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Home / agencies / Agencies make case for new spending, but most requests likely doomed

Agencies make case for new spending, but most requests likely doomed

Ask most state agencies, and they’ll say they need more money. Their lists of wants and needs range from small-dollar requests to eight-digit figures for major initiatives.

And one theme carries through most years – much of what the agencies beg the Governor’s Office for doesn’t ultimately get funded.

Every fall, the agencies send budget requests to the Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, the branch of the Governor’s Office tasked with overseeing the state budget. Some of the requests may end up in the executive budget Gov. Doug Ducey rolls out in January, which then gets negotiated with the Legislature.

Many of the agencies hit on common ongoing needs. Lots of agencies ask for money for massive informational technology projects, most of which don’t get funded. For agencies that provide social services, there’s always “caseload growth,” or costs that need to be covered to maintain a program as it is. And then there are operational costs, like wages and benefits for employees.

Will Humble

Will Humble

Will Humble, the former agency head of the Department of Health Services under two governors, crafted budget requests based on what a governor was interested in, seeking money for things that aligned with the governor’s priorities.

“Part of being an agency director is being a mind-reader,” Humble said.

Humble didn’t want to put in requests that would raise eyebrows, but ones that stood a chance of actually getting the green light. Essentially, each agency is competing against the others, so it’s important to put the strongest, most-likely-to-succeed arguments up front, he said.

“I never looked at it as my wish list. I looked at it as my ‘what is it that I can sell’ list. I wished for a lot more,” he said.

Requests for money from the general fund, the state’s all-purpose kitty, are tougher to justify than those that come from other sources, like taxes, grants, fees or federal programs. Some agencies are largely self-funded, requiring no money from the general fund, while others rely heavily on general fund appropriations.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s spokesman, said the governor is looking for good policies that will improve services for citizens while keeping a balanced budget.

“And also certainly we’re looking for savings. We‘re looking for where can we save money, not just spend money,” he said.

Plus, he noted, the governor has priorities outside the budget requests, like putting more money into K-12 education. Things like a request from the Department of Corrections for reducing recidivism – which Scarpinato said is an investment financially and personally – will be looked at seriously and prioritized by Ducey.

“The fact is that there are limited resources and money doesn’t grow on trees,” Scarpinato said. “We really need to prioritize K-12 education and our teachers, and that means that the rest of state government has to figure out how to deliver essential services and improve services by saving money.”

ag-budget-webHelp us attack the cities

Attorney General Mark Brnovich wants nearly $1 million to pay for eight staffers in a newly established unit of his office aimed at government accountability and investigations of cities.

A law passed in the 2015 legislative session also tasked the office with investigating complaints from lawmakers about cities or towns that they claim aren’t following state laws. The AG wants more money to investigate these complaints, which could result in the state withholding revenues from cities and towns. The government accountability and special litigation unit, created to handle the lawmaker complaints, also focuses on election law complaints from citizens, open meetings law violations and misuse of public funds.

So far, the attorney general has investigated three complaints under the new law, two of which were resolved locally and one of which prevailed at the Arizona Supreme Court.

Because of the successful court case, the AG “anticipates several new complaints to be filed by legislators in the near future.”

Now, attorneys for the government accountability unit are funded through money brought in by enforcing the Consumer Fraud Act. But the AG’s office said the funding isn’t sustainable, and it takes time and money away from consumer protection duties.

“This workload places the (Attorney General’s Office) in the difficult position of choosing whether to neglect critical consumer protection enforcement in favor of lawmaker initiated S.B. 1487 investigations,” the budget request says.

AG spokeswoman Mia Garcia said the new law requires attorneys to work within strict time deadlines to investigate complaints against cities and towns, which requires resources.

“We weren’t given any special funding, despite the new mandate. The way this unit is funded now isn’t sustainable, and we need a permanent funding source,” Garcia said.

adoa-budget-webObserving World War I

Next November will be the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and the Arizona Department of Administration wants to spruce up its monuments in anticipation.

The department expects an influx of visitors on November 11, 2018, and wants to use $25,250 to maintain and repair the monuments and mechanical equipment located at Wesley Bolin Plaza.

The money wouldn’t come from the state’s general fund, but a separate fund with more than $200,000 available that’s meant to go toward repairing monuments and memorials.

ADOA also has applied for a grant to restore the World War I memorial through an initiative sponsored by the World War I Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. If it doesn’t get awarded a grant, the department said it will first use the $25,250 appropriation to restore the World War I memorial. The department said it’s also actively trying to get donations from groups that support the various monuments on the plaza.

“If the funds are not appropriated this fiscal year, ADOA will miss the opportunity to repair and restore monuments in observance of the World War I Centennial,” ADOA’s budget request says. “In addition, there will be further degradation of the monuments and memorials.”

dcs-budget-webThink of the children

In order to help kids get adopted, the Department of Child Safety seeks $21 million from the general fund to cover the growth in its adoption subsidy program.

The subsidy largely provides ongoing money to help families cover expenses if they adopt children with special needs, DCS said in its budget request.

Families can get a one-time payment of up to $2,000 to help cover the costs of the adoption process, like court fees, attorneys, fingerprints and home studies. But for some families that adopt special needs kids, there’s an ongoing “maintenance subsidy,” averaging $700 per month, to help pay for some of the child’s costs, based on the family’s needs.

The money can be used by families to cover child care, insurance and educational needs, the department said in its request, but it’s not intended to cover all the daily living expenses of the child.

The number of adoptions has increased in the past few years, and the department expects there will be 14 percent more adoptions next fiscal year than this year, from 29,420 on average in this fiscal year to 33,539 next year. The numbers of adoptions spike in November, dubbed “adoption promotion month,” and more children get off the adoption subsidies in the summer, when many new adults graduate from high school.

If the department doesn’t get the funding needed to keep up with growth, it will have to drop the amount it pays in new adoption contracts, which would be a “financial disincentive to adopt versus keeping a child in foster care,” the budget request says.

“New adoptions may be stalled by a reduced ability to finalize new contracts, with increased time in out-of-home care leading to relatively higher costs to the State overall and reduced outcomes for children,” the budget request says.

adot-budget-webWhen will we think of the roads?

Ask any rural lawmaker: Do the roads throughout the state need help? During the 2017 legislative session, funds for highways became a battle-cry for lawmakers after the Governor’s Office didn’t include any money for roads in his proposed budget.

The Department of Transportation wants $25.6 million to help address crumbling highways throughout the state.

Typically, ADOT has used about $15 million each year on sealing deteriorated roads, said agency spokesman Steve Elliott. The $25.6 million request would be added to the $15 million, he said.

But that’s only a fraction of what the department estimates it needs to repair cracks, seal roadways and smooth out rough patches. The total need is more than $128 million, something ADOT recognized wasn’t doable because of the lack of state dollars and the difficulty of administering all the money at one time.

If money isn’t spent now to address road issues, the investment taxpayers put into roadways will deteriorate faster and negatively affect travel for both business and pleasure, the department wrote in its request.

And if the state doesn’t pony up more money for roads, the department won’t be able to preserve and extend the life expectancy of its highway system.

“These essential duties, if not properly funded, will result in more rapid deterioration of our pavement leading to more expensive reconstruction in the long run and more expense to the taxpayer,” the department wrote.

liquor-budget-webYou booze, you lose

Other requests are relatively small, but could have a big impact on an agency’s ability to do its job. Take the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control – the agency wants $35,000 to help with litigation costs and $102,000 for a full-time assistant attorney general.

Since the liquor department doesn’t have enough money now to fund litigation costs, it has to drop the amount it collects for fines in the hopes people won’t appeal them, the agency’s request says.

Now, if people with liquor licenses violate liquor laws, they get their fines reduced by half if they don’t contest the findings or judgments in legal hearings, the agency wrote.

“While there is no real way to measure direct impacts, a concern is that increased efforts to avoid contested cases could be jeopardizing public safety as well as adversely impacting services,” the agency wrote.

The agency currently has an assistant attorney general who spends one-third of their time on liquor department issues, but it wants a full-time person to focus on legal support and navigate complex liquor laws.

Without a full-time assistant AG, the department has missed opportunities to pursue more complex investigations related to racketeering, the agency wrote.

ade-budget-webWe don’t really want these epi-pens

The Department of Education is seeking $1.65 million to purchase injectable epinephrine for state schools, but its own officials deemed the request “unnecessary.”

The funds would be used to purchase two doses of adult and two doses of pediatric epinephrine for each of about 2,000 district and charter schools.

A 2013 law requires the department to make this exact request each year and to train selected staff to administer the potentially life-saving drug to someone experiencing a severe allergic reaction.

But the department would like an end to that mandate.

Epinephrine auto-injectors are sold in packages of two for a generic wholesale price between $300 and $400, or $800 per school. That leaves the remaining $50,000 for the same staff training each year.

But if the Legislature opts not to provide the funding, adding to the epinephrine stockpile is optional anyway.

“Schools are currently able to pursue other avenues to receive free or reduced pricing to stock epinephrine auto- injectors for emergency purposes,” the department wrote, “so the department believes this mandated budget request is unnecessary.”

In other words: We’re all set, thanks.

sfb-budget-webSave our crumbling school facilities

As school facilities age and degrade, emergency solutions have cost the state thousands of dollars at a time, according to the School Facilities Board.

Now, the board would like the authority and resources to predict failures and prioritize repairs.

Take the chiller (a cooling system) failure at Lake Havasu High School for example.

The board wrote the school’s two chillers failed, leaving the school without any relief from the heat. For months, the chillers had not been performing as expected, but nothing was done to preempt the inevitable.

The school had to be cooled, the board wrote. The replacement process took months despite being accelerated, and in the meantime, funding was provided to rent two trailer-mounted temporary chillers at a total cost of $325,000.

If the chillers had been replaced ahead of their failure one at a time, the rental would have been unnecessary.

In addition to the authority to predict such failures, the board is seeking expenditure authority from the Building
Grant fund to inspect school buildings every five years, to implement a tool prioritizing repairs and to partner with a third-party to gather information about the facilities and add it to that database, dubbed the Facility Condition Index.

“The information would roll up to a ‘dashboard’ giving the SFB an indication of a building system’s condition,” the board wrote. “The timing of repairs and replacements of those systems would be prioritized and managed to reduce avoidable costs and minimize disruption to students.”

Each school district would have its own dashboard to track scheduled maintenance, the board went on. Projects could be scheduled in advance and completed during breaks, and multiple purchases could be made at once to take advantage of bulk pricing.

The board included a draft for the proposed partnership, including anticipated costs well over $1 million,
though the board anticipates that cost would still pale in comparison to excess emergency costs.

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