Gov. Doug Ducey signed a $9.1 billion budget last week that he helped drive through the Arizona Legislature in a matter of days with the support of Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker David Gowan.
“This is the job Arizonans hired us for, and I’m proud we were able to get it done in a responsible, swift and bipartisan manner,” said Ducey. “This budget reflects the priorities I ran on and addresses the problems I was elected to solve. It restores much-needed fiscal responsibility to government by forcing the state to live within its means and stop spending money it doesn’t have.”
But critics of the budget say that it cuts too much from education while further reducing the social safety net meant to protect low-income Arizonans and pushing the cost of government from the state to the counties and cities.
• The three state universities—UA, ASU and NAU—were cut by $99 million. Arizona Board of Regents President Eileen Klein called the cuts “a big blow,” noting in a prepared statement that 63 percent of the state’s budget cuts will be absorbed by the universities.
• Pima Community College lost all its state funding, as did Maricopa Community College. Pima Community College Chancellor Lee Lambert said that given the state’s ongoing budget problems, he had anticipated losing the roughly $6.5 million from the state at some point in the future, but to lose it all in one year was a surprise.
“If I’d had more time, I could adjust the glide path, versus losing it all at once,” Lambert said.
In reaction to the loss of state funding, the PCC Board increased in-state tuition last week by $5 a credit hour, to $75.50.
• K-12 education saw increases in some areas but reductions in others for a total increase of $81 million this year. The state was required by formula to increase spending by $250 million, but lawmakers cut that amount by reducing a number of other funding programs by $169 million, according to a Joint Legislative Budget Committee summary.
Ducey defended the cuts to education, saying in a prepared statement that the budget spends more on education than ever before and “prioritizes education, with nearly half our overall budget going toward K-12 and universities.”
House Assistant Minority Leader Bruce Wheeler (D-Tucson) took issue with Ducey’s claim, saying that the governor didn’t account for the fact that there will be more students enrolled in Arizona schools and the budget did not properly account for inflation costs.
“They may have increased it to a total dollar figure that’s higher than last year, but on a per-pupil basis, spending went down,” Wheeler said.
• Dana Naimark of the Children’s Action Alliance noted that the budget cut $11 million from the recently created Department of Child Safety, just one year after it was discovered that thousands of cases of child neglect had gone uninvestigated.
Naimark also criticized $4 million in cuts to childcare subsides for low-income families, a sweep of housing assistance funds, a $3 million cut to youth treatment funds and a new one-year lifetime limit for low-income Arizonans who qualify for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is the lowest limit in the nation.v
“The budget backtracks on prevention strategies, puts more children at risk for child neglect, grows prisons while shrinking resources for higher education, and permanently reduces per student operational funding in public schools,” Naimark said in a prepared statement.
• Expenses for juvenile justice and administrative costs were pushed down onto the counties. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry estimates Pima County picked up an extra $12 million in expenses, on top of the $82 million that had been picked up by the county in recent years.
“Lawmakers can have the luxury of saying that they’re not increasing taxes, but they’re forcing everybody else to do so,” said Huckelberry, who has proposed adding a line to property tax bills identifying the percentage of county property taxes that are now sent to the state.
Wheeler said the budget was “devastating” to the future of the state.
“There’s nothing more important to the future of the state than education,” Wheeler said. “The Tucson Chamber of Commerce came out against this budget and the reason is, they have members who say they can’t hire a skilled labor force. This is going to saddle students with higher debt and discourage young people from pursuing a higher education.”