Brewer, Legislature's leaders lay out priorities

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- Leaders of the Arizona Legislature showed unexpected signs of interparty cooperation Friday as they joined in committing to reforming the state's child welfare system, crafting a budget and working to boost education funding.

Minority Democrats and Republicans who control the House and Senate largely agreed on those issues during a panel discussion at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry's yearly pre-session luncheon Friday. They agreed CPS needs major reforms, while committing to wait for reports outlining what caused more than 6,500 child abuse and neglect cases to go uninvestigated in recent years.

Gov. Jan Brewer too committed to fixing Child Protective Services, although she did not provide specifics.

"Everybody has ideas of what should be done and we will get this horrible situation that outraged myself and everybody else that lives in Arizona resolved," Brewer said. "We're not going to sit here and not have eyes on every child that is reported as being abused. We're going to make sure that it's workable and we will do whatever it takes under my watch to get it fixed."

The Legislature opens its 2014 session Monday with a speech from Brewer where she is expected to provide specifics of her priorities this session.

On Friday, Brewer touted Arizona's economic comeback in her speech to the chamber members, citing decreased regulations and taxes that were drawing new businesses to the state.

Companies are no longer skipping over Arizona when considering their next investment," she said while ticking off a list of firms that had committed to setting up shop in Arizona last year, including a billion-dollar plus Apple facility in suburban Phoenix. She hinted of more economic incentives for business to come.

She also spoke of boosting the state's education system, another priority of the Chamber.

"We must have world class academic standards if we are going to develop graduates who can compete against the best and the brightest worldwide, and I remain focused to find a workable way to measure the readiness of our K-12 students for higher education," Brewer said. That was a reference to a new state academic standards test that may have a hard road ahead in the Legislature because of opposition to new "Common Core" standards from some conservative Republicans.

"In the next three years we're going to add roughly just in baseline spending another $650 million plus," Senate President Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican, said. "So for fiscal year '14 through '17 you're going to be just shy of a billion dollars added as new money to the K-12 education system."

Senate minority Leader Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, praised that funding while noting that $3 billion was cut from education during the Great Recession.

"Yes, we have come a ways from last year, but we've got a ways to go from that $3 billion that was cut from education.

On CPS reform, Biggs, Tovar, GOP House Speaker Andy Tobin and House minority leader Chad Campbell agreed it will be a major push.

"When I talk to members, Republicans and Democrats alike, the answer is they want eyes on those kids, they want to make sure they're OK and now let's go fix it," Tobin said. "I think that's where everyone's trying to be patient."

All four and Brewer are waiting from CPS change recommendations from a team created by Brewer early last month. But all agreed big changes are ahead.

"It is going to require systemic, fundamental changes," Tovar said, "because we essentially cannot keep what is existing and make maybe some funding changes, and expect it to work."

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