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Naimark, others blast GOP priorities in state budget

Margarita Jimenez, a mother from Phoenix, talks about the agony of having uninsured children. Jimenez and several others lamented lawmakers' priorities in the recently enacted state budget. (Photo by Luige del Puerto/Arizona Capitol Times)

Advocates for more funding for social programs today panned Republicans for their priorities in the recently-enacted state budget.

While money for social services wasn’t cut this year, programs that were eliminated or frozen at the height of the fiscal crisis, such as subsidy for child care, should have been restored, they argue.

They lamented that policymakers began the session by declaring there won’t be any restoration of those programs even though the state won’t face a deficit and revenues were coming in stronger than anticipated.

They rejected lawmakers’ stated reason for putting $450 million in the rainy day fund, which is to avoid another festering deficit by the middle of this decade.

“I’m all for planning for the future and having a fiscal plan that goes out in the future,” said Dana Naimark, president and CEO of the Children’s Action Alliance. “That is not what they did. They’re saving up $450 million and sweeping funds… in order to cut taxes in future years.”

Naimark did agree that things could have been worse, and she thanked Gov. Jan Brewer for fighting for some spending on social services.

Naimark said the $450 million won’t be available for services for the most vulnerable population in the state. Instead, that money would help to plug a deficit that is partially the result of incessant tax cutting during the past two years.

The May 10 media briefing was timed to coincide with Mother’s Day and was meant to press one question: What have lawmakers done for mothers?

Last year, lawmakers passed phased-in tax cuts they said would help to stimulate the economy. They approved another round of phased-in tax breaks this year.

Among those who complained against the state’s spending priorities is Kris Jacober, executive director of a non-profit group that provides support services to foster children.

Jacober, a foster parent herself, said the number of children who are forced into foster care has been increasing as services to help families become scarce.

“It would be a nice if there was a vision for this state that included kids who have horrible things happen to them that they didn’t create,” Jacober said.

Wary of years of painful budget slashing, lawmakers have adopted a cautious spending plan that takes into account fiscal uncertainties during the next few years.

They put aside hundreds of millions of dollars in case Arizona faces another crisis, but lawmakers also approved new spending initiatives by the governor, including money for reading.

They also earmarked a significant amount for the Department of Economic Security to backfill lost federal money.

Lawmakers and the governor called the spending plan conservative while adding real resources to critical programs.

Brewer said she had warned against repeating the mistakes of the past, “when economic recovery and fiscal exuberance too often went hand-in-hand – leading to unwise and unsustainable expenditures.

“It is with pride that I say this budget avoids that trap, while leaving Arizona better positioned for long-term prosperity,” she said.

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