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Brewer signs budget, vetoes several provisions

Gov. Jan Brewer signed the $9.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2015 budget but line-item vetoed several provisions.

The governor rejected about $4.7 million in spending, saying she wants to ensure that the budget is fiscally prudent while preserving money for a new child welfare agency that will replace Arizona’s troubled Child Protective Services division. Brewer noted that the budget includes $59 million for the new agency, but that she and the Legislature are committed to providing more funding in the near future.

“My signature on this budget comes with a clear, shared commitment with the Legislature to revisit additional funding for a new child protection agency once the child safety reform working group completes its process. A new agency must have the resources it needs to succeed in its core mission to safeguard Arizona’s abused and neglected children,” Brewer said in a press statement.

A special session is planned for the Legislature to approve the creation of the new agency and provide additional funding.  Brewer initially proposed about $80 million in funding for the new agency.

The governor touted the budget for protecting the rainy day fund, keeping the state budget structurally balanced through fiscal year 2016 and funding top priorities such as education, public safety and child protection.

“Job number one every session is to pass a responsible budget for the state of Arizona – and that’s what I signed into law today,” Brewer said in her press statement.

Brewer’s line item vetoes rejected new funding for the Attorney General’s Office in northern Arizona, a teacher development program, technical education in rural areas, and the Arizona Ombudsman Citizens’ Aide office, which was intended to provide more oversight to CPS cases, among others. She also vetoed the transfer of $53,000 from a K-12 student testing program into technology-based program for English language learners.

The line item vetoes included:

-$1 million in soft capital funding for joint technical education districts, known as JTEDs, that have fewer than 2,000 average pupils per day. Brewer said the funding would have exacerbated the disparity between rural and urban JTEDs.

-$500,000 to the Attorney General’s Office for law enforcement in northern Arizona. The budget provided no details on how that money was to be spent, Brewer said.

-$500,000 for a new alternative teacher development program. Brewer wrote in her veto letter that the state already has alternative teacher development programs and that the money would be better spent on child safety reforms.

-$10,000 for a landing strip in northern Arizona, the purpose of which Brewer said was “unclear” and could create liability and other expenses for the state.

-The entire $828,000 budget for the Arizona Ombudsman-Citizens’ Aide office. The budget provides an additional $200,000 from its FY14 budget to deal with CPS caseload growth. But Brewer said it is premature to appropriate additional money until the needs of the new child welfare agency are known.

-$500,000 for a “small-scale computing study,” which Brewer said would be expensive, time-consuming and would provide little more information than a study currently underway.

-$53,000 that would be transferred to the ELL program. Brewer said it would be inconsistent to redirect funds from the K-12 assessment for an unrelated purpose.

-$1.3 million in sales tax revenue to the counties to offset the loss in revenue they are expected to face from SB1413, a bill the governor advocated for that exempts manufacturers from paying sales taxes on electricity usage. Brewer said the money represents a small fraction of the counties’ budgets, and would set an unfortunate policy precedent.

Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said he’s pleased that Brewer signed most of the budget, but is distressed over her decision to eliminate all funding for the ombudsman’s office. He said the office, a neutral arbiter in disputes between people and government entities, is often all that stands between citizens and overreach by an “all-powerful government.”

Biggs also questioned Brewer’s rationale for vetoing the office’s funding because it is not known whether the additional money  will be needed for oversight of CPS cases. He said nearly two-thirds of the office’s duties are unrelated to CPS.

“Most of those types of cases are going to be people who don’t have the means to go out and hire a high-priced lawyer to fight against the awesome power of the state. So it certainly is more than just the CPS-related stuff,” Biggs said. “This is the whole enchilada.”

Biggs said it’s too early to determine whether he’ll push Brewer to restore ombudsman funding in the upcoming special session.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the $500,000 that Brewer vetoed for law enforcement in northern Arizona was intended to help the office pay Mohave County to use its sheriff’s deputies to patrol the polygamous enclave of Colorado City. Grisham said the Attorney General’s Office will use funds from elsewhere in its budget to continue to fund the program.

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