Arizona governor signs stripped-down $11.8B budget; includes help during virus crisis
PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey signed a stripped-down emergency state budget Saturday that contains $50 million in spending to help tenants, homeowners and small businesses weather the coronavirus crisis.
The $11.8 billion spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1 essentially contains no new spending beyond required inflation adjustments and promised raises for teachers. The package was hammered out among majority Republicans and Democrats in the Senate last week.
Republicans who also control the House balked at the plan after it was approved by the Senate but finally agreed to support it Monday.
The rare bipartisan Senate package includes money to prevent evictions and foreclosures during the crisis, provide services for the homeless, assist small businesses and pay for food bank operations. It also includes longer welfare payments and a waiver from work requirements. It added to a basic budget legislation the Legislature rushed through to ensure government keeps running amid the pandemic.
The budget adds to $55 million in emergency cash approved earlier this month to fund the health department’s virus response efforts. That money would come from the state’s rainy day fund.
The Legislature adjourned for at least three weeks after the House passed the budget. The absence may be longer because the Legislature’s budget analysts believe it will take until May to see the first major effects of the coronavirus crisis on state tax revenue.
That impact is likely to be huge. Ducey has shuttered restaurants, bars and movie theaters in most counties to slow the spread of the virus. Unemployment applications have soared as resorts, airlines and other employers laid off workers.
The Legislature began its session in January expecting a budget surplus nearing $1 billion on top of the state’s $1 billion rainy day fund.
Ducey hinted in an interview on KTAR radio Tuesday that he expects the rainy day fund to be tapped for the state’s financial hit from the crisis.
“This is going to be more than a rainy day,” he said. “We’re going to utilize every resource we have to protect Arizonans, to make sure we’re fighting this public health battle and then to make sure nobody falls through the cracks, and then as soon as its appropriate that we ramp that economy back up.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
In addition to new dollars for Arizona’s COVID-19 response, new funding in this budget for top Arizona priorities includes:
-$175 million for the third installment of the 20x2020 teacher pay raise plan. In total, Arizona has added $645.2 million for Arizona’s public school teachers as part of the 20x2020 initiative – resulting in permanent funding for a 20 percent increase for average teacher pay;
-$67 million in accelerated flexible funding for schools, which can be used on things such as technology, textbooks, building renewal, and personnel;
-$90 million for school building renewal, in addition to $28 million FY2020 supplemental funding, for a total of more than $118 million in new dollars for school repairs and maintenance;
-$23 million to improve access to quality child care for low-income working families and foster parents by providing incentive bonuses to quality child-care facilities ranked by First Things First;
-$15 million to fully fund the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund (WQARF) program. WQARF is Arizona’s alternative to the EPA’s approach to remediating contaminated hazardous waste sites — this budget will mark the first time since 2007 that the State is fully funding the program from the General Fund;
-$11 million for lock, HVAC, and fire suppression systems in correctional facilities;
-$8 million to expand access to behavioral health services for uninsured and underinsured kids;
-$5 million for the first year of the Arizona Industry Credential Incentive Program, helping more students become workforce ready;
-And $3 million in additional resources to prepare for the opening of the state’s newest Veteran Homes in Flagstaff and Yuma next summer.
Arizona has taken robust action to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and provide relief to Arizonans impacted. These actions include:
-Signing legislation and issuing an executive order to expand access to unemployment benefits;
-Working with the federal government to expand the federal food stamp program so people can get more benefits faster and for hot food;
-Announcing $5 million in new resources to help Arizonans struggling to make rent due to COVID-19;
-Announcing a cooperative agreement with the state’s largest electric utilities so no one has their power shut off due to COVID-19;
-Launching Arizona Enrichment Centers to provide childcare for children of first responders, healthcare workers, and essential public sector workers;
-Helping licensed professionals stay licensed and deferring certain requirements for six months;
-Announcing $5 million for “Meals on Wheels” to provide meals to older adults;
-Requesting a special enrollment period on the Federal Insurance Marketplace so people who’ve lost their income can buy health insurance;
-Waiving rules requiring a physician to oversee Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, freeing up more doctors up to provide other needed medical services;
-Issuing an executive order expanding hospital capacity and increase hospital beds in the state by 50 percent;
-Issuing an executive order expanding coverage of telemedicine services;
-Partnering with the BSTRONG Initiative, the Global Empowerment Mission and the Verstandig Foundation to secure up to one million N-95 masks and other equipment for Arizona health care professionals;
-Receiving federal approval to implement programmatic changes to help ensure access to health care for kids and vulnerable Arizonans by submitting a request to waive certain Medicaid and KidsCare (CHIP) program requirements;
-Issuing an executive order delaying the enforcement of eviction action orders for renters impacted by COVID-19;
-Announcing the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will waive emissions tests vehicle owners 65 and older for up to one year;
-Announcing a shipment of more than 440,000 medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile for Arizona health care professionals;
-Announcing the launch of a new statewide 2-1-1 COVID-19 Hotline using $2 million in funding provided by the Arizona Department of Economic Security;
-Signing legislation to support schools during closures, provide clarity and flexibility on statewide testing requirements and school letter grades, give direction on make-up days, require learning opportunities for students to continue, and ensure teachers and staff see no disruption in pay as a result of COVID-19.
-Signing legislation to bring more resources into Arizona’s health care system by increasing Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) provider rates for hospitals, doctors and more;
-And launching ArizonaTogether.org, a centralized location for Arizonans to access resources and information during the COVID 19 outbreak.
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