Gov. Jan Brewer releases $9.3B budget plan

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday released a $9.3 billion spending plan for the coming budget year that includes nearly $74 million to set up a new Child Protective Services department and hire more than 200 new child welfare workers.

The plan is a modest 5 percent boost from the current year and depends on using part of a nearly $900 million surplus socked away in recent years that will be used up in three years.

Other key items include $40 million for a new education funding plan rewarding schools that show test score improvements, money to accelerate the evening out of funding between the state's three universities and and $9.2 million for a new veteran's home in Yuma.

The plan covers what Brewer wants the Legislature to approve for the budget year beginning on July. 1. The governor's plan serves as a roadmap for lawmakers who must pass the budget.

Brewer wants CPS moved into a new stand-alone state agency. She also wants $15 million this budget year to begin hiring workers and handle costs of a rising caseload.

A key member of the Republican-controlled Legislature said the plan appeared to focus on top priorities while not breaking the bank.

"The areas that she is advocating for I think a lot of people in the Legislature are advocating for, said Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. "So I think we'll be able to work together on most of these areas. It's just a matter of resolving the final amount, which is typical."

The money for the governor's new cabinet-level Division of Child Safety and Family Services that will replace CPS includes $25 million in transition costs, 68 new investigators for its law enforcement investigations unit, and an additional 120 staffers. The budget also calls for a down payment on a new computer system to replace an antiquated system.

Democrats also were generally pleased, with the usual caveats.

"It's a good start, but we want to see some improvement in some areas," said Rep. Ruben Gallego, the House assistant minority leader. "We're happy obviously that we're starting to address the CPS problem. We have some concerns that we may not be able to hire as many caseworkers as we need to come up to the national standards, and also there's a lack of investment on the preventive side of CPS."

Democrats also weren't happy that Brewer's school performance plan didn't include money for teacher training, and that the budget didn't restore any of the money that was cut from education during the Great Recession.

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