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2009 June 15 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Arizona Governor Seeks To Apply Stimulus Cash to Education

PHOENIX (AP) — Gov. Jan Brewer said she has formally applied for more than $1 billion in federal stimulus money, most of which will prop up education spending in the face of the state’s budget crisis.

But Brewer is keeping lawmakers guessing on how she’ll spend the rest.

Although $832 million must go to K-12 schools, community colleges or universities, the stimulus program’s rules give Brewer discretion on how to spend an additional $185 million from stimulus funding intended to stabilize state finances.

Brewer said her priorities for that money include the categories of education reform, health care and children’s programs, public safety and innovation, technology and economic development.

The application that Brewer filed said that she “will assign allocations to these categories at later dates as necessary,” and a Democratic legislative leader said that still leaves the Republican governor’s intentions in question.

The categories “are nice words but they don’t fill a budget,” Phoenix Rep. Kyrsten Sinema said.

If withholding specifics is intended to pressure the Republican-led Legislature to approve Brewer’s proposal for a temporary tax increase to help balance the budget, that’s misguided, Sinema said.

“What is this legislature more likely to do? Cut (spending),” Sinema said.

The stimulus money for education and stabilization of state budgets is one of two major categories of funding that will play a major role in Arizona’s efforts to balance its state budget in the face of large shortfalls this year and the next two.

The second funding stream is increased federal assistance for Medicaid. That is expected to provide Arizona with approximately $1.6 billion.

Brewer has said she hoped to spread the stimulus money over three years to minimize budget cuts, but her budget director said recently that the worsening fiscal crunch means most of it will be used up this year and next, leaving only a slice of the Medicaid money for the 2010-11 state budget.

Sinema and other legislative leaders — both Democrats and Republicans — have been publicly pressing Brewer for months to apply for the education and stabilization money and specify how she planned to spend it.

As she engages in budget negotiations with legislators, Brewer is keeping her options open on how and when to spend the $185 million, including whether to include it in the budget for the next fiscal year, Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said.

“It could be part of the negotiated budget process or depending on how that process works, it could be a later date than that,” he said.

The priorities Brewer cited for the $185 million “are very important to her,” Senseman said.

In a briefing document released with the application, Brewer’s office said she is allocating $433 million of the education money to make up cuts in state funding in the current fiscal year. That includes $154 million for universities, $29 million for community colleges and $250 million for K-12 schools.

In the fiscal year starting July 1, Brewer is allocating $399 million in education stimulus funding. That includes $146 million for universities, $29 million for community colleges and $224 million for K-12 schools.

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