- Associated Press - Monday, January 13, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer used her annual State of the State address Monday to announce decisive action to overhaul the state’s child welfare agency, pulling Child Protective Services from its current department and placing it under the oversight of a new Cabinet-level post reporting directly to the governor.

The Republican governor also laid out other parts of her agenda for 2014, including boosting the economy, eliminating a utility tax for manufacturers, changing the way K-12 schools are funded and enacting tougher laws against human trafficking.

Brewer’s annual speech on the Legislature’s opening day is likely to be her last, barring a successful challenge to a state constitutional ban on serving more than two terms in office.

However, she hinted at such a move Monday, saying “10 years from now, whether I run again or not, I will be working in my garden and will look back with pride.”

CHILD WELFARE: Brewer called the executive order that “abolished CPS as we know it” a critical step to protect children in the state, a move made more pressing by the discovery in November of more than 6,500 uninvestigated child abuse and neglect reports.

She named the head of the state’s juvenile corrections department to head the new unit and asked the Legislature to help her set up a new permanent agency, calling it a “legal and moral duty.”

- Governor’s quote: “We need to go even further. The time has come to statutorily establish a separate agency that focuses exclusively on the safety and well-being of children and helping families in distress without jeopardizing child safety.”

- Republican and Democratic reaction: Arizona lawmakers from each party gave tepid support, with some saying they were upset she made the decision without consulting with them. They want to see specifics before they decide whether to support the plan.

ECONOMY: Brewer touted what she calls the “Arizona Comeback,” the state’s recovery from a $3 billion budget deficit when she came into office in 2009 to today’s more than $1 billion in the bank. She credited cuts to business and capital gains taxes as moves that have helped the state draw new business and recover.

- Governor’s quote: “We steered Arizona out of a debilitating recession and implemented historic reforms and long-term structural improvements that secure Arizona’s prosperity for generations to come.”

- Republican reaction: GOP lawmakers are with Brewer in declaring victory on the economic recovery. They have pushed a series of business tax cuts in recent years, saying that lowering the state’s tax burden has made it more attractive for business investment. They and Brewer say these moves facilitated the recovery and attracted new businesses to the state.

- Democratic reaction: Democrats considered Brewer’s assessment generous. Fred DuVal, who will seek the party’s nomination for governor, said: “If Gov. Brewer believes that Arizona’s economy has had a ‘comeback,’ then she needs to come back to reality. Too many of our people are still stuck in a reality where wages are stagnant, but the cost of living is going up. Arizona unemployment is a full point higher than the national average. Jan Brewer shouldn’t be popping the champagne when it comes to our economy. We have a lot of work to do.”

BUSINESS INCENTIVES: Brewer called for more business incentives such as those that have helped land a new Apple plant and a GM development site in the past year. The only detail she laid out was to ask the Legislature to abolish a utility tax on manufacturing.

- Governor’s quote: “Our message to job creators has been heard: Arizona is open for business. We now have more jobs, more businesses and more opportunities for growth and prosperity.”

- Republican reaction: Republicans who control the Legislature are likely to support the effort, since they generally support cutting taxes for businesses and voted to create a semi-governmental agency called the Arizona Commerce Authority to hand out tax incentives.

- Democratic reaction: Democrats are more nervous about the efforts. They won’t commit until they see specifics, and they worry that money should instead restore money to schools and social welfare programs that were cut during the Great Recession.

SCHOOL FUNDING: Brewer is pushing a revised plan to tie some funding for K-12 schools to performance. Her effort last year failed because of concerns it would cut money from low-income and underperforming schools to reward high performing schools in affluent areas. This year’s effort retains current funding for all schools, with bonuses for the top performers.

- Governor’s quote: “By 2018, 3 out of 5 jobs in Arizona will require post-secondary training. Our students must be better prepared … that means we stop funding the status quo.”

- Republican and Democratic reaction: Brewer has not released details of her plan, which follows on a failed effort last year to get performance funding. The effort faltered then because low-performing schools that need the most help could lose funding. This year’s proposal will leave base funding for all schools the same.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell was cautiously optimistic, “If they’re not taking money from schools, if its new money and it doesn’t hurt low performing schools, than I think we’ll be OK.”

HUMAN TRAFFICKING: Brewer called on lawmakers to pass legislation making it easier for police and prosecutors to target human traffickers, saying young women being forced into the sex trade is akin to modern-day slavery. A human trafficking task force she created last year has recommended ways to better protect victims and increase penalties for perpetrators.

- Republican and Democratic reaction: Little opposition to the proposal is expected. It will be difficult to find anyone on either side of the aisle in the Legislature who opposes either tougher penalties for pimps who recruit teenage girls into prostitution or a new effort to help those women and girls caught up in their net. The only question is how much money the governor will propose for the effort.

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