Calling it a milestone on Arizona’s road to recovery, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a fiscal year 2012 budget that she said made painful – but necessary – cuts that would protect the state’s fiscal health for years to come.
Brewer acknowledged that many of the budget cuts will be difficult to implement, but said she had done as much as possible to protect priorities like education, public safety and safety-net programs for the vulnerable. She said the budget – Arizona’s first structurally balanced spending plan in several years – would reduce the size and scope of government, while helping the state keep future budgets balanced.
“If Arizona is to reclaim its standing as a national leader in economic growth, its state government must be cost-effective, efficient and fiscally stable,” Brewer wrote today in a letter to House Speaker Kirk Adams and Senate President Russell Pearce. “This budget plan puts the state on the right path in all three categories.”
The budget included $183 million in K-12 education cuts, with $35 million backfilled by federal funds. Brewer acknowledged that the cuts were deeper she wanted – her original budget proposal included just $84 million in cuts – but said the majority of the cuts come from specific programs, such as vocational classes, instead of classroom spending.
“My goal was to avoid severely eroding base support for schools and core education programs. I believe this budget accomplishes that,” she wrote.
Brewer cited Medicaid reforms, however, as the most important aspect of the budget. The Legislature cut the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System by $510 million, and gave Brewer broad authority to implement a plan that would slash Medicaid spending through an enrollment freeze, reduced payments to health care providers, new restrictions on benefits and other proposals. The plan requires federal approval.
But even if the state gets federal approval, Brewer’s plan might fall through, leaving a gaping hole in the fiscal year 2012 budget. Critics believe the cuts violate Proposition 204, the 2000 ballot measure that dramatically expanded AHCCCS eligibility, and attorney Tim Hogan, of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, said he will likely file a lawsuit late next week to prevent the cuts from going into effect.
Brewer actually signed the budget late Wednesday, but did not announce it until the following day because the bills weren’t transmitted to the secretary of state until this morning and her signing letter wasn’t completed until Thursday afternoon, according to spokesman Matthew Benson.