continues $170 million in child care funding, an estimated 14,500 eligible children would be put on a waiting list by the end of the fiscal year. Currently, the parents of about 44,200 children a month receive help on a sliding scale to pay for child care.
The budget includes policy changes that limit the number of children and the length of time their parents could receive subsidies, and require that total household income be used to determine eligibility.
The legislative budget keeps premiums for the KidsCare health insurance program that were put in place last year. The governor’s $4.5 million KidsCare increase would cover an estimated 13,800 more children by dropping the premiums and increasing outreach.
The Department of Juvenile Corrections would receive $3.1 million less under the Legislature’s budget, while Napolitano wants an additional $5.5 million.
The department averted a federal lawsuit over deplorable conditions in its juvenile lockups — including three suicides in less than one year — by agreeing to a host of improvements, including more staff, better training and adequate medical and mental health treatment.
L’Ecuyer said the governor’s staff was "incredulous" to see cuts to the department in light of the U.S. Justice Department investigation and potential lawsuit.
The governor wants funding to open a Phoenix branch of the University of Arizona College of Medicine, at a cost of $7 million. The legislative budget does not provide that funding.
The Republican budget also includes a series of tax cuts, most for business. The biggest would cut corporate property taxes over the next decade by 20 percent.