Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jobs, education and child safety top budget priorities for Arizona House Democrats

Jobs, education and child safety top budget priorities for Arizona House Democrats

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Today the Arizona House Democrats released a balanced budget proposal that promotes the priorities of the people of Arizona.

“We had three main objectives when we developed the House Democratic Budget this year – to fund job creation, education, and child and family safety,” House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix (District 24), said. “Our budget consists of common-sense investments that will help get Arizona back on track. And we accomplish these goals while keeping our budget balanced.”

The House Democratic Budget for fiscal year 2015 includes:

·         $103 million for K-12 public education
·         $93 million for higher education
·         $400 million over five years for the Highway User Revenue Fund
·         $193 million for child and family safety

Rep. Andrew Sherwood, D-Tempe (District 26), who serves on the Arizona House Appropriations Committee, highlighted this budget’s substantial investment in education.

“For years, the Republican-led Legislature has cut money from public education. This year, we’ve seen even more attempts to syphon dollars away from our schools through voucher programs,” he said. “Our budget proposal reverses that trend and invests more than $100 million in our K-12 public schools. This money can be used to support teacher professional development, Common Core Standards implementation and additional assistance for school districts that have been starved of resources for too long. We need to send a message that we are ready to reinvest in our public schools. So we’re proposing the rollback of two dysfunctional school tuition organization tax credit programs, which cost the state millions of dollars and only help a select few students.”

Sherwood added that the House Democratic Budget focuses on higher education.

“The strength of our economy is linked to the strength of our schools, community colleges and universities,” he said. “This is why we’re supporting university parity funding, community college workforce and science, technology, engineering and mathematics development, and the Arizona Financial Aid Trust. We made a commitment to provide more financial aid opportunities to qualified students who are struggling to pay for their studies. We need to fulfill that commitment because it is good for our students and for our economy. It’s in the state’s best interest to ensure our students are prepared for an economy that is becoming more competitive and more global.”

Rep. Stefanie Mach, D-Tucson (District 10), who also serves on the Appropriations Committee, said this budget proposal encourages job creation by restoring money to the Highway User Revenue Fund and by providing more support for state parks.

“Our proposal allocates $40 million for HURF. This would be the first installment in a five-year plan to restore this fund,” Mach said. “Cities and towns use this money to build and repair infrastructure including roads and streets that were neglected at the height of the recession. Now is the time to develop and strengthen our state’s infrastructure so that we can continue on the path of economic recovery.”

Mach said the proposal also includes money for state parks to pay for ongoing capital projects and maintenance projects that were postponed during the recession. Additionally, there is a proposed allocation for the Arizona State Land Department for land management treatments designed to decrease the severity of wildland fires.

“These budget items are about two things: public safety and job creation,” Mach said. “Keeping our parks safe promotes tourism, and that creates jobs. Keeping our forests healthy is literally a matter of life and death in this state. Our budget proposal supports both of those things and would create upwards of 400 jobs.”

Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix (District 24), who is another member of the Appropriation Committee, said the 2015 budget proposal reflects the value House Democrats place on keeping children, seniors and families safe.

“Recently, we’ve seen the tragic aftermath of a neglected child welfare system,” Alston said. “Since we learned that approximately 6,000 Child Protective Services reports went uninvestigated, we have been able to identify some serious problems with the system. These issues will take time and resources to correct. We can’t just change the name of the agency and hope for a better outcome. There must be real transformation that starts with accountability and with ensuring there are enough caseworkers to handle our caseload. Also, we have to make sure that caseworkers have the tools they need to do their jobs. To address that issue, we are budgeting to replace the outdated and inefficient computer system that child welfare staffers currently use to manage their cases.”

Alston said the child and family welfare system will likely remain overburdened until the state invests in prevention services.

“Our state’s safety net has been eroded and the programs designed to help keep struggling families from falling into crisis have sustained severe budget cuts. The most effective way to cut down on cases of abuse and neglect is to support the services designed to stop these situations from developing, which is why we are suggesting that the state put money toward hunger, homelessness and domestic violence prevention,” Alston said. “Our budget also includes $50 million for childcare subsidies. Ensuring more families know they have access to safe, affordable childcare would go a long way to help people get back to work as we attempt to recover from the economic downturn.”

A complete copy of the budget proposal is available below.

2015 Budget Proposal

2015 Budget Proposal Narrative

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