Budget plan details program cuts
Arizona Republic
Jan. 17, 2009


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Key legislators offer options on deficits

by Mary Jo Pitzl

The state could eliminate all-day kindergarten and save $218.3 million next year, according to a plan presented to lawmakers this week.
And there could be an additional $218 million in savings in the budget year that starts July 1 if lawmakers opt to suspend money sent to the schools for such things as furniture, textbooks and school buses.
No cuts to these programs are proposed for the current year.
These are among the details contained in a phone-book-size document released Friday. It outlines more than 500 budget-cutting options from the state's two budget chairmen to help the state close a $1.6 billion deficit this year, as well as an anticipated $3 billion deficit in 2009-10.
The proposal would phase out state money to help schools pay bonuses to experienced and excelling teachers. Schools would need to cut teaching positions and increase class sizes, said Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction.
"It would be harder to attract and retain qualified teachers, and that's the real impact," Horne said.
Lawmakers were presented with the generalized plan Thursday but didn't get the details until Friday.
And some were quick to note that the "budget options" plan is far from a final deal.
"Those options are just that . . . options," Rep. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, said in a news release. "Those options did not come from House leadership but do demonstrate how bad the state's budget situation is for the foreseeable future."
Crandall, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he was stung by the suggestion that the options represent the will of the Legislature's Republican leadership.
Rather, they are ideas set out by House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, and his Senate counterpart, Russell Pearce, R-Mesa.
The two budget chairmen told lawmakers the options are a starting point for revising this year's budget, as well as building a new budget for 2009-10.
But they cautioned that if any lawmaker wants to rule out an option, he or she must suggest a cut elsewhere to keep the plan in balance. And as far as the current-year budget is concerned, they said there is little time to spare. Kavanagh and Pearce said they want to get a revised fiscal 2009 budget finished by Jan. 31.
"You can't wait," Pearce said Thursday. Every day lawmakers delay, spending continues unabated, he said.
Among other details in the options budget:

 Eliminate the KidsCare health-care program, for a savings of $18.3 million this year and $35.6 million next year. The program provides health care to nearly 63,000 Arizona children. These children come from families that do not qualify for the state's Medicare program, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, but whose incomes fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty level of $21,200 for a family of four.

 Eliminate KidsCare Parents, a companion program to KidsCare that covers parents. Ending the program would save $4.7 million this year and $7.3 million next year.

 Cut funding to the Arizona Board of Regents by $26 million this year and $58 million next year. Among the options: Take the official enrollment count on the 45th day of the semester, rather than the current standard of the 21st day. Typically, enrollment is lower later in the semester.

 Save $115 million by cutting various university programs this year, mostly through lump-sum reductions. Another $178 million in savings is suggested for 2009-10.
Arizona State University would lose 26 percent of state money in 2009, spokeswoman Terri Shafer said. The proposed cuts for 2010 would equal 40 percent of state money or the equivalent to withdrawing funding for more than 40,000 students, Shafer said.
In a news release, Arizona State University President Michael Crow called the options plan a blueprint for putting Arizona "on the path to resembling a Third World country."
But not everyone reacted negatively.
"The Pearce-Kavanagh plan is the only plan on the table that would bring the state's massive budget deficit under control and thereby put Arizona onto a path of strong economic growth," said Tom Jenney, director of the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which pushes for lower taxation and less government.
His group's only lament, he said, was that the plan assumes Arizona will receive bailout money from the federal government.
The budget chairmen's plans anticipate $400 million from the federal government for this year and an equal amount next year.
They also rely on scooping up leftover money in agency budgets to help balance the budgets.
Budget work begins Tuesday in the Senate Appropriations Committee and continues Wednesday in House Appropriations.