Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

State wants county to pay $13M for long-term care fund

Pima County would be hit with about $13 million more in contributions to the state long-term care program under a House committee proposal in the still-unapproved Arizona budget.

The proposal by the House Appropriations Committee would hit Pima and Maricopa counties for a combined $55 million more in contributions to the state general fund in the coming fiscal year – with Maricopa contributing the majority.

The proposal drew immediate response from Pima County officials, who this fiscal year had to scramble to replace $3.2 million from case reserves taken by the state to balance this year’s state budget.

“We weren’t pleased with the added $3.2 for ALTCS last year, let alone the $13 million more now,” Martin Willett, deputy county administrator, said Friday.

The long-term care program pays for people in nursing homes and health care for the blind and the disabled.

Willett said the $13 million the county could be paying was not included in the recently-released fiscal 2010 county budget of about $1.37 billion. The budget is scheduled to be tentatively approved May 19. The fiscal year begins July 1.

County officials have worked since late last year to eliminate a projected $38 million budget deficit – mostly through across-the-board department cuts of 7.5 percent to 10 percent, a wage and hiring freeze and layoffs, mostly in the Pima County Development Services Department.

“There was no real explanation from legislative staff on the rationale for this,” Willett said.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Pleasant Valley, is a proponent of transferring revenue from the counties to the state general fund.

Kavanagh on Friday said that the counties could see the money returned in the form of federal stimulus funding that will come to Arizona.

Kavanagh said the state budget is far from ready for votes by both the House and Senate, and transmittal to Gov. Jan Brewer.

“We still have a lot of talking to do,” he said. “It could be a week; it could be a month,” Kavanagh said.

County governments are experiencing budget crises just like the state, which has a projected $3 billion deficit for next fiscal year, Willett said.

“Are we just supposed to write them a check?” Willett asked.

There is no guarantee that the state would return the money to counties from federal stimulus funds, either, Willett said.

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