Welcome to the second weekly edition of the Farley Report for the 51st Legislature: Gubernatorial Budget Edition!
As promised last Monday, Governor Brewer submitted her budget last Friday, and -- yes -- it includes full funding to expand AHCCCS healthcare coverage to every Arizonan earning less than 133% of the federal poverty line, enabling us to gain a 10 to 1 return in federal matching funds on our investment.
In addition to covering 250,000 more people and kids and bringing our hospitals back from the brink by reducing unreimbursed care, we get to infuse our shaky recovery with billions of dollars that will be spent directly in our local communities for an economic boost like we've never seen before.
How will we pay for this? The governor is proposing an interesting idea that is currently being used on a smaller scale by the certain cities in Arizona, and which was originally proposed four years ago by Speaker Andy Tobin to fend off the cuts to single childless adults: A "provider assessment."
This is an assessment of 6% on net patient revenues in all Arizona's hospitals, who will be the primary beneficiaries of the AHCCCS expansion. So far, most of the hospitals are on board, with the exception of a couple of hospitals who primarily serve wealthy areas and thus do not currently have large AHCCCS populations. It appears that a deal will be worked out so that this new source of revenues can work, leaving our large current surplus to be used for other spending priorities.
What other spending priorities does the Governor propose?
--> A supplemental appropriation of $4.4 million for 50 new CPS caseworkers and $10.4 million for children's support services, to be implemented in an emergency special session. I publicly called for a special session in December when CPS began firing caseworkers and cutting court-ordered support services for kids in the system -- I am very pleased the Governor is acting to stem the crisis so we can keep our kids safe. She also will add 150 more caseworkers in FY14 along with another $30 million in CPS emergency and residential placement for kids, so we hopefully we no longer see stories about kids being placed in office buildings on nights and weekends instead of with families. The $9.6 million childcare to foster families will also help with good placements for kids in trouble.
--> K-12 education increases include $3.6 million for armed and trained school resource officers, $22.3 million in school building maintenance, $20 million for new computers, and $41.5 million for teacher training and soft capital to comply with the new Common Core standards. She does not include the newly court-ordered payment of inflationary adjustments to school districts of around $80-$120 million -- that will need to be included as well. Considering our schools are facing a loss of $1 billion annually when the temporary sales tax expires in May, we will need to invest more in our schools to make up that gap and improve our competitiveness with other states as we seek to give our kids the tools they need to succeed in the global economy.
--> Performance funding for K-12 schools. This is a controversial move that will likely widen the gap between schools from wealthy neighborhoods and those from poor neighborhoods -- those schools that perform better on state testing will get more money. I am hoping this can be tweaked so that the percentage of kids receiving free or reduced lunch can be taken into account so that we can improve achievement for all students, not just well-off kids.
--> Universities will see their budgets go up as well, although ASU does better than the others, with $24.6 million more. NAU gets $8.1 million, and UofA only gets $5.7 million, although the UofA medical school in downtown Phoenix gets $8 million to enroll 80 more future doctors. Community colleges -- which have seen their budgets chopped by 75% in the last three years -- do not do well at all, with a $2.3 million cut.
All in all, although there are problems with certain aspects of this budget, it is one of the best proposals in years and it looks promising that we will end up with a final product very much like this later this spring.
Outside of budget, most of the action is still behind the scenes, as Senators and Representatives put the final touches on their bills and gather signatures. I have been running around getting primarily Republican signatures on my bills to increase their chances of being heard, and having good luck in that regard. I even have been successful in convincing some Republicans to carry my bills as their own.
I will fill you in on the details of my proposals in the coming weeks as I drop them in the hopper and obtain bill numbers. As a preview, I have some interesting new ideas for traffic safety, support for small businesses, reducing animal cruelty, closing special interest loopholes, funding education, promoting solar energy, funding transportation projects, and protecting seniors. Stay tuned!
Thanks for your faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley