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Senate committee trims House spending additions

Budget piggy bank

The Arizona Senate wasted no time amending a $9.24 billion budget approved last week by the House, claiming that a consensus had been reached among the two chambers and Gov. Jan Brewer on a spending plan that more closely resembles the one senators approved on March 20.

The Senate approved a $9.18 billion budget along party lines earlier this month before House lawmakers, spurred by six Republicans holding out for more funding for education and child safety, added roughly $54 million in spending.

The Senate Appropriations Committee this morning approved amendments that cut funding to AHCCCS services for chiropractic care that was initially approved by GOP lawmakers in the Senate, then expanded in the House.

Orthotics, emergency dental and podiatry services, among others, would have been absorbed by AHCCCS. After the committee amendment, those services would not be covered.

The committee’s Republican members cited the decision last year to approve Brewer’s Medicaid expansion – which most of them voted against – as an unknown cost that must be dealt with before making any more expansions to AHCCCS services.

“We can’t give out blank check not knowing how much the cost is going to be to our state,” said Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City. “Being good stewards of our taxpayer’s dollars is important.”

Senators also cut a $900,000 appropriation the House added for a private prison per diem, and a $3 million appropriation for career training schools.

All told, lawmakers reduced spending in the House budget by a net of roughly $7.4 million.

Amendments were approved on party line votes as Democrats defended the spending additions adopted by the House as inadequate, but at least better than the original Senate proposal. And child welfare advocates made a futile push to add some new funding for child care subsidies.

“Investing money now to save money in the future isn’t a partisan issue or an ideological one,” said Kristin Gwinn, executive director of Protecting Arizona’s Children. “It’s just math.”

Gwinn accused the Legislature of being “maybe the biggest perpetrator” of abuse and neglect of Arizona children by consistently underfunding the resources needed to deal with the ongoing case backlog that has plagued Child Protective Services and provide money for preventative services that could keep children out of the CPS system in the first place.

While the budget includes baseline spending of $130 million for childcare subsidies, that funding has been frozen since 2010, according to Sen. Anna Tovar, D-Phoenix, and only $9 million of those dollars is provided by the state – the rest comes from federal grants.

Gwinn’s testimony angered Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria, who said the systemic failures of CPS – including the more than 6,500 cases that went uninvestigated by the agency – won’t be solved by throwing money at state employees that are wantonly misspending it.

Murphy said CPS officials weren’t properly using the resources they’re already given to handle cases, and compared the agency to a parent wasting child care assistance.

“If they were squandering the money, you wouldn’t just keep giving them money,” Murphy said.

Murphy, a frequent critic of CPS at the Capitol, is mired in an ongoing legal battle with the agency following a Peoria police investigation of allegations that he sexually molested two children in his care. No charges were filed against the senator.

GOP lawmakers continually referred to the spending levels approved by the Senate on March 20 as a “consensus budget” – Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, stated several times that it was his understanding the Senate’s $9.18 billion budget was agreed to by the House and the Governor’s Office.

But that doesn’t explain why the House then made several amendments to the budget and why Brewer’s spokesman, Andrew Wilder, has repeatedly stated that there is no deal between the Legislature and the Ninth Floor.

Tovar said it was disappointing that, once again, senators were discussing cuts to the budget when “we have no agreement.”

More changes are expected to be proposed to the budget on the Senate floor, where Senate President Andy Biggs said lawmakers would tackle the House budget in the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday.

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