Arizona lawmakers shift Juvenile Corrections plan

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PHOENIX (AP) -- Republican legislators said Wednesday they're changing their budget-balancing plan to at least temporarily shelve a controversial proposal that would close the state Juvenile Corrections Department and shift its responsibilities to counties.

The change, which one lawmaker said is part of a broader cost-sharing agreement with the state's two most populous counties, could smooth over a major sticking point in Republican leaders' efforts to round up votes for their plan.

The House had scheduled debate and voting on the overall budget-balancing plan for Wednesday but instead adjourned until Thursday. House Speaker Kirk Adams said some "minor issues" needed to be ironed out, but he declined to identify them. The Senate also adjourned until Thursday.

The plan would use $1.1 billion of spending cuts, a temporary sales tax increase and sweeps from voter-mandated special funds to close a $2.6 billion shortfall next fiscal year and the remaining $700 million gap in this year's budget.

The plan's authors have said its cuts are regrettable but necessary to keep the state in the black as state tax collections are decimated by the Great Recession. Critics have called the plan's cuts irresponsible, saying they hurt needy Arizonans and put the state's future at risk.

The budget plan was largely modeled on Gov. Jan Brewer's proposal, which included closing the Juvenile Corrections Department and shifting to counties its responsibilities for custody and treatment of young offenders.

That drew complaints by county officials who said it was unfair for the state to dump $63 million of its budget trouble on counties. Municipalities objected when the original plan was revised to grab $20 million from cities and towns to reduce the burden on counties.

"It's coming out," Senate Majority Whip Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, said of the provision that would close the department. House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh said the municipalities provision also was dropped.

Instead, the department will remain as-is in the fiscal year starting July 1 while a commission studies possible changes to its responsibilities, Pierce and Kavanagh said.

Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said a deal reached by Republican legislative leaders, Brewer and officials of Maricopa and Pima counties also has those counties making multimillion contributions to the state to help pay for Juvenile Corrections and other crime-related programs.

Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said she accepted the new approach "in concept."

Key provisions of the overall plan include asking voters in November to allow $450 million to be diverted from special funds for land conservation and early childhood programs, and removing 310,000 people from the state's Medicaid program on Jan. 1 to save $385 million.

The plan presumes voter approval of a three-year sales tax increase - Proposition 100 - on a May 18 special election ballot. But it has a contingency plan to trigger $867 million of conditional spending cuts across state government - hitting education the hardest - if voters don't agree to raise the sales tax from 5.6 percent to 6.6 percent.

The biggest education cut that would take effect regardless of the sales tax vote would reduce the state's funding for all-day kindergarten to half-days to save $218 million.

The plan would cut most state employees' pay by 5 percent, with half of the reduction coming from unpaid furlough days.

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