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Longtime Brewer priorities reflected in budget adjustments

Gov. Jan Brewer saved $18.3 million in funding for health and welfare programs that were slated to be cut from the 2009 budget. Democrats, though, say her efforts weren’t sufficient and more should have been done to protect funding for education and other state services.

When the Legislature approved the long-awaited fix for the overextended fiscal year 2009 budget, Gov. Jan Brewer’s fingerprints were visible in a few areas where her closest associates have long known her to be a staunch advocate.
Brewer requested the restoration of some funding after lawmakers had hammered out a budget deal that eliminated a $1.6 billion shortfall. Her revisions left intact $18.3 million for the mentally ill, the homeless, patients with Alzheimer’s disease and others whom she spent 20 years supporting in the Legislature and on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
Brewer’s record and the funding she saved could be the surest sign yet regarding the priorities she will set as lawmakers craft a fiscal 2010 budget in the midst of a recession-plagued economy and for the duration of her term.
Among the items that Brewer pushed to keep were $8.7 million for behavioral health services not covered by Medicaid, $2 million for aging community services, $1 million for homeless programs and $915,000 for schools for the deaf and blind.
“There were some critical public health issues that she … felt it was incumbent upon her office to weigh in on and felt very strongly about,” Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said.
A review of Brewer’s record shows the new governor has felt strongly about such issues for most of her political career, a devotion that stems, in part, from her own family’s experiences. On many occasions, Brewer has spoken about the mental health issues her son dealt with.
Since entering elected politics in 1983 as a member of the state House of Representatives, Brewer has consistently sponsored legislation aimed at assisting vulnerable populations. Among the legislation introduced by Brewer during her time in the Legislature were bills that added heart and lung transplants to the list of services covered by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System; created commissions to study services for the homeless and Alzheimer’s patients; appropriated money to cities to establish crisis centers for the mentally ill; and established procedures for trying mentally ill defendants in court.
Brewer also is strongly associated with downtown Phoenix’s Human Services Campus, a $23-million project that provides assistance for the homeless, people suffering from mental-health or substance-abuse problems, as well as other services. Brewer, who spent six years on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors before she was first elected secretary of state in 2002, was instrumental in getting the project completed, her former colleagues said.
Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the assistant House minority leader, said she, House Minority Leader David Lujan and Minority Whip Chad Campbell met with Brewer and chief of staff Kevin Tyne shortly before the governor’s Jan. 21 inauguration to discuss budget issues, and Sinema mentioned Brewer’s longtime support of mental health and homeless issues.
“She said, ‘Yes, and those are going to continue to be priorities for me,’” Sinema said.
But, much like nearly every other aspect of state government, the extent to which Brewer continues to prioritize those issues will likely depend wholly on the depths of Arizona’s financial woes. The 2009 budget fix was passed to address a $1.6 billion shortfall in a $9.9 billion budget. Expectations are that revenues will fall further behind initial projections in 2010 to the tune of about $3 billion.
“I think it’s fair to say that these are issues that are of import to her,” Senseman said. “How and if they apply to the 2010 budget, it’s a little bit premature. But we’ll certainly be keeping our eye on those as we proceed down the budget path.
“A number of these programs may be impacted by potential fixes in the ’10 budget. They may also be impacted by the various federal funding initiatives that are underway in Congress right now. So we’ll have to see.”
Senseman said it is difficult to speculate about how much federal money the state might receive in a stimulus bill being debated in the U.S. Senate. Much as Brewer has kept quiet about her agenda, policies and priorities since taking over for departed Gov. Janet Napolitano, Senseman said she has not taken a public stance on the federal bill.
Others, however, are viewing it as a way to salvage services in the 2010 budget, along with some of the health care, mental health and other programs long prioritized by Brewer. The bill is expected to provide as much as $1 billion to Arizona for the 2009 fiscal year – the budget fix presumed $500,000 in federal money – and $2 billion for 2010.
Sinema was pleased by the funding that Brewer saved in the 2009 budget fix, but she said the governor’s efforts fell short. Sinema said she is hoping federal dollars can replace the state funding that was lost. She also hopes that Brewer will make more of an impact on the 2010 budget in areas such as health care and mental health.
“Frankly, I would’ve thought she would’ve asked for more. I mean, $18.3 million, that’s not a very big footprint to have on a budget,” she said. “I hope she does a lot more than she did.”
One of the most surprising things to Sinema is that Brewer did not push to restore $3.2 million in funding for AHCCCS optional services such as organ transplants. As a state senator, Brewer sponsored a bill during a 1995 special session of the Legislature that added heart and lung transplants to the list of services covered by AHCCCS.
Sen. John Huppenthal, who served with Brewer in the Senate, placed the credit for that bill’s passage squarely with the governor.
“She singlehandedly initiated a special session in the state to provide funding for organ transplants,” he said.
Huppenthal said that funding was protected in the budget fix, but Sinema said a $3.2 million lump-sum reduction was inserted to offset a line item of the same amount, meaning funding for the program that Brewer helped create is in jeopardy.
“By choosing not to restore that funding, it has in essence created an unfunded mandate, because by state statute, we have to provide these services,” she said.
Whether Brewer’s funding requests went far enough will be a matter of partisan debate, but few who have worked with the governor during her quarter-century in elected office are questioning her commitment to vulnerable populations such as the mentally ill.
Shortly after the announcement that Napolitano would resign, placing Brewer in charge on the Ninth Floor, former Sen. Pat Wright, a friend of Brewer’s who served with her in the Senate, said she expected the new governor to be mostly reactive at the beginning of her administration because of the budget situation, but predicted her input on the budget would reflect long-term priorities.
“Probably she’ll attempt to save funding” for mental health, Wright said. “But Jan is not blind to what has to be done in the state. They’re going to take lumps like everybody else will.”
Maricopa County Supervisor Fulton Brock, who served with Brewer on the Board of Supervisors and in the Legislature, said Brewer stood out for her compassion toward people with me
ntal illnesses and substance-abuse problems, and praised the work she did in helping the county take the lead in constructing the Human Services Campus.
“She will pleasantly surprise some people,” Brock said before Brewer’s inauguration. “I think the biggest surprise, for someone who is as fiscally conservative as she is, is how passionate she is for people under duress and who have family or abuse and substance problems. … She really cares about individuals like that.”≠

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