So Arizona will soon have a state budget. A bill finally emerged shortly before 4 a.m. Friday, passed rigidly along partisan lines, and Gov. Doug Ducey is expected to sign it into law.
Not surprisingly, each side painted its own version of reality for voters after the caffeine and Visine kicked in. Ducey blared triumphant.
Ducey's statement: “Arizona has passed a budget that prioritizes education, boosts teacher pay, and invests in our universities — all without raising taxes on hardworking Arizonans. For the first time in a decade, we are making significant and lasting investments to grow our state.”
The Senate Democratic Caucus statement: “The priorities reflected in this purely Republican budget are that of partisanship over democracy, special interests over the public interest and hollow talking points over meaningful substance. It's hard to imagine, but Governor Ducey must not consider teachers, the working poor and our universities to be areas of common concern.”
Through all the smoke, mirrors, and distinctly not-so-purple political haze, Arizona’s $9.8 billion budget touches the lives of you and me. As with all budgets, there are winners and losers, windfalls and missed opportunities, and a handful of head-scratchers.
Here’s a rundown of some of what lawmakers have done for you recently.
Taxpayers: You will pay less. The budget cuts personal income tax by $10 million. That translates to an estimated $4 per family, or about 90 percent of the typical price of one Big Mac. Fries with that? You’ll have to wait until next year, as GOP lawmakers have promised annual tax cuts. Still, times are tight and every bit helps.
Teachers: Teachers will get a 2 percent raise, or about $1,000. The budget adds $68 million toward raises for K-12 instructors. They also can get free university tuition if they stick around an Arizona classroom a while.
Universities: The budget put in $27 million into university facilities, mostly research labs that will leverage $1 billion in investment in Arizona’s three public universities.
Women: The budget requires the Arizona Department of Health to apply to manage federal Title X services, which woul bar abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from getting that funding. That would only happen if the US Department of Health and Human Services grants such a future request. Planned Parenthood says more than half its Arizona patients rely on Title X for birth control, annual exams, and STI testing and treatment.
Motorists: Drivers on rural highways and byways should experience slightly less disheveled driving conditions. For years, lawmakers have raided state highway funds to pay for other priorities, but this year it kept $30 million intact for rural roads.
Parks: Lawmakers earmarked an extra $6.6 million to expand the state parks system, starting with $4 million for a place called Rockin’ River Ranch. It’s on the Verde River.
Kids in poverty: About 17,000 of them may have a harder time getting health care if they depend on KidsCare, which is fully funded by the feds. Last year lawmakers restored it, but now, if Uncle Sam drops below full funding, the state will halt processing new applications. Any family making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, but too much to qualify for Medicaid, would be at risk. Also, Democrats asked for a restoration of TANF, the welfare program that President Clinton overhauled, to give cash to families in poverty. Nothing doing at 1700 West Washington Street.
Heroin addicts: The state added $220,900 to combat opioid addiction. It's an epidemic.
At-risk children: Arizona will spend an extra $6.1 million to upgrade the Department of Child Safety’s outdated electronic management system. Coherent management of child-abuse cases has long dogged Arizona. Some kids fall between the cracks with tragic consequences. Meanwhile lawmakers earmarked $2 million for adoption services, in a state with a huge backlog of adoption requests. The state also increased by $1 million the support available to people who take care of kids in their extended family, otherwise known as the “grandma stipend.”
Water conservationists: Arizona will spend another $2 million for a drought plan.
Rape victims: The state will spend $1.2 million to “completely eliminate,” Ducey's office promised, the backlog on testing sexual assault kits.
Gangsters in Maricopa County: They may have a slightly easier time of it. The legislature axed $1.6 million in gang and immigration enforcement funds for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
Crooked public officials: They may have a slightly harder time of it. The state will hire four more auditors to root out fraud, corruption, wastefulness, and embezzlement. We wish them luck with that.
Private prisons: The state will add 1,000 beds thanks to an injection of $7.1 million from general funds and the State Land Trust. Wasn't that supposed to go to schools?
Community colleges: Depends on where you are. If you go to the Gila Community College, which is not accredited and, state auditors said, is vulnerable to fraud, you’ll see an extra $250,000. If you are at any of the colleges in the Maricopa County Community College District, the largest in the United States, you won’t see a copper (or whatever cheap alloy we use these days) penny from the Capitol.
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Champion horse breeders: Yes, you read that right. Lawmakers reinstated a pool of $250,000 for prizes to people who breed a horse in Arizona that wins a race in Arizona. Better than a trifecta.
Freedom: Freedom isn’t free, we’ve been told. Too true. In a nod to the billionaire conservative Koch brothers, lawmakers put in $1 million to teach the ideal of free enterprise on university campuses. The idea was to dilute the lefty drivel that GOP lawmakers think most students are subjected to these days. ASU, for what it’s worth, boasts being named the most innovative school in the country for the second year running by U.S. News and World Report.