Hobbs’ budget would repeal the school voucher expansion, scrap the Border Strike Force
Gov. Katie Hobbs’ budget proposal includes $17.1 billion in total spending for the 2024 fiscal year, including an end to last year’s expansion of the universal school vouchers, removing around 40,000 students from the program.
The budget includes $273.7 million in new funding for education, with a total education budget of $9 billion, which includes nixing the school voucher program, a plan that will almost certainly be killed by the Republican legislature.
“We see this as a starting point and we want to work with the legislature,” Hobbs’ chief of staff, Allie Bones, told reporters Friday morning. “We have our doors open for them to come in and listen to our proposals. We hope that they will talk to us. The governor has been very clear that her door is open for anybody who wants to work to find solutions for the people of Arizona and a continuation budget is not working for the people of Arizona.”
Republican House Speaker Ben Toma tweeted Friday that he and his colleagues were reviewing the governor’s proposed budget.
“Based on the left-wing wish list of spending details disclosed so far, I’m confident to say that it will be dead on arrival,” he said in the tweet.
Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli declined to comment on the budget proposal.
“If Governor Hobbs really wants to work with us on a state budget, she has a funny way of showing it,” House Majority Leader Leo Biasuicci tweeted. “Attacking school choice, peddling state-funded abortions, and incentivizing illegal immigration in Arizona are all non-starters and, frankly, something you’d expect to see proposed by a politician in California, not Arizona.”
About 85%, or $2.1 billion, of the new spending Hobbs proposes is on one-time projects.
If the voucher program is repealed, it would save the state more than $135 million, according to estimates from the Hobbs administration. The Hobbs administration plans to continue to program as it was prior to the universal expansion, meaning that vouchers will be available only to certain students, including those in special education and who previously attended failing public schools.
Hobbs’ budget includes $273.7 million in new K-12 spending, and a total of $9 billion in education spending. That includes $10.9 million in new spending to help districts deal with inflationary costs and $198.6 million in additional base funding support for schools.
Through budget reallocation of $12.2 million, the Hobbs administration plans to get rid of the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s Border Strike Force, a creation of former Gov. Doug Ducey, and replace it with what Hobbs is calling Local Border Support. Out of the total reallocation, $11 million in one-time spending will go to grants for law enforcement agencies in border communities to “conduct border-related activities.”
The Border Strike Force was implemented by Ducey in 2015 to target border crimes and work to stop transnational criminal organizations. And while his administration touted its work, investigations by the Arizona Republic found that it routinely inflated its successes and largely didn’t do any work in border counties.
The Hobbs administration does not plan to get rid of any positions as a result of eliminating the Strike Force, but said it instead plans to fold those positions back into the Department of Public Safety.
The proposed budget includes tax cuts for women and families by eliminating sales taxes on children’s diapers feminine products, totaling about $40 million. It also would create a state-based child tax credit program for low-income families that would provide $100 tax credits per child. That program is estimated to cost $50 million.
Hobbs also plans to put $250 million into the state’s rainy day fund, which would bring the total amount socked away to more than $1.6 billion.
The spending plan is expected to get the cold shoulder in the GOP-controlled legislature.
Even before Hobbs released her budget, Republican legislative leaders announced a plan to pass a continuation budget that continues spending at current levels before entering into negotiations with Hobbs for the true 2024 budget.
The Republicans said their plans were to have continuation budget bills on Hobbs’ desk by early February, but the Hobbs administration panned the idea on Friday.
“The government cannot kick the can down the road on the serious issues our state is dealing with,” Hobbs spokeswoman Josselyn Berry told the Arizona Mirror. “A continuation of the ‘skinny budget’ would be exactly that. Arizonans are demanding that we do better. The governor has been clear with the members of the Legislature: If you are willing to work in good faith to find common ground, then her door is open.”
Other education investments
Hobbs’ 2024 budget proposal includes $173 million to complete construction on three new schools, $349 million for building renewal projects at school facilities and $1 million for in-person inspections of school facilities.
It also proposes $169 million in new investments in higher education, for a total of $2.4 billion in spending on higher education.
Hobbs plans to double the state’s investment for aide to rural community colleges increasing that funding by $14 million, to increase funding to the Promise Program by $40 million to help 15,000 low-income students attend college and to expand that program at a cost of an additional $40 million to allow undocumented more than 3,000 undocumented students to take part in the program.
Housing and health
The proposed budget would deposit $150 million into the Housing Trust Fund to help Arizonans who are struggling with things like utility bills and emergency rent assistance.
Foster care would get $11 million to backfill losses in federal funding and adoption services would get $11.5 million to fund caseload increases and prevention programs.
The budget allocated $20 million to expand income eligibility for the KidsCare program and $6 million for a grant program to expand family planning services to low-income families.
The budget puts $205 million toward capital projects for state agencies within the Department of Administration as well as $10 million to replace 206 aging agency vehicles.
It also puts $50 million toward the Rural Broadband Accelerated Match Fund and $16 million more to broadband infrastructure at state facilities.
The governor plans to invest in advanced fuel and electric vehicles by spending $15 million to install electric vehicle charging stations and to invest in advanced fuel infrastructure for the state fleet and $7.5 million to install election charging and advanced fuel infrastructure for vehicles at state facilities and for public use.
The attorney general’s office will get $3 million to create 18 new positions in its criminal division, $4 million for a 15% raise for those in the Child and Family Protection Division and $1.8 million for 13 new positions in Consumer Protection and Advocacy.
Superior courts would get $7.6 to support raises for probation officers and the Supreme Court would get $3 million to replace its probation case management system.
The governor also wants to invest $200 million to improve employee retention at the Department of Administration.
The budget would put $333 million into the state’s Long-Term Water Augmentation Fund and $15 million for grants to rural Arizonans and Latino and Native communities to secure certified well drillers for safe drinking water.
When it comes to public safety, Hobbs wants to put $4 million toward equipping Department of Transportation officers with body cameras and $7 million toward the creation of 83 new positions in the major incident division, which investigates law enforcement shootings in Arizona.
***CORRECTION: This story was corrected to properly identify Ben Toma as the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives.
***UPDATE: This story was updated to include comments from House Speaker Ben Toma and House Majority Leader Leo Biasuicci.
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