Gov. Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey

Arizona Senate leaders appear headed for a budget confrontation with Gov. Doug Ducey, with a budget plan that spends some $500 million less on education, children’s health care and other proposals in the governor’s January budget proposal.

The Senate budget offers more than $100 million less for school facilities, $35 million less for the state’s three universities and even $1.5 million less to maintain health care coverage for children in low-income families.

The state’s $11 billion budget wound up with a $1 billion surplus this year. Ducey put half that surplus into the state’s rainy-day fund. The Senate plan would essentially bank the whole surplus. The plan would provide an increase for prisons and raises for law enforcement as well as an additional 5 percent raise for teachers. Both budgets also include $40 million in new spending for improvements on Interstate 17.

However, the Senate leadership wants to cut Ducey’s education spending by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Districts like Payson had been hoping for money to finally make headway on millions of dollars in long-deferred maintenance. The Arizona Legislature has refused to fund a court-ordered schools facilities plan ever since the onset of the recession back in 2008. Payson schools recently hired a consultant who documented some $12 million in improvements needed to upgrade or maintain school facilities, including millions in school security measures.

The consultants said the state needs to spend about $5 million annually to catch up and avoid much bigger maintenance and facilities problems in the future. However, the district has only about $500,000 in the capital budget, with much of that coming from the last of the money from the sale of Frontier Elementary School.

The Senate budget plan came just as teacher groups throughout the state had started laying plans to once again ramp up the Red for Ed movement, which last year helped win a 10 percent pay raise for teachers.

The pro-schools movement last year demanded not only raises for teachers, but for other school employees as well. The movement’s priorities included regular increases in per-student funding until Arizona reached the national average. Currently, Arizona ranks roughly 48th in per-student spending, with the largest class sizes in the nation.

However, the Senate budget proposal now means education advocates may have to shift to merely supporting Gov. Ducey’s budget plan, which they had initially dismissed as too slow to boost school spending. Education advocates had been pushing to restore inflation-adjusted, per-student funding to pre-recession levels.

The Senate proposal would cut spending by about $500 million in order to more rapidly pay off the leases on state buildings, used to raise extra money during the recession. The debt payoff would come on top of Ducey’s proposal to double the state’s rainy-day fund to about $1 billion, while continuing to whittle down the already minimal state income tax. Earlier budgets had already slashed the state’s tax on corporations.

Some of the differences seemed more philosophical than financial. For instance, Gov. Ducey’s budget included $1.5 million to continue health care coverage for children from low-income families. A federal program had provided 100 percent funding for children in families with too much income to qualify for AHCCCS, but not enough to pay for health insurance on their own. The federal funding next year will cover just 90 percent of the cost. But rather than pay the $1.5 million state share, the Senate plan would shut down the program.

The details of the Senate budget proposal leaked this week and haven’t yet come to a vote. A number of Senate Republicans have already criticized the budget plan. House and Senate Democrats have made statements supportive of the governor’s budget plan. This suggests the governor could still push through something approaching his original proposal with support from both parties, even if the Senate Republican leadership pushes a different plan.The differences between Gov. Ducey’s budget and the Senate proposal include:

New school construction: Ducey $141 million. Senate — $0.

School resource officers and Counselors: Ducey $20 million, Senate $10 million.

Extra funding for high performing schools: Ducey $59 million. Senate $0.

Teacher’s Academy (to train more teachers): Ducey $21 million. Senate $0.

Pima College Aviation Center: Ducey $20 million. Senate $10 million.

State Board for Charter Schools (staff for regulation): Ducey — $800,000. Senate $400,000.The division between the governor and Senate Republicans comes just as organizers of last year’s Red for Ed teacher demonstrations have been considering a fresh push to recover the ground lost since the recession.

Both. Gov. Ducey’s budget and the Senate plan included enough additional money for education to fund an additional 5 percent teacher pay raise this year. However, neither budget would make significant progress in boosting per-student spending to the national average.

The Payson Unified School District’s preliminary budget plan would give teachers an average 5 percent raise, on top of last year’s 12 percent. It would also give administrators a roughly 10 percent raise, including a new merit pay plan. Last year, administrators didn’t get a raise. The preliminary budget also included a roughly 5 percent raise for non-teaching staff. However, the raises used up most of the new money in the anticipated budget — forcing cuts in other areas.

Adoption of the Senate budget would likely cause major changes in the spending plan for Payson schools, where officials had counted on the governor’s proposed capital spending plan for schools to begin making progress on capital needs.

Arizona Educators United — which organized the Red for Ed protests last year — has said it will continue to push for returning per-student funding to 2008 levels, competitive pay for all education support professionals, annual pay increases until Arizona reaches the national average for teacher pay and a halt to tax cuts until the state reaches the national average in per-student funding.

Teachers and their supporters have already staged a demonstration in Tucson, even before word of the Senate budget proposal leaked out.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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