Legislative Update

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Arizona Capitol Times reporter Jim Small shares updates from the state capitol.

Ted Simons:
Here now to fill us in on the latest news from the state legislature is Jim Small, a reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times. Jim, good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Jim Small:
Thanks for having me, Ted.

Ted Simons:
Another spirited debate regarding school vouchers, and the court decisions comes down today. Response at the capitol?

Jim Small:
I think it was predictable. Republicans have largely been very much in favor of these programs, and were very disappointed by this case. And by the ruling today. They felt that they really had a program that they could move forward with, and kind of use as an introductory step to vouchers and hopefully expand it. I talked to a couple people who said, this was -- the ruling today, while it's bad, at least it's good in the sense we it tells us where we stand. We have more than just conjecture. We have more than just advocates one side or the other saying yes or no. We have the court saying, here's where the line is.

Ted Simons:
So vouchers might have hit a dead end, but things like tax credits, it sounds like they're going to double up their efforts.

Jim Small:
Yeah. Tax credits have already been ruled by the court to be perfectly legal because money never enters the state treasury. One Republican legislator I talked to today said that's going to become the model -- how can you take the tax credits and maybe be creative and try to find a way to expand and to get more vouchers and more students, more school competition.

Ted Simons:
Interesting news coming out regarding stimulus money and higher education. Talk to us about this.

Jim Small:
Basically what's happened is the federal U.S. Department of Education has put out a proposal, a draft proposal of rules, and they would be for states to apply for stimulus money. One of the things that's in there, it's a change from what people were expecting: analysts said, OK, states need to fund their education, their K-12 and higher education at 2006 levels, and if they can, try to keep it at 2008 or 2009 levels. Department of Education came out and said, at least in the draft proposal, actually, you need to keep them at the 2008 or 2009 levels. The 2006 levels are not going to be the baseline. So in essence, what it means is about 160 million dollars in university and community college cuts that were passed in January, at this moment look like they're going to have to be replaced if the state wants to receive about $775 million worth of stimulus money.

Ted Simons:
My goodness. There was such a hue and cry when those cuts were announced. Now it looks like they might be going back in. Response from lawmakers on that?

Jim Small:
Well, that's been tricky, because these are still draft rules. No one knows exactly what's going on. This could change. The federal education department's supposed to vote in the next two weeks and make them permanent. Things are still a little up in the air. I know lawmakers, legislative leaders have asked the federal government for some guidance; for them to look at Arizona's situation and say whether those cuts, are they going to need to be backfilled or can they move forward with them as they are now.

Ted Simons:
A similar rope, if you will, attached to stimulus money regarding access eligibility. Correct?

Jim Small:
Yeah, there is. A federal agency ruled that Arizona is not in compliance with one of the guidelines, and the guideline in particular has to do with Access and how the state determines when people are eligible to receive Access. The state used to have a redetermination period of one year, which meant every year someone on Access had to apply again and make sure they were still qualified. Last year part of the budget that was passed at the very end of June included rolling that back to six months. And it's something that was pushed by Republicans and the idea is that if you check every six months, you're going to have more people who drop off the Access rolls because they get a raise, they get a better job, they get health insurance at their company, so they no longer need public health care. And basically what the federal government is saying is, after July 1st, you can't have changed from that one year redetermination. The state approved it in June, but didn't take effect until September. So they've ruled since it didn't take effect until September it violates that July 1st deadline and so Governor Brewer's office has basically appealed it and said, look, we passed this, this was done by lawmakers before that deadline. Just because it took effect then you shouldn't hold that against us.

Ted Simons:
So a lot of stimulus money up in the air regarding a lot of things that the legislature has already done. Jim, great stuff. Thanks for joining us.

Jim Small:
Thanks, Ted.

Jim Small:Arizona Captitol Times

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