Now that Arizona's state budget has been adopted, everyone is heading towards the exit. Adjournment (Sine die) could be the week of Easter or the first part of April.
With the budget done, we're finding that nearly everyone seems to hate the state budget. We've seen legislators expressing buyer's remorse, and others saying that no other options were available to overcome the cuts that were adopted. The reality is that very few people got to see the budget details until Tuesday, March 3rd. The rush was on to get the budget voted on by Friday, March 7th. That was accomplished by a night of floor debate in the House and the Senate. Governor Ducey signed the budget on Thursday, March 12th.
When legislative session began in January, the state was facing over a $1 billion deficit. Arizona has been plagued by a chronic structural deficit in its state budget and by a disappointingly mild come-back from the Great Recession.
As the Arizona Republic noted, "The worst aspect of the $9.1 billion budget passed in the wake of a marathon all-night session was .... Virtually no detail of this budget was debated in public. Majority Republicans had all of three days to digest what it included. Democrats had less."
The state budget, one of the most important tasks to be undertaken by the legislature, is now a done deal. What's in the budget and how does it impact our community? That's something we're all unraveling and assessing.
Some of those concerns revolve around cuts to K-12 and higher education. A few of the major cuts include: cutting core student funding for district and charter schools by $117 M; reducing future funding for schools with declining student populations and students participating in technical education; slashing university funding by $99 M; and eliminating $16 M in state funds for community colleges in Maricopa and Pima Counties. As you have seen in the media, some local school districts are already talking about staff reductions and perhaps going to a 4-day school week. People planning to attend college will to see higher tuition or fees.
Concerns among those seeking to assure a viable social safety net are: 1) cutting in half the time that our poorest mothers and children can receive TANF Cash Assistance (putting Arizona as the only state in the nation providing only 12 months of support); 2) sweeping funds from the Attorney General's legal settlement that were being used for three needed housing programs including one that provides assistance to veterans with service-connected disabilities seeking accessibility improvements to their homes; and, 3) cutting $11 million to handle the backlog of cases in child welfare even though the backlog is larger than ever.
The health sector saw cuts that include the following: 1) 5% provider cut for AHCCCS/DHS providers except for nursing homes, home and community based services and DD providers, reducing the state general fund outlay by $37 M which translates into about $234 M loss in total funds with adverse impacts on providers and possible loss of some providers unwilling to accept AHCCCS-eligible patients; 2) elimination of the funding for Mental Health First Aid and the School-Based Prevention Education; and, 3) failure to fund drug courts in Maricopa and Pima counties.
The budget presupposes that AHCCCS will be able to obtain federal government waivers that: 1) requires all able-bodied adults receiving Medicaid (AHCCCS) services to work or look for work or attend school; 2) restricts benefits for able-bodied adults to a lifetime limit of five years; and 3) imposes cost-sharing requirements to deter both non-emergency use of emergency departments and the use of ambulance services for non-emergency transportation or for trips that are not medically necessary.
Included in the "pact" of budget bills was the planned move of Behavioral Health to AHCCCS, effective July 1, 2016. The bill containing that provision provides little detail about the process or details that many in the community are concerned about, such as the administration of the federal behavioral health block grants, crisis services, housing , supported employment, and interface with peer and family groups just to name a few.
Over the past week, legislative debates have been about "hot button" issues such as Common Core (state standards for education), abortion coverage under Health Insurance Exchanges, and gun rights. Some bills, including an attempt to move the state's primary election date earlier, and a proposal to reduce the state's income tax by any amount of online sales tax that Congress may enact, failed repeatedly despite their sponsors' attempts to convince colleagues to support their goals.
There are a few bills of interest that have not yet completed the legislative process. There is time in the remaining days of session for those needed policy changes to be passed. Issues still in play involve co-location of behavioral health and physical health, along with concerns involving the Board of Behavioral Health Examiners. One bill that will get extensive press coverage, HB 2166, known as flex-loans (or payday lending by another name) has the potential to impact community members who struggle financial to pay their bills.
Next month the session-end wrap-up will capture the themes from the 2015 session. As Ralph Nader observed, "There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship." We do indeed have our work cut out for us.