Let the budget games begin.
On Friday afternoon, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs released her Proposed Budget for the Fiscal Year 2024/25.
Among the highlights of the budget are:
- $13 million in Affordable Housing Assistance.
- $191 million investment in providing Child Care Assistance for Arizona Families.
- A chance for children to have 1.5 million free or reduced-cost meals at school.
- Over $300 million for school construction and renovation.
- $545,200 to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Division that will “promote prescription drug affordability and overall healthcare savings for Arizonans.”
- Increased resources to Operations SECURE (Safety, Enforcement, Coordination, & Uniform Response) and SAFE (Stopping Arizona’s Fentanyl Epidemic) to help monitor the border with Mexico and prevent illegal drug penetration into the state.
- $73 million toward Grand Canyon State Resiliency Programs to protect Arizona’s water supply, forest acreage, and air quality.
- Over $400 million in funding for Arizona’s Universities including investments in Health Care and Teaching Preparation Programs and a $325 million pool for ASU, U of A, and NAU to be able to ask for and possess bonding authority.
- About $25 million in healthcare licensing reform to stop corruption and poor care for the state’s most vulnerable.
Please click here to view the full proposed budget from the Governor’s office.
With the state showing, thanks in part to decreased revenues from Ducey era tax cuts and the expanded welfare for the wealthy Empowerment Scholarship Account private school voucher expansion, the Governor and her team have proposed a range of cost-saving measures including:
- Cuts in still uncompleted one-time and transportation projects.
- Shifting funds from state boards and agencies to the general fund.
- A one percent cut in Gubernatorial and Legislative operations costs.
- Reinstinstituting requirements that E.S.A. recipients must attend a public school for 100 days before attending a private one and applying for the scholarship. That could save $245 million. In a comment to AZ Mirror, the Governor’s spokesperson, Christian Slater stated: “We believe that the state shouldn’t be subsidizing parents who were already sending kids to private schools. So, when you look at the program, if you’re already sending your kid to the private school without having ever sent them to a public school, we don’t believe that’s going to move back to public school.”
- Eliminating the state tax credit for the state’s school tuition organization (STO) program. Talk about double dipping for the state’s wealthy plutocrats. That could save $185 million starting in the 2025/26 fiscal year.
In a press release with the release of the Budget, Governor Hobbs commented:
“Arizonans are counting on us to make the state we call home the best place to live, work, and raise a family. We made incredible progress during my first year in office, and my Executive Budget proposal builds on this foundation and expands opportunities for every Arizonan to reach their full potential. We are cutting out the wasteful taxpayer spending while making critical investments that will help middle-class families buy a home, expand access to childcare, make prescription drugs more affordable, and protect disabled Arizonans and seniors. This is what it looks like to invest in our communities and build a state that works for every Arizonan.”
Democrats Rejoice and Republicans Whine.
It was only minutes after the Governor’s team released her budget that the reactions started hitting cyber world.
House Democratic Leader Lupe Contreras stated in a press release:
“We applaud the Governor for producing a budget that protects the priorities that will drive our state forward and that our caucus has consistently championed for our communities – public education, affordable housing, childcare for working families, and vital services for the most vulnerable Arizonans. She is listening and leading. However, decades of irresponsible Republican tax policies and the expansion of ESA vouchers with no oversight have created a revenue shortfall that appears to be ballooning. Even in a strong and growing economy, our job gets tougher every day. We will have to work very hard and together to fulfill our obligations to help our most vulnerable populations, to fund our public school students and teachers, to ensure public safety, to help our overburdened border communities, and to secure our incarcerated populations. We have our starting point and it’s time for the adults in the room to get to work on some tough decisions.”
Arizona Senate Democrats posted on social media:
Phrases like “widely unrealistic,” “an unserious mess,” and “dead on arrival” seemed to be especially popular among the Republican legislative leaders after the budget’s release.
Pro-public education activist groups expressed their approval of the Governor’s budget.
Marisol Garcia of the Arizona Education Association offered:
“In 2021, former Governor Doug Ducey and his supporters in the legislature passed a massive tax cut for the rich. In 2022, they passed an ESA voucher program with zero financial accountability and no spending limitations.
Today, as a direct result of those decisions, our state has an enormous budget shortfall, as much as $1.7 billion.
In the face of this shortfall, our message is simple. We cannot allow our legislature to prioritize the out-of-control ESA voucher program over K-12 public schools and other vital public services.
Arizona educators are committed to helping all of our students succeed, no matter who they are or where they live. We work long hours every week to live up to that commitment. But there is only so much we can do when our A/C systems haven’t been repaired in years, our colleagues keep leaving for better-paying jobs in other states, and our kids show up to school late because our district can’t hire enough bus drivers. Our K-12 public schools are underfunded as it is, and funding cuts are simply not acceptable.
We’re grateful to Governor Hobbs for laying out a budget framework that prevents cuts to K-12 public education, avoids major cuts to other critical programs, and reins in the cost of the ESA voucher program. Now it’s up to legislators of both parties to follow her lead and craft a budget that actually meets the needs of Arizonans – not just the very rich. “
Save Our Schools Arizona issued a press release which read:
“Save Our Schools Arizona applauds Governor Hobbs’ 2024 budget proposal, which represents true level-headed leadership for our state. Despite the challenges associated with the massive $1.7 billion budget shortfall created by imprudent Ducey-era tax cuts for the rich and unaccountable ESA vouchers, we are encouraged to see Governor Hobbs keep her promise to protect K-12 spending for all 1 million students across Arizona.
We support the governor’s commitment to rein in the runaway voucher grift that is plaguing our state. The Governor’s Office understands that the only way to resolve the Republican-created deficit and achieve a responsible, constitutionally mandated budget is to implement true accountability for the out-of-control ESA voucher program and cut irresponsible spending on both ESA and STO tax credit vouchers. These commonsense, fiscally prudent measures will save taxpayers an estimated $400 million and initiate long-overdue transparency for these taxpayer funds.
We further commend Governor Hobbs for her efforts to reclaim $7 million in funding from the Arizona Department of Education and Superintendent Horne, who has squandered taxpayer dollars advertising the very ESA voucher program that is draining our state’s resources.
It is deeply unfortunate that this budget cannot do more for Arizona students and educators. However, the blame for these limitations rests squarely on the massive funding gaps created by former Governor Ducey’s shortsighted and irresponsible economic policies. Instead of teacher pay raises, Arizona is funding Lego sets and cruise excursions through ESA vouchers. Instead of providing adequate resources and programs for our state’s 1 million students, Arizona is writing checks to the wealthy to subsidize private school tuition.
Save Our Schools Arizona is committed to working together with Governor Hobbs and K-12 stakeholders across Arizona to achieve this sensible and fiscally responsible agenda, ensuring a brighter future for Arizona’s education system and for the students who depend on it.”
The Children’s Action Alliance issued a statement on the budget, relaying:
“Thank you to Governor Hobbs for prioritizing child care in her budget proposal. On Friday afternoon, the Governor released her budget proposal signifying her priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Included in that budget was $100M to stave off a looming funding cliff facing childcare providers and parents in Arizona.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal childcare relief stabilized Arizona’s early care and education system. It helped childcare programs improve wages, benefits, and professional learning for their workforce. However, these funds will sunset in September 2024, resulting in a childcare fiscal cliff that could see as many as one-third of Arizona’s childcare programs close and nearly 100,000 children and their families could lose the child care they depend on.
We can’t let that happen for families, providers, or our economy. Yes, the $100,000 million in Governor Hobb’s budget is just as vital for the Arizona economy as Arizona’s families. A recent report by the Century Foundation showed that without sustained childcare funding:
Arizona employers will lose $278 million in employee productivity.
As many as 5,000 childcare jobs will be lost.
Arizona parents will lose a combined $257 million as a result of cutting hours or leaving the workforce altogether.
This proposed funding is a great first step to address this crisis.”
It is now the Republican’s turn to offer their budget plan.
After that, the process of budget negotiations and the political gamesmanship that goes with it will begin.
According to Jim Small of AZ Mirror, the Governor and her team are counting on the people, come November, will not reward the party that allows the wealthiest to use state funds to pay for new pianos, horseback riding, personal trainers, and driving lessons in a Mercedes Benz.
With 65 percent of polled Arizona residents (from Stand for Arizona) supporting reforms to the E.S.A. program and over 70 percent supporting fully funded all-day kindergarten and Universal Pre-K, it is not difficult to see why the Governor thinks that and which side most voters will support this election year.