The Legislature & Children’s Issues

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Dana Naimark of the Children’s Action Alliance talks about how the new State budget and other legislative actions will impact Arizona’s children.

Ted Simons: After passing an $8.6 billion budget this week state lawmakers are on track to complete their session before the weekend. Here to tell us how the legislature did when it comes to improving health and welfare of children is president and crow of children's action alliance, Dana Wolfe Naimark. Thanks for joining us.

Dana Naimark: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: children's issues, how are they affected by this Stapleton Housing Initiative.

Dana Naimark: Not very well. Like most things in life where you ends up depends where you started. This final budget has a few things that are better than where the legislature started outback in February, but in the big picture, they did not advance children's health, education and security and are not meeting voter priorities for those things.

Ted Simons: DES, $42 million to back fill lost federal money there. Explain that.

Dana Naimark: That is money that is going away that we have been using from federal dollars, going away for a variety of reasons. If that was not replaced, child protective services would be even in a bigger crisis than they are today. We're really relieved that that is in there. It's not something to celebrate because it doesn't advance us forward but it keeps us where we are today.

Ted Simons: $3.7 million directly to CPS?

Dana Naimark: That's for an elite unit of investigators for the toughest criminal child abuse cases. Depending how it's done that should be a good benefit, but it won't touch the vast majority of cases of abuse and neglect in the state.

Ted Simons: As far as education is concerned I'm seeing $40 million for a K-through-3 reading program.

Dana Naimark: that's a bright spot in the budget thanks to Governor Brewer who made it a priority to get that in there. Couple of years ago our legislature said we want all kids reading by grade level by the end of third grade. But at the same time they were cutting full day kindergarten, cutting preschool, cutting all kinds of tools to help children read. This is the first time now they have said there needs to be funding to go with this goal, so it's money to elementary schools to help reach that reading success.

Ted Simons: a positive there, but no money for soft capital, school books and computers.

Dana Naimark: right. Schools are so far behind where they were, none of this makes up for the vast cuts that have been made to schools over the past few years, so we're very far behind.

Ted Simons: the rate increase to some access providers looks like that's been increased as well. Explain that for us.

Dana Naimark: that is for a few providers, DEVELOPMENTAL disability and behavior health providers. That means these providers are part of our public private system of health care. They get reimbursed from the state for medical services they provide. Those rates have been cut in recent years, which makes it very hard for those providers to do their jobs well. So these are rate increases for a Small number of providers.

Ted Simons: And as far as kids' care, money coming in from an outside agency, outside effort but no state funding.

Dana Naimark: In fact there's less state funding in this budget than there is today. They cut kids care because the freeze is still in place and fewer kids will be enrolled.

Ted Simons: sounds like your bottom line, you were quoted saying the spending bill is not far-sighted enough.

Dana Naimark: in fact I think it's very short-sighted. It also includes some very profound inconsistencies. We heard legislative leaders over and over again say their priority was to put money aside now to pay the bills in the future. But in fact, they are cutting taxes in the future. So that's going to make it harder to pay the bills in the future. They are rating mortgage -- raiding mortgage settlement funds today and putting money in the rainy day fund to cut taxes for the wealthiest Arizonans.

Ted Simons: lawmakers say they are putting money away so they Don't have to cut some of these programs later. They say they didn't like to have to do what they did the last few years. Put this money away, it may have to sit for a while but when fiscal year 14 and 15 come along you got the sales tax going away, perhaps impact from affordable health care act, then you can keep from having to do more Draconian cuts.

Dana Naimark: I think it's good they are thinking ahead, but the fiscal year 15 budget still has a deficit. That deficit would be much less if they didn't continue to pass tax cuts. They just passed another tax cut today of $50 million where three-quarters of that goes to the top 1% in our state. So they are taking money from distressed homeowners today and giving it to the wealthiest 1% in future years. I don't think that's a good priority that voters in Arizona would agree with.

Ted Simons: When a lawmaker says we suffered from spending too much, when the predictions, projections were rosy, we spent way too much, we're looking at more reasonable projections and actually looking at perhaps some problems down the road, that's being responsible, fiscally responsible, you say --

Dana Naimark: I support having a rainy day fund, preparing for the future, but it doesn't make sense when you're cutting taxes at the same time and taking money out of your budget to give to the wealthiest Arizonans.

Ted Simons: when you talk to lawmakers what do they say?

Dana Naimark: They say this is a priority for us and we don't have the money for kids care. We Don't have the money, which is frankly hard to believe when you're spending $450 million aside and passing $50 million in tax cuts to say you don't have $7 million to lift the freeze on kids care is not very believable.

Ted Simons: if there is something you would want to see lawmakers next session as soon as they get a chance to address, perhaps new legislature to look at, what needs to change? What needs to improve? Is it just spending more?

Dana Naimark: No, I would like to see a goal for kids and families. This year they literally said their goal was to tread water. There was nothing about strengthening families, nothing about safer neighborhoods. Nothing about more educated children. So we would like to see those goals and then how do we craft a budget that helps us move toward those goals.

Ted Simons: treading water in tough economic times is what they say they can do.

Dana Naimark: I don't think voters will be thrilled about that this summer.

Ted Simons: you think there could be blow-back on this?

Dana Naimark: I think when legislators begin campaigning and new candidates begin campaigning they are going to start hearing from constituents in their own districts with concerns about distressed homeowners losing the opportunity for help, kids going uninsured, those types of things. Yes.

Ted Simons: good to have you here.

Dana Naimark: Thank you

Dana Naimark:Children's Action Alliance;

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