PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said Monday that she plans to expand the state's Medicaid program to cover citizens who earn up to 133 percent of the poverty line.
The Republican governor made the announcement in her annual State of the State speech in which she also outlined plans to boost funding for Child Protective Services and to push for the Legislature to reform the state's sales tax collection system this year.
Brewer said the decision on Medicaid came in spite of her recent opposition to the federal health care law known as the Affordable Care Act. One provision in the law allows for states to increase the program with federal support.
The governor cited President Barack Obama's re-election and last summer's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in saying that the law is here to stay.
The Supreme Court did give states the option of not signing on to the expansion. But Brewer says virtually all of the expansion will be funded by the federal government, and not taking the money wouldn't contribute to the lowering of federal deficits.
She added that expanding Medicaid will help poor Arizonans and help hospitals and caregivers who now must give care without pay.
Brewer also said in the address that she wants more money for school resource officers to keep children safe from school violence like last month's shooting in Connecticut that killed 20 first-graders and six educators.
She also plans to add funding to reward schools that improve performance while implementing new curriculum standards.
Other key points in Brewer's speech to a joint session of the state Senate and House of Representatives include a task force to plan development of federal lands and a rejection of comprehensive immigration reform until the U.S.-Mexico border is fully secure.
Brewer said her budget will include money to add 150 new Child Protective Services workers and she wants emergency funding to hire 50 immediately. The state has improved operation at CPS in the past year by creating a special law enforcement unit to investigate the worst cases, overhauled the child abuse hotline reporting system, cut paperwork burdens and streamlined hiring, she said.
But Brewer says more needs to be done to address what she calls a "moral issue" of protecting children, including boosting foster care, adoption services and emergency placement for children needing rescue.
"We cannot strike evil from the hearts of those who would harm an innocent child," Brewer said. "But these common-sense steps will help at-risk children get the assistance they need before it is too late."
Brewer also wants the Legislature to enact her proposal for a comprehensive simplification of the state's sales tax collection system.
The current system has so many twists and turns it is extremely difficult for businesses to pay what they owe, Brewer said. Business owners serving multiple cities must file multiple tax returns with multiple tax bases and undergo multiple audits, and the governor said she wants a system that entails just one form and one filing per business.
Cities and towns object to some of the proposal because they would lose money from new construction sales taxes. House Speaker Andy Tobin has said he's listening and open to changes.
Brewer said the budget proposal she plans to release Friday will tie some new school funding to performance.
The state has already enacted rules requiring schools to focus on core standards and to identify students having difficulty reading by the 3rd grade. But she says one in four third-graders can't read at grade level, and it's no coincidence that one in four students drops out of high school.
So Brewer said she's proposing a comprehensive performance funding plan for school districts and charter schools. She says the plan would augment per-student funding with an innovative approach to promoting school performance.
On the hot-button of immigration that has put Arizona in the forefront nationally in the past several years, Brewer rejected supporting comprehensive immigration reform now being discussed in Washington, at least now.
"To the reformers, I say, demonstrate your stated commitment to a secure border by making that your first priority," she said. "Once our border is secure, I pledge to work with all fair-minded people to reform our nation's immigration laws."
Brewer, who has battled the federal government on several issues since taking office, said she wants the state to have a bigger role in overseeing federal lands, which make up more than a third of the state's approximately 114,000 square miles of land.
She created a state natural resources review council by executive order Monday, charging its members with creating a plan to maintain public access, multiple use and economic development.
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