After a week of heated debate, the Arizona House has passed a $9.6 billion dollar budget. Lawmakers stayed until almost 2 a.m. Wednesday morning before they approved the budget for the fiscal year that begins in July.
The back and forth debate was mostly over school funding and in the end, the budget included a small increase in funding for several school items. Governor Doug Ducey is expected to take action on the budget Thursday, and Kids Care advocates fully expect him to sign the bill, but they are urging him to find another solution to cover health care for low-income children.
It was a tough day for supporters of Kids Care after lawmakers reached a budget deal that keeps out the healthcare program.
"I'm feeling very sad for children and families across the state, and frustrated and angry because what happens to kids care with our system being rigged against working families," said Dana Wolfe Naimark.
Kids Care is a federally funded program that provides child health care to low-income families making just above the threshold to apply for state healthcare. Democratic lawmakers who support the program say it would have covered 30,000 low-income children without any additional cost to the state.
But Republican lawmakers say they oppose the program because it could cost the state in the future.
"What we are talking about is a population that Obamacare is already supposed to cover when people say it's free it really isn't free, because it's a taxpayer funded program," said Andy Biggs.
Arizona lawmakers stopped Kids Care in 2010, and now Arizona is the only state in the country without the program.
"Our message now is Gov. Ducey what is your plan, what are you going to do for children and families in this state to raise the level of health care," said Naimark.
Ducey's office issued the following statement: "This budget priorities kids, with significant new resources for K-12 education and child safety. It includes $181 million in additional money for K-12, and a new $116 million two-year investment in child safety, bringing total child safety funding to $974 million in FY17. The governor will always put the children of Arizona first as we prioritize dollars."
The Arizona budget once approved by the Governor will take effect on July 1.