Journalists Roundtable

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Local reporters review the week’s top stories.

Ted Simons: Hello and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me -- Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic," Mark Brodie of KJZZ radio, and Mike Sunnucks of "The Business Journal." Still waiting on a state budget, still wondering what the governor is going to do. Mary Jo, legislature adjourns sine die, was that a surprise?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It was a bit of a surprise, but apparently that was the plan since late last week, done not so much out of exacerbation but to give the governor more time. She would have had to acted on the bills by this Wednesday. By wrapping up the session, she has 10 days which gives her to next Saturday to decide what do with the budget bills that the legislature sent her.

Ted Simons: She gets 10 days and lawmakers get 10 to do what?

Mark Brodie: The leadership is meeting with the governor, both democratic and Republican, have been meeting during the week and scheduled to meet again Monday afternoon. I was talking to one the democratic leaders in the senate today and he said it's going to take a herculean effort to come up with an agreement by next Saturday. This is the eighth month, and they're trying to get a budget agreement in a week. So he seemed to think it wasn't likely there would be a deal. Which would leave it up to the governor what do with the bills by next Saturday night.

Ted Simons: These bipartisan talks are continuing?

Mary Jo Pitzl: They are. They took today off, taking the weekend off and go back at it on Monday and the big question here, as it has been since Jan Brewer came on the scene, shall there be a special election for a sales tax? And the governor has been insistent, very insistent to get a sales tax referral. Came close, but it hasn't happened. And the governor wants a simple bill that sets up a sales tax election for December 8th. Give me a bill on that. And now, the Republicans are saying, especially the Republicans in the house, we want to package it with tax cuts. We like income tax cuts and the Democrats say, no, the tax cuts take out the equalization repeal which the lawmakers have also passed. They want that, the property tax to go back on the bills this fall. Which could generate money for the budget. Supposedly, the governor is ok with the tax cuts. I don't know where she's at on the equalization rate. But since it's a tax cut, and undo it, is a tax hike --

Mike Sunnucks: She's tried to dangle these tax carrots in front of Republicans. She's always been consistently, quietly for repealing the equalization rate. If she jettisons all of that now and goes to the Democrats, what will that do for her chances in the Republican primary? She's going to lose more Republican votes in the Republican legislature. You have folks on the right never going to vote for the sales tax. And there's a few folks that have gone along with this just to go along with it. She's going to lose them. How is she going to run on that next year?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think you've jumped ahead, Mike. I don't know if she can get a democratic budget. If she lets the equalization thing come back on the books, I don't know if she can get the Republican votes --

Mike Sunnucks: If she gives them one thing, they're going to come back with five more. Don't cut this and this, and raise these taxes and do this. She's going to start down a slippery slope.

Mark Brodie: There's more, too, for the Democrats than just letting the equalization property tax come back and using that money for education and social services. There's policy issues in those budget reconciliation bills that the Democrats want out. And the other issue about the equalization property tax is that homeowners and businesses now are probably going to have less time to pay those bills because in most counties, I think they should have been at the printer's already and being sent to folks and at least Maricopa County and Pima have said they're going to wait what the governor does with the bill to repeal it. If she signs it, that's one price homeowners have to pay. And doesn't, vetoes, that's another price -- tax rate for homeowners to pay.

Mike Sunnucks: I think they blew it. They dangled -- had the sales tax there and dangling the income tax cuts. Some anti-tax folks went for -- the Arizona free enterprise folks and they couldn't get that lassoed. Couldn't get Gorman on the right and Allen on the left. They had to go back to square one with that. I don't know how many of these moderately conservative Republicans are going to go along with that. How many times vote for a sales tax that is going to hurt me in the primary and doesn't pass? They don't get anything out of it except partisan hurt.

Ted Simons: Back to the equalization rate, she was going at one time, a phasing of that. That could still be in the mix, could it not?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think anything could be. The governor proposed a third, a third, a third. And by year three it will be gone for good.

Ted Simons: The speaker is saying the Democrats' ideas not serious when quoted as to these bipartisan talks and now we've got an aide close to the governor, basically blaming everyone, including mostly Democrats for not going along. Is there some thought Democrats could have been a little cozier with the governor -- cozier with the governor somewhere along the line -- she never talked to them, did she?

Mark Brodie: Depends on which story you listen to. The governor and governor's aides and other people around her say she's been trying to engage anyone who wants engagement on the budget. Democrats say she wouldn't listen to them. Depending on the truth as it often is probably somewhere in the middle there. The fact is that the Republicans are the majority party. They have a Republican governor. So you know, I'm not sure how much traction blame can -- the minority party will get come election time or before.

Mike Sunnucks: Their sales tax proposal was to spread it out and cut the rate. Not even close to what she's proposing. They wanted to raise pretty much every tax. The recent taxes under Napolitano and the Republican legislature. They were so far away from where Brewer was, there was a long way for both sides to come. There's a question on how legitimate as a caucus they were. All she needed was a couple of votes in the senate. That's what Janet did well. She had Democrats and would get a few Republicans. That's governing.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think you'll see come election time, you'll see finger pointing -- whenever this budget is resolved. Because the Republicans like to point out 46 of the 53 Republicans in the state legislature voted to support the governor. But what they don't say is that those votes were conditioned on being packaged with a bunch of tax cuts. You put them out with a clean referral as the governor wants, it's problematic they can get those 46 votes again.

Mike Sunnucks: They're in the minority. Not in any obligation to help Jan Brewer so it's not exactly their fault. The minority is supposed to be there and throw rocks at what the majority is proposing.

Mary Jo Pitzl: That said, these are programs that the Democrats care about and historically, sort of carry the banner for more education and health services than the Republicans. If you're a democrat, you've got tough questions to ask. Do I want to let all of this go down the drain or hold firm with my caucus and be the loyal opposition?

Mark Brodie: That's one of the things, Democrats want more education funding and funding for social services and the Republicans say they can have it. Just vote for the sales tax increase. That's extra money.

Mike Sunnucks: Since I've been here since 2002, Republicans don't know how to count money. Jan Napolitano knew how to cobble a budget. It's unfathomable that they take these things to a vote after you get people to switch, James Waring and leave them hanging without enough votes. It undermines their agenda so much.

Ted Simons: You mentioned earlier how this could hurt the governor if she decides to run. Sounds like she might give it a thought or consideration. A lot of equivocation there, isn't there?

Mary Jo Pitzl: What's noticeable about the governor's statement yesterday, she's talking about it, she's deflected those questions up to this point and I think you can read the timing a couple of ways. She's in a big budget battle and needs votes and has would-be challengers.

Ted Simons: Who?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Dean Martin put his name out there. A couple weeks ago, the state treasurer, Paradise Valley, made it clear he's going to run no matter what. And these are the kind of people who could generate a campaign, attract fundraising and part might be to keep these folks at bay. But bolsters her image as a strong governor, if you would, to say, I'm not giving up.

Ted Simons: At this point, literally at this point, could she win a Republican primary?

Mark Brodie: Not being a brilliant political mind, but I think Michael alluded to it, there has been Republican members of the legislature who said she can't win and some have said I wouldn't want her to. The tax issue we've been discussing is going to be a real big issue. Especially in a Republican primary. You think of the people on both sides of the political aisle who vote in primaries, they are the more strident who are voting and on the right, taxes not a good thing.

Mike Sunnucks: That's why it's important to get the income tax cut, equalization, the flat tax. That got in there, to give her cover. Look, we had to do this temporary, that the voters approve, but I offer you this. On the other core Republican issue, abortion, very pro-life. Signed all the things that Napolitano had vetoed. Immigration, hasn't done much on, but I think that on the tax front, she's weak but the other core issues she might be ok with primary votes.

Ted Simons: Someone who might be a challenger, is secretary of state Ken Bennett who has come out with an idea of selling state land as a way of getting money, by way of interest alone would help with the budget, is he a possibility in the mix?

Mark Brodie: I think until otherwise, a lot of people have to be -- until otherwise, a lot of people have to be considered. When Janet Napolitano ran for re-election, he's somebody whose name has come up in discussion -- maybe he'll run for governor, maybe not. He has talked about having aspirations. And anything is possible at this point.

Ted Simons: Is it a wise move to be selling state land now?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, maybe the timing is the issue. The state land is held in trust and it is to be sold for the benefit mostly of education. So that's clearly his mandate is to sell that land. We all know what is happening -- what the real estate market is like now. And one of our reporters checked with the salespeople at the state land department and the likelihood of selling 100,000 parcels of land at $100,000 each now is not realistic. The other thing problematic for Ken Bennett -- problematic, is that he became secretary of state because Jan Brewer appointed him. There might be an issue of loyalty. He has already broken with her by taking a position against the sales tax referral. Certainly his right. That's not the way he would resolve the state's issues. He would sell land.

Mike Sunnucks: One thing, at the camp and how that was handled in the courts and any kind of tough race, whether in the general or primary, that would come up and that's baggage. Ken has talked about running for things and never done it. Talked about running for governor, and there's people in politics that go nibble around the edges and never run. It will be interesting to see if he follows through.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The other thing, who wants to be governor? You have to have a governor, the constitution says that. Whenever this mess gets done, everyone at the capitol expects they'll be back to fix it.

Mike Sunnucks: Jan got to go to the Super Bowl.

Ted Simons: If democrats don't help the governor, they're going to wind up with all of this trouble as if that's not necessarily a good thing.

Mike Sunnucks: [inaudible] majority but not in office.

Ted Simons: Speaking of what could be baggage, Huppenthal. Give us a summary of this case.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The senator Huppenthal pulled up to a polling place, I think it was in Chandler and there was a sign that was dissing him and one of his running mates and he started to remove it and there was a democratic activist, now she's 78 years old, sitting on her husband's walker, protecting the sign, and they got into a tussle. Not good visuals there. [Laughter]

Mike Sunnucks: Who won?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I guess he did. Because he got the sign. He insisted he had permission of the property owner to take it. The woman wouldn't let him, but he got it, and as he was pulling away, she grabbed on to his car door which she says was not closed all the way and it came open. And Huppenthal said, "I thought I was being invaded by an older woman!" She was not hurt, no blows exchanged, despite what people might have said. This went before a judge and took until yesterday, almost a whole other year for this to transpire and he found the senator not guilty.

Ted Simons: So basically he wins, but can you win when it has anything to do with grappling?

Mike Sunnucks: A lot of these guys are in districts where they're safe. But it can be competitive. I don't think it's a big win if he wants to move forward.

Ted Simons: Apparently, he wants to be superintendent of public instruction.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Different if it's a kid hanging on the sign.

Mark Brodie: I think if there's video that ends up on youtube, that's the thing that a candidate doesn't want to see video of that. Does it matter in Bisbee, maybe not?

Mary Jo Pitzl: This won't play in Bisbee at all, but the reason that sign was so offensive to him, it criticized him for not providing funding for Corona Del High School that was having problems with mold and they went to the state for extra money and it got caught up with the budget and he was for it before he voted against it. It was one of those things. People hit on that. You want to run for school superintendent and you were voting against money for schools? That's going to hurt him more.

Ted Simons: Speaking of little old folks, we had senator McCain holding a town hall not nearly as raucous as others have been. They had another one in Phoenix and a demonstrator kicked out for not shutting up. And he was booed for saying that the president is sincere, as opposed to being -- what's going on with these town halls?

Mike Sunnucks: It was a Republican crowd. A lot of folks, seniors, worried about Medicare and how much was going to be taken out by the Obama plan and those are legitimate concerns. Everybody has a lot of self-interest and it's a personal issue. It's a lifeline to seniors and it was a skeptical crowd toward Obama and his programs violate the constitution and McCain said we can disagree but I believe the president believes in the constitution, and that drew jeers and this was not as rowdy because it was a Republican. If it was a democrat pushing for the public option, these folks would have been all over them.

Ted Simons: Are they phoning, basically doing them by telephone?

Mark Brodie: Congressman Harry Mitchell and a few others doing telephonic town halls and the folks working for those members of congress are saying it allows them to interact with many constituents.

Mike Sunnucks: Basically -- Mitchell is going to be a key vote. That's a Republican district. Tons of seniors on Medicare in that district and he's bucked the party, spending issues and it will be a big issue for him and he'll be one of the key votes in the house on this.

Ted Simons: We've just had a judge ruling that the board of supers were upheld in saying that county attorney Andrew Thomas had a conflict of interest in pursuing a board member in a criminal case and also representing the board. It sounds like crazy times.

Mike Sunnucks: It's a dysfunctional family all around at the county. The sheriff doesn't get along. The treasurer doesn't. Thomas. In this case, the judge said the board can hire their own attorney. Not the county's attorney's office, because of these conflicts. He secured indictments against Don Stapley and some got thrown out because a technicality that the disclosure forms doesn't mesh. And the judge said you're prosecuting Stapley and said the board has the right to have their own attorney.

Ted Simons: You have the recorder, the treasurer, the assessor, the schools -- anyone who is elected countywide running around saying the county manager's got to go!

Mike Sunnucks: Very low profile and suddenly one of the leading anti-Arpaio folks. Fought the officials and a lot is over -- there's big fight over the treasurer's budget to Joe buying a new bus.

Mary Jo Pitzl: As much as they might complain, the county manager is not within their purview. That's up to the board of supervisors and until that structure is changed and until they bring enough public pressure, it looks like Smith will stay. He seems to enjoy the full support of the five-member board.

Mike Sunnucks: Obviously, Thomas, Arpaio and the treasurer are conservative. Folks on the board wouldn't be as conservative. Willcox is a democrat.

Ted Simons: Speaking of the sheriff, a ruling in a racial profiling case, it's not a class action, but you can go after the sheriff, individually, correct?

Mike Sunnucks: Joe wants this dismissed. It's a federal suit brought by the ACLU on behalf of a Mexican national who was picked up in Cave Creek by deputies. They claimed racial profiling. They wanted to expand it to a class action so that all of the anti-Arpaio folks would come out of this. The judge said, no, you have to do this case by case.

Ted Simons: Let's get back to the governor. What do you think she's going to do?

Mark Brodie: If I knew the answer, I would go and buy every lottery ticket in the state right now. I don't know. The last I heard, she doesn't know. I think a lot will depend on how the talks go, at least the early part of next week, to see if she can get an agreement with legislative Republicans and Democrats to fix or send up other bills to mesh with the bills she has to make it an agreement everyone can go with.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Her future is tied up with whether she gets the sales tax referral and the outcome of it. In the shorter term, you know, by next -- next Saturday, very, very hard to predict, but she's so insistent on the sales tax. I can see it happening, not in time for December 8th, but it might happen.

Mike Sunnucks: There's fatigue in the legislature. They're ready to go home. Really only one or two votes away in the senate. I think they'll work it out.

Ted Simons: Stop it right there. Thanks for joining us, appreciate it.

Mary Jo Pitzl:The Arizona Republic;Mark Brodie:KJZZ radio;Mike Sunnucks:The Business Journal;

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