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KNAU and Arizona News

Governor Brewer pledges to protect education funding

By Daniel Kraker

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/knau/local-knau-947185.mp3

Flagstaff, AZ –
Governor Brewer basically gave the State of the State speech that she never gave in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Tucson earlier this month. She laid out her plan to cut business taxes and grow the economy, strengthen education, and, of course, balance the budget.

Just before her speech, Brewer signed a bill that allows her to ask the federal government for clearance to cut Medicaid health care coverage for 280 thousand low income people. That's the central part of her plan to balance next year's budget. It would save the state about 500 million dollars. And she says it would allow her to keep public school funding largely untouched.

"Let me be as clear as I can be. I will never sign a budget that cuts money from Arizona school children to fund the federal Medicaid mandates. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever."

But first she needs federal permission to cut Medicaid eligibility to levels that existed prior to the passage of last year's health care overhaul law. After her speech, she said if she doesn't get that waiver

"Then we're going to have to hope that the government will give us some kind of flexibility, because Arizona cannot afford to pick up the tab for the fed government, particularly Arizona when our AHCCCS program is far more generous than a lot of states."

Ten years ago voters signed off on a plan to provide Medicaid coverage to people living at up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level. But Brewer hopes she won't have to go back to voters to ask them to change that.

"We have legal counsel looking at that, I'm hoping legal opinions will bear us out that we don't have the available funds "

Brewer delivered her speech at NAU's High Country Conference Center. At one point she smiled at NAU president John Haeger and admitted higher education has had its fair share of cuts. But she's proposed an additional $170 million cut to universities to help balance the budget. NAU president John Haeger said afterwards that wasn't a surprise.

"We knew we were going to get cut. There's actually no way out of this without some kind of cuts to the universities. It's just a matter of how much. Now it's how we're going to handle it."

Haeger says he'll announce his plans for handling it at an address to the campus next Tuesday.