Legislative Update

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Jim Small from the Arizona Capitol Times delivers the latest news from the state capitol.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to horizon. I'm Ted Simons. Lawmakers and the governor are a billion dollars apart when it comes to the state budget but this week they're trying to come together on a plan to fix the state's budget mess. Here with more is Jim Small, a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, Jim, always good to see you, thanks for joining us.

Jim Small: Thanks for having me, Ted.

Ted Simons: We're hearing little birds making little rumors that there could be a tentative budget afoot. How real are we here?

Jim Small: I think it's partially true. Republican legislative leaders, Senate President Bob Burns and House Speaker Kirk Adams and staff people were meeting with the governor's office yesterday, from what I understand they met there through 9:00 last night. They met again this morning. They were supposed to go back in this afternoon to have more meetings. So they're obviously working and they're working very hard on trying to get a budget formed that, you know, they can get buy in from the legislature and governor's office. And what came out today was senate president Burns told some reporters, well, we've got a tentative deal on this tax component of the budget and of course Governor Brewer's been asking for a billion dollar increase in the sales tax or billion dollars in tax revenue which would be gained by a 1 cent increase in the sales tax, and so, you know, president Burns said that and they kind of sent reporters scurrying everywhere to find out what was going on. Best we can figure out is that was one of the things they talked about yesterday in their meeting. They were looking at a tax component and there's some sort of discussion about putting something on the ballot in the fall, letting voters decide whether they want to tax themselves an additional penny on things that they buy, and but not using that money in the upcoming fiscal year, in the 2010 year, like the governor had proposed, instead you'd balance the budget through a variety of other methods and then you would collect that money for the last half of the fiscal year, save it up, use it as a nest egg, use it to pay off any growing deficits or use it in the next year after that to offset any cuts you're making, so it's kind of a compromise between tax right away and no taxes at all.

Ted Simons: Ok, it sounds like, you know, could be a compromise, but then again were people jumping the gun a little bit by saying tentative, tentative deal's reached here.

Jim Small: I think so. There's certainly no deal reached on the entire budget. They're still meeting. They still have to talk about every other component of the budget and frankly even if, you know, the speaker and the president and the governor agree to this one part about a tax increase, the legislative leader still has to go back to their memberships and sell it and try to get the votes needed to do something like that, and as we saw last week, that is going to be a tall order, I mean, you have a very strong resolve amongst republicans to not raise taxes at all, I mean, they passed a budget that may, you know, made deep cuts and did a lot of things maybe they didn't want to do like selling prisons and variety of other maneuvers in order to avoid just this scenario.

Ted Simons: Talk about the governor's response to legislative leadership, passing a budget but not giving it to her to either sign or veto.

Jim Small: Well, when they -- when legislative leaders met with her Monday, the first day back at the capitol after passing that budget last week, she asked for that budget and they politely declined and said no, we'd rather hold on to it now. And obviously there's politics being played here. If they send her the budget, she's made no bones about the fact it's going to get vetoed and sent back down. They don't want that to happen I don't think, because one of the things it does is makes them start the process all over again. They have to pass every one of the 10 budget bills again in a new form that would be negotiated later. The way it is right now, by holding onto these bills, what they set themselves up for is creating a single called a trailer bill, just one bill that goes up afterwards that would basically amend things that are in the bills that have already been approved, so they could send those all up at once and the governor could sign them all and, you know, combined together they make this new agreed upon package.

Ted Simons: The governor obviously not too thrilled with this particular technique, what about rank and file? G.O.P. rank and file specifically, I think the Democrats aren't all that crazy about it either. Republican rank and file, are they on board with this particular style?

Jim Small: I think for the most part, because I think it was important to lawmakers to send a message to the governor that said we don't want to raise taxes and we don't like the fact that this is a major component of your plan is raising taxes to get through this problem. We think there's other ways to do it, whether it's cutting, whether it's some short-term borrowing or any combination of those. You know, so they certainly are at a point where they don't necessarily want to be involved in tax discussions. I think it's going to be foisted upon them at some point. Either this year or next year, the state's revenues are dismal and even if the economy starts to pick back up it's not going to translate immediately into increased revenues and enough to cover what state government costs right now.

Ted Simons: Which is a lot of the message the governor has been trying to get out there, including a public forum yesterday. Talk to us about this, again how this was received in the legislature.

Jim Small: Yeah, this was a forum that the governor held I think four, five hours long, and she invited different stakeholders and agencies and stuff to come in and talk about what effects the Republican budget plan has on the jobs that they perform. And a lot of it was very similar to some appropriations hearings we'd had earlier this year with some added commentary from the governor, and stuff like that. But at the legislature I think a lot of people initially saw it as kind of a retaliatory ok, you passed this budget I don't like so we're going to come out here and put this in your face, I don't think it was taken all that well. Seemed to be most of the reaction was this was a very one sided meet asking a beat 'em up for the Republican budget but obviously the leadership is still meeting right now. So I don't think they took it too personally or it wasn't something that derailed the talks that are going on.

Ted Simons: Ok, talks going on, all this is happen, and the senate moratorium on bills is lifted. Is it crazy times down there?

Jim Small: Yeah, it's basically, you know, it's kind of like January or February down there, where committees are hearing bills, except you're trying to cram three months worth of bill hearings into ostensibly three weeks. The senate already said they're meeting Fridays, they're going to meet this Friday and work and debate bills on the floor and there's plans to meet and do the same thing next Friday. There was a rumor going around yesterday, people are so concerned about this, there was talk there might have been attorney memo the senate was going to be working on Saturdays and work on the July fourth holiday if they needed to, to wrap this stuff up. That stuff hasn't actually surfaced and been made public yet, if it even exists, but I mean that's what people are kind of looking at here is pedal to the metal going as fast as you can to wrap this up.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, the mood down there, optimism, apprehension, confusion?

Jim Small: I think right now people are probably a little bit confused because in some respects there's work done now that hasn't been done all year long. It's been a very odd session. People have been kind of sitting back and waiting for things to kind of get going and waiting for the process to begin in earnest and same in the house, even though they did their committee work in some floor action up to this point, they held off on a lot of it. They kind of rationed bills out for floor discussion and now they open up the flood gates this week, we've already seen 60 bills and there's probably going to be another 20 or 30 tomorrow and it will probably be that way every day for the next couple weeks.

Ted Simons: Keep you busy if nothing else. Jim, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

Jim Small: Thanks.

Jim Small:Arizona Capitol Times;

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