Agencies offer drastic ideas for cutbacks - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Agencies offer drastic ideas for cutbacks

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Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 5:57 pm | Updated: 1:26 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

State agency chiefs say they can reduce their budgets by up to 20 percent - but only by eliminating all services to the developmentally disabled, selling off aircraft and reducing the number of people getting state-paid health care.

And some people would need to be let out of prison before their sentences are completed, a change that would require lawmakers to alter the law.

But the people who prepared the proposals warned that many of these steps could have dire effects. And in some cases, the choices would mean loss of federal dollars and possible lawsuits.

The lists follow an order last month by Gov. Jan Brewer to agency chiefs to come up with their plans of what would happen if they have to cut their spending by up to another 20 percent. That is on top of the $580 million in reductions already imposed.

Brewer asked for priorities in terms of what would be cut first - and what should go last.

Some of the first cuts were easy.

For example, the Department of Administration said it could save $1,300 by eliminating law books for the Capitol police force. The Department of Health Services figured it could find $3.3 million by requiring workers to take time off without pay. And the Department of Commerce said it could save more than $70,000 by reassigning work.

It is at the other extreme where proposals are likely to provoke complaints.

For example, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System figures it could save about $136 million by reducing the number of people it serves.

Only thing is, that agency was mandated by voters to provide free care to anyone who earns less than the federal poverty level, $18,310 for a family of three. That can be changed only if voters approve or only if three-fourths of the Legislature agrees.

But what AHCCCS does not mention in its option is that lawmakers can alter it only if the change furthers the purpose of the original initiative. And providing care to fewer people does not do that.

The Department of Health Services said it could save $24 million by no longer providing care to the seriously mentally ill who earn more than the poverty level.

But agency officials acknowledged that a court order requires the state to provide full care for anyone, regardless of income. Ignoring that order comes at the risk of being found in contempt of court.

The Department of Corrections reported it could save more than $111 million by incarcerating fewer people.

Current law requires inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. The agency proposes to reduce that to 75 percent for those sentenced to the most serious crimes - and as little as 25 percent for those convicted of minor felonies.

Another plan would allow some people convicted of felonies not related to assault, rape, weapons charges and some other crimes to serve their time in home arrest programs.

And the department figures that it could save money if those people sentenced to one year or less in state prison instead serve their time in county jails. That move, however, will get a big fight from the counties as the savings to the state would end up being borne by them.

This isn't the first time such a proposal has surfaced. Gov. Janet Napolitano tried it last year, only to have it beaten back.

Gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said Arizonans should not read too much into the agency submissions. He said these are not what Brewer plans to ask lawmakers to cut.

"They are rather a request for comprehensive data for further research," he said.

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