Senate Republicans' budget plan cuts deep, shifts costs to local governments - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Senate Republicans' budget plan cuts deep, shifts costs to local governments

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Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 4:07 pm | Updated: 5:43 pm, Fri Sep 16, 2011.

Unwilling to borrow money, Senate Republicans are poised to adopt a budget that cuts state aid to universities even deeper than the $170 million reduction proposed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

The plan, which is set for debate and vote Wednesday, also proposes a nearly $172 million reduction in state aid to public schools. That is an area of the budget which the governor had hoped largely to protect.

Cities and counties also will bear some of the burden for the state making up the $543 million deficit for the balance of this fiscal year and a $1.15 billion gap next year.

One proposal would require counties to incarcerate any convicted felon given a sentence of less than a year. These people now go to state prison.

That change alone would shift $55 million in costs to the counties.

It also would shift some of the burden of running the Motor Vehicle Division to cities and counties, to the tune of $42.7 million.

Other cuts above what the governor proposed include eliminating subsidized child care for the needy and a $20 million reduction in funding for the state health department.

Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said he intends to vote on the plan Wednesday even though it was made public only Tuesday afternoon. He said keeping the details secret until now was necessary.

“You can’t draft bills until you have an agreement with your members,’’ he said. Anyway, Pearce continued, there should be no surprise that Senate Republicans want deeper cuts than the governor.

“We’ve made it very clear we’re going to balance the budget,’’ he said. More to the point, he said it’s going to be “a budget without gimmicks.’’

Among the “gimmicks’’ Pearce said GOP senators found unacceptable are some accounting maneuvers. For example, Brewer proposes to defer $245 million due in state aid to public schools this year into the following year. That “balances’’ the budget by removing the cost. But there is no plan to repay that money next budget year, with the deferral continuing into the future until the state actually has the cash to put the books back in order.

Similarly, Brewer’s plan includes borrowing $330 million from the First Things First program on June 30 and paying it back the next day. This, in turn, makes it look like the state has an extra $330 million on hand. Here, too, there is no plan to make up that $330 million next fiscal year, meaning that same one-day loan would be necessary on June 30, 2012 -- and beyond.

The decision of Senate Republicans to push through their own plan -- one vastly different than hers -- disappointed Brewer.

“I think it would have probably served us all better if we could have all come to an agreement and made those decisions collectively,’’ she said. But the governor said she remained optimistic that “we still will be back at the table working together and getting the budget out that satisfies all parties.’’

At this point, though, even House Republicans have not signed off on the proposal. But Speaker Kirk Adams said members of his caucus do agree with their Senate counterparts that the budget should not have borrowing or other accounting maneuvers.

“Because we have a budget deficit it means we have to make difficult decisions,’’ he said.

Adams said the cuts to K-12 education may look like a lot of money. But he pointed out that state aid to education exceeds $3.5 billion.

“If you look at the level of cuts compared to other areas of state government you will find a reasonable and lower level of those cuts,’’ he said.

Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, D-Tempe, said the plan being pushed through comes without any input from Democrats.

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