- Associated Press - Monday, March 17, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - A $9.2 billion spending plan that trims more than $150 million from Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposal was introduced in the Arizona Senate on Monday, but Senate President Andy Biggs‘ proposal faces an uncertain future in the House and with Gov. Jan Brewer.

The spending plan Biggs introduced trims some money from the governor’s proposal to set up a new state child welfare agency. Also being trimmed is her proposed $50 million deposit into the state’s rainy day fund, which currently stands at $450 million.

But Biggs plans added money for highways, a major priority of many in the Legislature that Brewer left out of her budget. They wanted $100 million, but Biggs‘ plan cuts the amount to $30 million.

Biggs said he expects his budget proposal to pass by the end of the week. But Democrats predicted his proposal was all for nothing.

“What I’ve heard about it is it is a very slim and trim budget that the House Republicans and the governor have not agreed upon,” said Sen. Anna Tovar, D-Phoenix, the minority leader. “You’ve got a budget here in the Senate that will go nowhere in the House. So how productive is that?”

House Speaker Andy Tobin hasn’t commented on the proposal. But Brewer’s spokesman, Andrew Wilder, said she is not on board.

“We’re glad to see that the Senate has put something forward,” Wilder said. “But Gov. Brewer does not support this proposal and it is far off from what the governor will accept.”

Senate Majority Leader John McComish said the budget may not survive in its present form, but it gets the conversation moving with the House.

“We’re helping to focus their efforts,” said McComish, R-Phoenix.

The House hasn’t unveiled a proposal.

Biggs says despite the cuts his plan is designed to get the governor’s support, although he declined to provide many details.

“I’m not going to negotiate this in the press,” he said in an interview. “I’ll just say that we have tried to address all of her fundamental issues and the things that we think she has made a priority. And we’ve tried to address the things that we think are important to the state. And our constitutional obligation is public safety, education and transportation issues.”

Brewer wants a budget that includes $9.36 billion in spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Her plan includes nearly $74 million to set up a new Child Protective Services department and hire hundreds of new child welfare workers, investigators, supervisors and support staff.

Although Biggs said his budget proposal is about $9.2 billion, and analysis by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee puts its spending at $9.13 million. That’s more than $200 million less that Brewer asked for in her January proposal. The discrepancy couldn’t be immediately reconciled late Monday.

Biggs cuts $20 million from the $25 million she wants to pull CPS from its parent agency and set up the new department. Brewer ordered that done after more than 6,500 ignored abuse and neglect cases were discovered in November. He also cuts millions from her overhaul of CPS’ computer system. Brewer wanted a $10 million down payment on system that would cost the state $40 million. Biggs says she should get $15 million in all over three years.

“We put some money in there, but it’s not the final word,” said Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, the appropriations committee chair. “We’re certainly open to working with the governor to put the proper amount.”

Brewer’s plan is a 5 percent increase in spending from the current year and depends on using part of a nearly $900 million surplus to balance.

Biggs said money is included for school performance funding that Brewer wants and $20 million to help pay schools for inflation funding that was foregone in recent years but the state has been ordered to pay.

Biggs said his plan will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday, with a final Senate vote planned Thursday. He dismissed concerns that neither the House the governor were on board with his proposal.

“This is our budget, we’ve worked hard on it,” Biggs said. “We continue to negotiate with the governor’s office, we continue to negotiate with the House.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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