By Nick Worth
Governor Jan Brewer signed a $9.2 billion state budget for the 2015 fiscal year, but not without applying her line item veto powers to the finished product.
Brewer’s office touted the budget in a press release, calling it “… a balanced, principled and fiscally prudent spending plan that directs resources to prioritize and protect core policy issues highlighted in (Brewer’s) 2014 State of the State address.”
“Job number one every session is to pass a responsible budget for the state of Arizona–and that’s what I signed into law today,” Brewer said in the press release. “This budget keeps us on the path to restoring the state to a structurally balanced budget by 2016, and protects the rainy day fund while addressing critical priorities like child protection, public safety and education.”
Brewer also served notice to the legislature that she expects them to “revisit” additional funding for the new child protection agency.
“A new agency must have the resources it needs to succeed in its core mission to safeguard Arizona’s abused and neglected children,” Brewer said.
As a part of the budget, $59 million has been set aside for the new agency set to replace the troubled Child Protective Services. Included in that appropriation is “a commitment to revisit more funding in the immediate future,” to which Brewer alluded.
One of Brewer’s vetoes which directly affects Navajo County is her veto of a $1.3 million appropriation from the state general fund to help counties offset their losses resulting from the enactment of Senate Bill 1413, a transaction privilege tax exemption on electricity sales to manufacturers.
Brewer called SB 1413, “a bill that improves Arizona’s economic competitiveness statewide.
“The financial benefit of this unnecessary appropriation would be minimal as the likely distribution of funds represents a small fraction of a percent of each affected county budget,” Brewer wrote.
She also said the appropriation would set a policy precedent that would “undermine future efforts to improve the competitiveness of Arizona’s tax code.”
The overall effect of Brewer’s line item veto on Navajo County’s budget is still unknown.
“We are working with the County Supervisors Association to see how that will work out,” said Navajo County Governmental Affairs Director Hunter Moore. “We don’t have access to the specific numbers.”
Moore said the vetoed $1.3 million appropriation would not have been split evenly among the 15 counties in the state.
“It will depend on the businesses located in each county,” said Moore.
He noted that county officials are trying to extrapolate the amount of tax on electricity sales which will be lost from some older data.
“I’m not confident in the numbers right now,” said Moore. “In ballpark figures, I would say it (the lost tax revenue) will be in the tens of thousands. In some other counties, it will be in the hundreds of thousands.”
Brewer went on to detail the other line items she vetoed in the legislature’s version of the budget. The governor said she made the cuts “in order to maintain a fiscally prudent spending plan and preserve crucial resources for our reform efforts. Child safety is a core focus, and our state budget must reflect that.”
In a letter to Senate President Andy Biggs, Brewer wrote, “Specifically, I have line-item vetoed the following items of appropriation for the reasons outlined below:
* An appropriation to the Attorney General, Department of Law for Northern Arizona Law Enforcement.
Brewer’s reason for denying the funds was that there were no details provided that explained what the intent of the item is, or how the appropriation would be used.
* Arizona Department of Education (ADE) appropriation for alternative teacher development.
“There are various alternative teacher development programs currently existing in Arizona,” Brewer wrote. “Consequently, this appropriation would be better directed towards funding child safety reforms and programs that will protect Arizona’s most vulnerable children.”
* An ADE Joint Technical Education District (JTED) soft capital and equipment appropriation for $1 million.
Brewer said the funding would exacerbate disparities between urban and rural JTEDs.
* An appropriation for a northern Arizona landing strip.
Brewer said it was unclear what purpose it would have for the state, and cited liability exposure and expenses for the state.
* An appropriation of $828,500 from the state general fund to the Ombudsman citizens
aide office, which is an increase of $200,000 from last fiscal year.
Brewer noted that while the $200,000 increase is intended to fund an expected caseload increase for the new child safety agency, “it is premature to appropriate additional resources when the caseload impact has not yet been determined and overall resources for the new agency are still being analyzed.”
She then said the issue could be revisited during an upcoming special session on child safety.
* Funds for the Arizona Department of Administration for state agencies to collect a detailed inventory of hardware and software assets.
Brewer noted “the effort to track remaining or outlying systems that have not already been identified would be very time consuming and resource intensive,” and would not likely yield any new information.
According to Brewer’s office, the budget also allocates funding to the areas of K-12 and higher education; healthcare and human services; and infrastructure and government.
Brewer said the budget provides funding for fire safety, Adult Protective Services, Alzheimer’s research, rural hospitals and establishes a Veteran Home in Yuma.
In addition, funding is provided for tourism, protecting Arizona’s water supply and military bases.
By Nick Worth