The deep cuts in the state Senate’s budget would doom the collaboration between ASU and Payson and result in a whole new round of layoffs at the already battered Payson Unified School District, local officials said Thursday.
Late Wednesday night within hours of its unveiling, the Senate adopted an $8 billion budget with an extra $600 million in cuts on a straight party-line vote.
The Senate budget would cut much deeper than the already stringent budget proposed by Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this year. The Senate plan would limit borrowing and avoid tactics like postponing required payments into the next fiscal year.
The Senate budget must still win the support of the House and Gov. Jan
Brewer to actually take effect.
Senate Pro Tem President Sylvia Allen, who represents Rim Country, supported the additional $65 million cut in support for the universities, on top of the $170 million proposed by Brewer. In addition, the Senate budget would cut more than $250 million from K-12 education.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans on Thursday said that the Senate budget would put an end to Payson’s two-year effort to convince Arizona State University to build a campus here.
He said key legislators are using the pretext of the budget crisis to settle old scores with the universities. “If you’re against education, against universities, you should be honest enough to say that’s your object. But to go beyond what you need to balance the budget to take another $65 million from the universities, that just makes no sense,” he
Payson and ASU have nearly completed studies on the feasibility of building a high-tech, energy self-sufficient undergraduate campus here, with tuition half as high as the other campuses in the state. A key marketing study on the plan is due out next week.
However, Evans said the Senate plan would leave ASU without enough staff to develop the new campus and would probably force the state’s universities to cut enrollment and ration admissions for the first time in state history.
The university cuts in the Senate budget would come on top of $230 million in cuts in the past two years. The Legislature since 2008 has slashed state funding for universities by 42 percent — or about $465 million.
The Senate budget would also cause a new round of crises at the Payson Unified School District. The school board has already tried to cope with a projected $900,000 deficit by voting to close Frontier Elementary School, laying off 22 employees and letting class sizes grow by 10 to 20 percent.
Superintendent Casey O’Brien said the Senate budget plan could force another round of deep cuts.
O’Brien said the proposed $250-million cut in state support for K-12 schools works out to about $300 per student. Currently, the state spends $3,267 per student, among the lowest rates in the nation.
In the Payson Unified School District, that would translate into a loss of about $600,000. That translates into about 12 teachers — or about 8 percent of total teaching staff.
The Senate budget would continue the freeze on per-student payments, reduce money for capital improvements by $182 million and cut “soft capital” spending for books, supplies and equipment by $212 million. However, the state has already in the past few years started spending that capital money on operating costs.
O’Brien said the Senate budget would have a big impact on the district.
“I understand the concern with rolling over debt, but maybe that’s when you start having a revenue discussion.”
The Senate budget includes several major new corporate tax breaks, which will increase the deficit.
Otherwise, the Senate plan relies entirely on spending cuts to close the projected deficit. The budget plan will give Arizona among the lowest corporate and income tax rates in the nation, but also the second-highest poverty rate and the lowest per-student spending rate.
The Senate budget plan also included hard blows for cities and counties.
For instance, the budget includes $100 million in cuts that really just shift spending to cities and counties.
As one example, the Senate proposed cutting $55 million from the steadily rising prison budget by making counties responsible for the final year of an inmate’s sentence. The counties will either have to put the prisoner in a county jail or pay the state to keep the prisoner in a state prison. However, the Gila County jail is already so overcrowded that the county has started letting many prisoners out early.
In addition, the Senate budget would also take away from cities and towns $43 million they normally get from the vehicle license tax.
Gov. Jan Brewer has said she will continue to work with the Senate and House to produce some sort of compromise budget plan, but expressed disappointment the Senate didn’t work out an agreement with her office before adopting its budget plan.