Caving in part to demands by the governor, the state Senate voted 16-13 Thursday for a nearly $9.2 billion spending plan that includes additional cash for child welfare and education than they had first offered.
The vote along party lines came after late-night negotiations between Senate Republican leaders and Gov. Jan Brewer and her staff. Senate President Andy Biggs said they hammered out what he believes is a package that Brewer can sign and that also will get House approval.
“My understanding is, this is the budget,” he said.
Gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder said there has been a lot of progress made in crafting a deal, but he said there are about 10 issues unresolved, “some very significant that have to be addressed still” before his boss will sign the plan.
But Brewer already has gotten a lot of what lot of what she wanted.
Not so the Democrats who, even with more money for child welfare, found the funding plan lacking. Efforts to add cash for everything from increasing the number of families eligible for subsidized child care to providing more in-home services to families with problems as an alternative to removing a child.
And a plea by Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, to provide the University of Arizona with an extra $15 million for 50 research staff also failed to gain majority support.
But the fact is that the Democrats are a minority in both chambers whose votes are not needed. By contrast, without Brewer's signature there is no budget.
One of the most significant changes in the revised Senate plan is providing cash for the new tests necessary to see if students are learning what they need under the Common Core standards being implemented. Brewer has made getting the standards and testing in place a top priority.
That puts her at odds with many GOP senators, including Biggs, who sought to kill Common Core entirely.
Lacking the votes to kill it outright, their original budget simply sought to kill the necessary funding for testing. The revised plan provides $8 million for testing, though that remains short of the governor's $13.5 million request.
Senators also agreed to come a little closer to Brewer's proposals for additional K-12 education funds. That includes some cash for the governor's “performance funding” plan where additional aid to schools is linked to how much student achievement improves from year to year.
Potentially more significant for Brewer, the Senate plan provides $20 million in one-time funds to convert the old Child Protective Services to a new, independent agency, one of the governor's key priorities.
That is less than the $25 million Brewer originally had requested, but it is far more than the $5 million that had been offered by the Senate Republicans.
Senators who originally had offered only $11.8 million for additional child welfare staffers managed to boost that to $15.3 million, though still far short of Brewer's $21.5 million request.
There are other beneficiaries from the changes from the original Senate proposal. That includes the state's three universities which will split $3 million in funds to make needed repairs to buildings.
Rural community colleges will get more than $4.1 million. And the plan gives $1.4 million to the Maricopa system and $600,000 to Pima, both of which would have received no new funds under the original Senate plan or even the one proposed by Brewer.
The Senate also decided that Brewer was not spending enough on road construction and maintenance.
Brewer has balanced the state budget in part by funding some operations of the Department of Public Safety out of the Highway User Revenue Fund, made up largely of gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees. She had proposed keeping that system in place.
But state lawmakers, responding to pleas by cities that share in the HURF dollars, agreed to restore $30 million in road aid to them this year, with a promise of more in the next two years.
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said that's nice – but insufficient.
“When you consider it's divided out over all the state highways, all the cities and all the counties, is probably going to fill about four potholes in Pima County,” he said. He is hoping the measure, which now goes to the House, is altered there to restore the entire $120 million that has been taken from the fund.
Other additions to funding in what the Senate adopted include:
- $3 million for adult protective services, double the original Senate proposal but still only about two thirds of what Brewer had requested;
- $300,000 for the Arizona Commerce Authority to open an office in Mexico City;
- $500,000 for the Teach for America program;
- $2 million for tourism promotion.
But senators refused to go along with Brewer's request to make a $50 million deposit into the state's “rainy day fund.” Biggs called that unnecessary, with about $460 million in the account right now.
Overall, the plan approved Thursday still remains about $200 million below what Brewer wanted.
Democrat attempts to bring the figures closer together were unsuccessful.
Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, sought $25 million to wipe out the waiting list of 6,600 working poor for child care subsidies. She said those who make too little to afford good child care are faced with putting child in an unsafe setting while they go to work.
Biggs said that fails to recognize there are other options for working parents like churches, charities and even relatives.
Hobbs did no better with seeking cash for additional caseworkers. She said the caseload now is “unimaginable,” leading to the possibility there could be another instance of 6,500 cases going uninvestigated.
Biggs called that claim "astounding,'' saying the state has funded 450 additional staffers in the last 15 months.
The support for what the Democrats sought was not entirely on party lines. Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, broke with colleagues to support that $15 million appropriation for the UA.
There is a possibility that Republicans in the House, where the plan goes next, could want changes of their own. But Biggs said the package approved by the Senate already includes some of the House GOP priorities.