Make state's vulnerable a priority

March 15, 2017
Wilcox Range News

We can’t figure out whether Gov. Ducey doesn’t believe it, or if he’s hoping the problem will go away.

In past editorials, we have praised the governor for his ambitious goals to finance education in Arizona, lauding initiatives aimed at creating incentives to keep experienced teachers in the profession and laying out a strategy to gradually increase spending in public school classrooms.

By doing so, Gov. Ducey made clear his intent to take the problems confronting Arizona’s education system head on, making them a priority in his 2017-2018 budget.

But that same “go-getter” attitude is missing when it comes to the challenge of  finding money for the state’s most vulnerable citizens, the 35,000 state residents with developmental and physical disabilities. Gov. Ducey’s budget allocates about $25 million in reimbursement funding to disability providers, including a Sierra Vista company AIRES, which employs some 75 people locally.

The Arizona Association of Providers for People with Disabilities has made it clear that the impact of a higher minimum wage — Arizona increased from $8.05 per hour to $10 an hour on Jan. 1 — threatens the continued operation of companies providing these essential services for those with disabilities. The AAPPD says Gov. Ducey’s proposed budget falls about $50 million short of what is needed to prevent many of these companies from going out of business.

The governor’s budget is now being debated by the state legislature, which finds itself in the difficult position of figuring out whether to triple the amount of funding needed to keep disability providers in business, or follow the governor’s budget which will cause companies across the state to close.

It’s not likely that state lawmakers will take up the challenge.

The consequences of that failure to act, and the governor’s failure to lead on this issue, will have a direct impact on people with disabilities, on their families and on state employment.

This is a very real problem that isn’t going away. Late last year, Gov. Ducey recognized that fact and ordered an increase in the reimbursement rate after Arizona voters passed the minimum wage increase, Proposition 206.

But that same recognition has not been carried through in the proposed state budget, leaving service providers with an uncertain financial future and people with disabilities even more vulnerable.

This is a problem that Gov. Ducey needs to solve by demonstrating the same leadership he did on education. Make it a priority.

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