Gov. Brewer releases $9.3B budget plan for coming year

PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday released a $9.36 billion spending plan for the coming budget year that includes nearly $74 million to set up a new Child Protective Services department and hire hundreds of new child welfare workers, investigators, supervisors and support staff.

The plan is a 5 percent increase in spending from the current year and depends on using part of a nearly $900 million surplus to balance. It serves as a roadmap for lawmakers who must pass the budget.

Key items include $40 million for a new education funding plan rewarding schools that show test score improvements, money to even out of funding between the state's three universities and $9.2 million for a new veteran's home in Yuma.

A key member of the Republican-controlled Legislature said the plan appeared to focus on top priorities while not breaking the bank.

"The areas that she is advocating for I think a lot of people in the Legislature are advocating for, said Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. "So I think we'll be able to work together on most of these areas. It's just a matter of resolving the final amount, which is typical."

Democrats also were generally pleased, with the usual caveats.

"It's a good start, but we want to see some improvement in some areas," said Rep. Ruben Gallego, the House assistant minority leader. "We're happy obviously that we're starting to address the CPS problem," but he's skeptical about how many caseworkers can be hired and said the plan lacks cash for preventative services.

CPS OVERHAUL:

The governor wants to spend $74 million turning CPS into a stand-alone state agency, including $25 million in administrative costs. She also wants $15 million right away to hire new workers.

She's requesting 212 new front-line workers, 120 support staff and more than 90 investigators and other staff for its law enforcement investigations unit.

The overhaul of the child welfare agency follows revelations that more than 6,500 child abuse and neglect reports were ignored in recent years.

-- Republican response: "There's a proposed solution which I frankly think seems to make a lot of sense. We'll be working on it together but my initial impression is that it's a doable deal," said Sen. Don Shooter, appropriations committee chair.

-- Democratic response: "My initial reaction was very appreciative of the governor's desire to fix the failures of CPS," said Sen. Anna Tovar, minority leader.

SCHOOL PERFORMANCE PLAN:

Brewer wants $40 million a year to reward schools where individual students show improvement in test scores, revamping a plan that failed in the Legislature last year.

The plan puts more emphasis on improvement rather than scores, countering one of the biggest criticisms of last year's plan, which allowed higher-performing schools -- often in affluent areas -- to draw extra money for their high test scores, while other schools had little chance of a funding boost.

Also, under the revised plan schools that don't earn extra money won't see their regular funding drop.

Democrats wanted money for teacher training and the restoration of funding cuts made the Great Recession, which they peg at $3 billion.

-- Republican response: "It rewards those that perform and doesn't encourage failures. So that's as reasonable an approach as any," said state Sen. Don Shooter.

-- Democratic response: "We're glad that there's no further cuts to education, but there also isn't any further investment. And there's definitely no investment in teacher training," said Gallego.

UNIVERSITIES:

Brewer's budget includes more than $27 million to finish a "parity" plan designed to even out funding at the state's three universities.

After that's done, future increases will be based on performance standards adopted by the universities.

University funding boosts otherwise are paltry, including $3.5 million for the University of Arizona's cooperative extension for agriculture programs and a $15 million, five-year appropriation to support T-Gen, a private biotech research group focused on medical diagnoses. T-Gen will also get an additional $10 million in tobacco-tax revenue.

COUNTY ROADS:

Brewer's plan left out any money for county highway and infrastructure projects that are a top priority for counties.

The state has taken $120 million a year to fund the Highway Patrol, and counties want it back.

Instead, the plan will allow counties to level their own funds to bring in more federal money with the state's help.

Restoring the funding has the support of both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives, so lawmakers might put that money in the budget they pass.

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