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Brewer outlines priorities for new legislative session

Governor Jan Brewer wants to expand medicaid, protect Arizona children, and make it easier for businesses to pay their taxes. The Governor outlined those and other priorities in her 2013 State of the State Address.

Governor Brewer has loudly opposed many of President Barack Obama’s policies, including the Affordable Care Act. One of that law’s major provisions makes federal money available to states that expand their medicaid population. In her speech before a joint session of Arizona’s House and Senate, Brewer said many of the lawmakers before her simply want to wish the medicaid issue away, but that the state cannot. "Nor can we simply wag our finger at the federal government. Trust me, I tried that once,” Brewer said to laughter.

Brewer says expanding the state’s medicaid program, AHCCCS, will reduce the strain on taxpayers of caring for uninsured patients. She said that amounts to a hidden tax of about two thousand dollars a year for Arizona families, and that by expanding the AHCCCS population Arizona will take advantage of federal money that otherwise would go to another state.

“As I weighed this decision, I was troubled by the possibility that a future President and Congress may take steps to reduce federal matching rates, leaving states with a greater and greater share of health costs over time," Brewer said. So, her medicaid proposal includes a so-called circuit breaker to roll back AHCCCS coverage if federal money dries up.

The Governor also wants 150 new caseworkers at the state’s Child Protective Services department and more School Resource Officers to help guard Arizona students. She also wants to boost school funding and student performance. Brewer hopes lawmakers will put in place a plan that rewards schools whose students do well or significantly improve. 

“Let’s stop simply funding the system we have and start funding the student achievement we want," Brewer said.

And the state may have the money to accommodate Brewer’s wish list; after several years of budget slashing, Arizona has a projected surplus of more than $600 million. But Republicans say that money could easily disappear after the loss of additional sales tax revenue due to expire in May.

For Democrats, who have often felt marginalized the last two years, much of the Governor’s speech was encouraging. But Leah Landrum Taylor, leader of the Senate Democrats, said she’s waiting to see what exactly is in the Governor’s forthcoming budget proposal.

“With all the cuts in soft capital, and not allowing for our school districts to be able to purchase and keep up with new books and technology, this is really important. So I want to see the specifics that are going to be laid out in the budget,” Landrum Taylor said.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell is pushing a plan to reduce gun violence that includes mandatory background checks and training requirements. He says he’s glad Brewer wants to focus on school safety, but that there’s more to be done.

“We need to continue to pursue more funding for mental health programs in this state. More School Resource Officers alone will not do it. It needs to be a little bit broader than that, but I think we have a very good starting point. I’m very encouraged by the fact that the governor brought it up today, and I look forward to hopefully having conversations with her and her staff," Campbell said.

Campbell also echoed Brewer’s calls for sales tax reform. The Governor noted the complicated tax code can make it difficult for businesses to pay their fair share.

The State of the State address marked the beginning of the 2013 legislative session. Brewer says she’ll release her executive budget Friday.