Unkind Cuts

The state Senate's budget would eliminate funding for child care for an estimated 13,000 kids

When the Senate passed its budget in just one day a few weeks back, Bruce Liggett got all of three minutes to testify about the impacts of the proposed cuts on child-care services for the working poor.

It really didn't matter what Liggett, the executive director of the Arizona Child Care Association, had to say. Republican senators were only holding the hearing as a pro forma step toward passing the budget, which would devastate what's left of Arizona's safety net.

Given his time constraints, Liggett just asked lawmakers how they planned to continue drawing federal matching funds while cutting the state's required contribution.

He still hasn't received an answer.

The GOP budget plan—worked out behind closed doors and given almost zero public scrutiny before it was passed—completely eliminates $30 million that pays for working moms to keep their kids in day care.

Liggett estimates that losing the $30 million will mean a loss of $40 million in federal matching funds—or about one-third of the $115 million in federal matching funds that now come to the state.

In total, subsidies for child care will be halved, from roughly $145 million to $70 million, according to Liggett.

While Liggett is still trying to figure out the impact, his best guess is that 13,000 kids will be kicked off the program. And when moms don't have reliable child care, they end up losing their jobs, creating more problems for Arizona families.

"It's incredibly grim," Liggett says. "I'm left thinking: Do we need to tell the parents of 13,000 children that they're going to lose their subsidy? Do we need to disrupt people's lives?"

The cuts have another impact: As the state subsidies go away, so do the jobs in the child-care industry.

"If you're a center in Tucson that relies heavily on (the state), you're wondering if you have a business on July 1," says Liggett.

The cuts to child care are emblematic of the Senate budget proposal. Gov. Jan Brewer's proposed budget was rough enough, with more than a billion dollars in cuts, part of an effort to bring Arizona's spending in line with its revenues.

But GOP lawmakers upped the stakes with a proposal to cut more than $1.5 billion, with little regard for the consequences of their plan.

Karen McLaughlin, of the Children's Action Alliance, says those day-care cuts, like many others, are "hurting working families."

The GOP plan also strips more than a quarter-million people below the poverty level off health-care rolls. It continues to trim the number of children covered by KidsCare. Arizona schools are hammered by a cut of more than a quarter-billion dollars. And with more than $300 million in cuts to universities and community colleges, McLaughlin says, it's "open season" on higher ed.

Steve MacCarthy, vice president of external relations for the University of Arizona, says the UA is braced for the $67 million in reductions proposed in Brewer's budget, but the $92 million in cuts in the Senate budget are "almost difficult to contemplate."

"We're not oblivious to the fiscal reality facing the state, and we thought the governor tried to approach it as fairly as possible," MacCarthy says.

Under Brewer's proposal, the university would balance a reduction in state spending with tuition increases and ongoing staff reductions.

"While it's a big cut and presents some real challenges to us, we are supportive of the governor's budget," MacCarthy says. "The Senate budget just goes so far beyond that. You've got to start looking at cuts that would have enormous impacts on this campus and in this community."

The Senate budget is now in the hands of the House of Representatives, but behind the scenes, legislative leaders and Gov. Jan Brewer are trying to work out a deal to produce a budget that she will sign.

Brewer took to the pages of The Arizona Republic to criticize the Senate budget.

"In January, I proposed to the Legislature a budget that is balanced, limits the growth of future spending, proposes agency efficiencies and consolidations, and preserves core priorities such as K-12 education," Brewer wrote. "My plan also would cut more than $1 billion. Last week, the state Senate took those cuts and added another $536 million—cuts to schools, local governments and assistance to the needy that I believe are not in the best interest of Arizona. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I still support my budget proposal over the Senate plan."

But Sen. Frank Antenori of Tucson said last week on Bill Buckmaster's KJLL AM 1330 radio program that Brewer was moving toward supporting the Senate plan.

"She has agreed that we will have a structurally balanced budget," Antenori said. "If we don't have a structurally balanced budget, we will be there until October. There is no Republican in Phoenix right now that will vote for another budget with gimmicks in it."