5/8/2012 2:56:00 PM Governor signs state's new $8.6 billion spending plan
Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer penned her formal approval late Monday to the state's nearly $8.6 billion spending plan.
In a formal statement, Brewer called the budget "conservative and comprehensive,' saying it "adds real resources to our state's most critical programs while setting aside dollars for the fiscal challenges that lay ahead.'
What Brewer did not say is she did not want that formal set aside into a "rainy day fund' -- $250 million of extra cash for the balance of this fiscal year and another $200 million next year -- but instead had proposed smaller savings and greater spending. But that idea ran into a wall of opposition from many fellow Republicans in the Legislature who wanted to put money aside for potential future funding shortfalls.
The most immediate will come slightly more than a year from now when the temporary one-cent hike in the state sales tax, approved by in 2010, goes away. That levy brings in about $1 billion.
On top of that, the federal Affordable Care Act takes effect at the beginning of 2015 unless voided by the U.S. Supreme Court. That will expand the number of people entitled to government-provided care.
State budget analysts figured that, even with Washington picking up a big chunk of the extra cost, the state's share in the first year alone could be $220 million.
And if there was any doubt that lawmakers would go along with Brewer's more generous spending plan, that disappeared last month when economists on the state's Finance Advisory Committee softened their projections of how much more money the state will bring in during the next few years.
Left on the table for Brewer was her proposal for an additional $200 million for "soft capital' for schools, funds earmarked for books, computers and other classroom surprise. In its place, lawmakers agreed to add just $15 million in general capital funds to be divided up among all the school districts in the state.
"You never get everything you ask for,' Brewer told Capitol Media Services, saying she is satisfied with the final deal.
Brewer did manage to hang on to her demand for $40 million in new funds earmarked to help the youngest students learn to read. That need was backed by Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, who pointed out that a new state law soon will prohibit third graders from being promoted unless they can show they can read at grade level.
There also is more money to treat the chronically mentally ill.
And the governor also got lawmakers to set aside $20 million this coming year -- with a promise of another $30 million the year after that -- to build a new maximum security prison.
John Arnold, her budget chief, acknowledged that prison population has leveled off. But he said the system is still overcrowded and said there also is still growth in the number of the most dangerous people being sent to the Department of Corrections.
Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, was the lone Republican in either chamber to vote against the spending plan.
Ash, an attorney and former public defender, said he could not support a plan that only created more prisons without looking at reforming the state's sentencing laws. He has long pushed for less expensive alternatives to incarceration, such as electronically monitored home arrest.
GOP lawmakers rejected Brewer's call for an early payoff of the money Arizona got when it mortgaged state House, Senate and executive office towers. She acknowledged that the move would not save any money but argued -- unsuccessfully -- that it would have been nice to take the buildings out of hock in time for the state's 100th birthday on Feb. 14.
No Democrats voted for the budget, with party leaders chiding the plan for socking away money while ignoring health care for the children of the working poor and other priorities.