Monday, April 30, 2012

State Budget Being Railroaded Through Tuesday...

...and that light you see in the darkness isn't the opening in the tunnel, it's an oncoming locomotive.

According to many sources, including the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) and the House Democratic caucus, the Republicans in the lege and in the governor's office have completed their secret negotiations and will pass a budget on Tuesday.

The individual bills (the approprations bill itself and the budget reconciliation bills [BRBs] with changes to law to make the budget work) haven't been posted as of this writing, but a summary from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) has been posted and is here.  It references bills that have already been proposed in February, but there will be some changes to those bills, though it does look like the lege is getting pretty much what it wants.

Perhaps the best thing about the budget is something that *isn't* in it - so far.  The move to give more than a quarter million dollars to former Senate President Russell Pearce over the successful recall of Pearce seems to be dead - though until sine die, it could come back up.

Some of the "highlights" of the package, from the House Democrats' press release -

· Sweeps $50 million from the Arizona Attorney General’s Mortgage Settlement Fund. This is a joint state-federal settlement reached with Arizona and 48 other states, the federal government and the country’s five largest residential mortgage loan servicers who engaged in fraudulent loan services and foreclosure practices. The money is supposed to be used to help families impacted by the foreclosure crisis which is still plaguing Arizona. The state had the highest foreclosure rate in the country last month.

· Ignores a request by the Independent Redistricting Commission for money to cover legal costs the commission incurred when the governor and Republican legislators attempted to oust IRC Chair Colleen Mathis. The courts sided with Mathis and upheld the IRC’s independent process. Now the Office of the Courts is facing $12 million funding sweeps in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

· Fails to provide a 3 percent inflation adjustment for hospitals or increase supplemental payments for rural hospitals. Arizona hospitals have faced nearly $1 billion in Republican-approved budget cuts during the past few years. These budget cuts increase the cost to patients and jeopardize jobs in the health care system. They also make it more difficult for health care providers, especially in small rural hospitals, to continue to offer services.

· Neglects to restore KidsCare funding, leaving thousands of Arizona children without adequate health care coverage. Arizona is the only state in the country not funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

· Fails to provide funding for the State Parks Department and limits future funding for the Office of Tourism. Both are major job creators in Arizona.

· Repeals the “merit system” laws designed to prevent political patronage during the hiring process for state employees. These laws ensure that state employees are hired based on their qualifications and fired for cause. The budget will only provide pay raises for political appointees and state employees willing to give up merit system rights.

Other interesting tidbits (from JLBC's summary of the BRBs) -

- Eliminates the Capital Post Conviction Public Defender Office

- Eliminates the requirement that private prison contracts are subject to review

- Sweeps funds intended to help the judicial branch automate (this will cost the state far more in the long run than the lege is taking right now, but the lege doesn't care about long term considerations)

- Continues the requirement that TANF recipients submit to a whiz quiz (drug test) as a condition for receiving and continuing to  receive benefits

- Continues the suspension of the requirement that the state match student fee contributions to university-level financial aid on a 2:1 basis

More to come as analysis continues, but Senate Democratic Leader David Schapira has many details on his Twitter feed here...

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