Journalists Roundtable

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Local reporters discuss the week’s top stories.

Ted Simons: Hello and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian," Mike Sunnucks of "The Business Journal," and Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. State agencies submit their budget-cut scenarios as requested by the governor. Howie, we're talking 15-20%. What would happen if these cuts went through? Sounds like nothing good happens.

Howard Fischer: This is a parade of horribles. What the governor said, we're about $1.5 billion in the hole even with the prior cuts. Some left over from last year, some of the revenues are horrible and so you need to make these mid year cuts. So she said if we had to take that much money, what would you cut? No big surprise. Folks say the world as we know it will end. Or, you know, things will happen that people won't like. The department of corrections says we will let 11,000 people out of prison. Of course, you need the change in the legislation to do that early release. They said that drug smugglers will come and -- smugglers will come and marijuana will be flowing in the street. And third in the country in the number of uninsured children. No big surprises. But how many is designed to scare the lawmakers into supporting the governor's tax proposal.

Dennis Welch: She has been wanting a sales tax increase and you knew before this came out, when her office instructed these agencies to go through this exercise it was going object a horror show. It's typical government strategy. This is what is going to happen. No cops on the street keeping you safe. We're going to let the prisoners run amok. It's that type of tactic to scare people enough to put pressure on the legislature.

Mike Sunnucks: They'd let illegal immigrants out and other states have done this. California has for years for budget things. Going to let the centimeters out and -- the criminals out and schools are going to shut down.

Howard Fischer: There's something good about this decide. For years in this state, we kept racheting up the criminal code, taking away the discretion from the judges. In a state this size, over 40,000 people behind bars. The question is are there better alternatives. You can do a home arrest program. You can put something on one's ankle for $15 a day and it's about time. Maybe we need to look at those things.

Mike Sunnucks: Such a big change in our policies and politics. We're a very law and order state. This legislature can't cobble enough folks to get a budget done. We're going to ask them to take the bold step of changing the criminal code? I don't think they're capable of that.

Howard Fischer: The bottom line, they have to cut. There's no alternative.

Ted Simons: Are you going to be a politician who runs and says, I'm the guy who says more should be let out of prison.

Dennis Welch: Exactly. I've been talking to Republican leaders all day that say there's no way a GOP legislature is going to let 11,000 prisoners out on the street.

Mike Sunnucks: Does the governor want to do that, running for re-election? She's the one that opened the door.

Howard Fischer: Governor, this is your pledge. No, no, these are just ideas. Let me assure you.

Ted Simons: Back to the idea. It sounds as though -- we talked about this in the past. We were supposed to get these a week or so ago. Representative Kavanagh, great, let's know what would get cut and now we've got a list of what should get cut. Doesn't sound like they're going to be swayed, correct?

Howard Fischer: We'd like to know if we have to cut, what can be cut. The lawmakers are the policymakers and they're the ones who are supposed to decide, among these programs if we have to cut a billion, let's assume we can take half a billion and shove it into next fiscal year, where do cut? And then why it's going to cost you more to put your child into daycare and why there are fewer officers on the street and heaven forbid you're stranded on the highway at 3:00 in the morning.

Ted Simons: Are they going to look at this and go, my goodness? [Talking over each other]

Mike Sunnucks: The world is going to come to an end and people start calling moderate Republicans and moderately conservative Republicans and get them to switch. There could be a groundswell. I don't know.

Dennis Welch: Let's look at recent history. Earlier this year when the chairman's options first came out for the budget cuts and there was a proposal to lop about a billion dollars out of K-12, hundreds of millions out of higher education. What happened with that? People started to call and protested at the legislature and those areas were spared the deep cuts.

Mike Sunnucks: For the sales tax, she still couldn't get the votes. We're going to sell the state capitol and all of these things that got us on the national news. I don't know if it's to that point. Where the pitchforks are going to turn against the conservatives.

Ted Simons: We're getting gilded pitchforks, to the way that Arizona state government is run. First of all, all sorts of folks coming out, Morrison's institute saying something needs to change, clean elections is one. Term limits is the other. Anything likely out of this?

Howard Fischer: I think the problem becomes some of the stuff they're looking at, the reforms, clean elections was the reform to being bought by special interests. Term limits was the reform to having people be there for 30 or 40 years. And they'd like to go back. Look, this is a very nice group and well meaning, but to the extent you say we're going to make this harder to put initiatives on the ballot, every group that had to go for the ballot because those 90 fine folks up at the capitol won't pay attention, are going to say no. I think there are a few things that have legs. The lieutenant governor.

Ted Simons: Right.

Howard Fischer: This is like the fifth time in 30 years that the secretary of state has become the governor and I think all of a sudden, folks are saying that makes sense. Perhaps deeming with the issue of we have 30 -- dealing with the issue, we have 30 legislative districts. Maybe we should split those so you're not representing as many people.

Mike Sunnucks: The people pushing for this are spenders. They differ from the kind of right wing conservatives who don't want to spend and want tax cuts. It's folks who want investments in universities and certain sectors, solar and economic development. Investment in roads of sometimes that means sales tax increases. So it's those folks in the business community and kind of moderate political circles that really don't like what's going on in the legislature the last decade with the conservatives.

Dennis Welch: When it comes to clean elections, may not have to wait for voters to vote. We've got a court case working its way through the system. Which could eliminate matching funds and it's not worth running if you're not going to get the matching funds.

Howard Fischer: It's like every reform, we had our first campaign finance laws and people got around it. Every reform, you're going to have somebody who can play the system. We've got the special action PACs and everything else. You're never going to make this the pure clean government you want.

Mike Sunnucks: The folks who don't like clean elections are the ones who don't like the results. They've given us very conservative anti-tax legislatures and the folks who wants changes maybe want to raise sales tax every once in a while or spend money on roads and universities

Dennis Welch: Maybe I'm cynical, maybe the ones who don't like term limits are the ones being term limited out of office right now.

Ted Simons: Quickly, a democratic staffer leaving. What impact?

Dennis Welch: It's the legislative caucus director. She's instrumental in putting campaigns together for lawmakers down at the legislature. We're seeing this type of stuff ratchet up. The Democrats did horrible last year. Particularly, in the senate where they're way out and only got 12 of 30 down there. If they lose a key seat, down to 11, they're even more of a nonfactor.

Ted Simons: Interesting timing before a special session here.

Dennis Welch: That too, because you want to scat.

Ted Simons: Aye.

Dennis Welch: Although we know that politics doesn't play down at the legislature. There are those considerations you have to go through and people that you're working with now. I've heard some of the leadership there was upset with this because they weren't communicating and they got rid of her and were working with her to develop strategies that could work next year.

Ted Simons: At Luke air force base, sounds like there's a push to get the new generation of fighter there. There's a fly in the ointment.

Mike Sunnucks: Luke is the big training place. And they're in the running and there's a lot of other places throughout the country that want to track that. The El Mirage, sits north of the base, is worried about noise of the new fighter being a lot louder than the F16. They're following this carefully and it's causing friction between El Mirage and Glendale and the rest of the west valley.

Howard Fischer: The problem isn't the lawsuit. The whole purpose is to show the department of defense the community wants this base. They want community support. They've had situations where they've cut flights and training because of people's concerns. If you've got Michelle KERN as the mayor of El Mirage, saying we don't know if we want you -- they're officially neutral -- we want more information, all of a sudden the unified front falls apart. Luke was there since 1941, the city came along 10 years later. On the other hand, you've got to wonder as they get noisier and noisier jets and the F35 joint strike fighter is noisier than the F16s, what's the limit of what people should have to take?

Mike Sunnucks: The people moved there knowing it was a F16 training base. They didn't know it was going to be significantly louder. Luke is an economic driver. It creates a lot of jobs and a lot of folks who depend on the base but there's a lot of questions about the viability of having these big bases in the middle of a big metropolitan area. The one saving grace, they've had F16 training for a long time and they have the Goldwater range where they can go and drop bombs and test out in open ranges and that's probably the best card they have to play.

Ted Simons: I think the mayor of El Mirage wants a couple of these jets flying over so people understand what she's talking about.

Howard Fischer: That's not unreasonable. They've done that for other cities. They'd like to put the prototypes in full military mode because when you're taking off and landing with the after burner going --

Ted Simons: Listen to the ace over here. Who knew?

Howard Fischer: It's not an unreasonable request to say if you want us to believe that there's not a lot of difference, show us.

Mike Sunnucks: This is the latest round between El Mirage and Glendale. El Mirage has been fighting the annexing of the land.

Ted Simons: That would be a big hit to the economy. Speaking of the economy, jobless rate. Steady, a little bit of a surprise to some folks here.

Howard Fischer: A little bit of a surprise because we've been going up at half a point at a time. And we've been at 9.1 or 9.2 for three months. The question is what does it mean? If you factor out back to school, if you factor out education, the people who are coming back, not just the teachers and support staff, every other segment of the economy has fewer people than a year ago. Have we hit bottom? Hard to say, there's certainly some hiring going on out there, but we're certainly, I think, going to flirt perhaps with 10% before this is over.

Mike Sunnucks: About the numbers, they don't track -- this is national too, they don't track people who have given up and especially in the market like Phoenix, had there's a lot of underemployed people. They're waiting tables or getting by and that number is way above the 10%.

Howard Fischer: And that's significant because what will happen, you want to know when we'll know the economy is better, when it spikes briefly. Because all of those discouraged workers will come back into the market. This rate is determined by a survey. Somebody comes to the door and says, are you employed? Yes or no. No. Are you looking for work?

Mike Sunnucks: One thing -- a lot of the economy is just consumer confidence. Confidence to buy a washing machine. To invest in a business. And if we stay below 10%, that's a good thing.

Ted Simons: All right. Cash for clunkers was considered a good thing when it was going on. Now that it's over with, retail sales --

Howard Fischer: I'm sorry, this was taking people who might otherwise buy cars down the road. They bought them up here. Taking money out of your pocket and my pocket and our audience's pocket. This was one the worst programs I have ever seen.

Mike Sunnucks: All of the things they've taken money for, the bailouts and Goldman Sachs and BofA, and you're helping --

Howard Fischer: What do you mean consumers need help?

Mike Sunnucks: I'd rather help you actually buy a car than help Goldman Sachs.

Howard Fischer: Seriously, the fact is that first of all, people only the have a certain amount of disposable income. We've seen that in the results. Number two is the blip and all of a sudden, the car sales go flat again because you can only buy so many cars. We've advanced the sales a bit at some fantastic cost to the economy.

Ted Simons: But also getting in the barrel. Underneath the tent -- whatever metaphor -- people who have bought vehicles, you don't know if they're going to buy them down the line. You do know they bought them here.

Howard Fischer: They are, because it's planned obsolescence.

Ted Simons: You don't know how many people -- I'm going do it right now. You don't know that.

Howard Fischer: Here's the other part of the program. Which has nothing to do with the economics. The cars called clunkers, many of them had almost as decent mileage as the ones they were getting. We didn't even solve the air quality with this.

Dennis Welch: Don't you think this helps clear out inventory? You give them the -- clear out inventory.

Mike Sunnucks: If you look at how much they've done to help the economy, how much they've helped real people, the people who watch this show, middle class America, very little has. If you're a road builder, the stimulus helps you. If you're a big bank, it helps. But it hasn't helped a lot of folks in Phoenix. This is something that helped people. So there's merit.

Howard Fischer: You're talking about the home mortgage thing. $8,000 for a first time home buyer. Why should someone making $300,000 a year get a tax break?

Ted Simons: Who do you know who makes $300,000 a year that doesn't -- has never owned a house?

Howard Fischer: This is more government meddling in the economy.

Ted Simons: All right. Howie, let's keep it moving. We've got a lawsuit with the Goldwater Institute and Senator Cheuvront regarding --

Mike Sunnucks: All of the rich guys --

Ted Simons: Like Howie.

Mike Sunnucks: -- who wants the market to decide. Like the city of Tempe or Phoenix will own the land and then the developer will lease it from them and pay a lot less property tax than otherwise. Almost all the big buildings in downtown Phoenix and a lot of sports arenas are that way. Cheuvront, who was a big critic, are waiting for the thing to end. Basically because the deals have fallen apart.

Howard Fischer: It's the same issue as the city north case. Isn't this a gift of government money. Tax give-aways to private industry which is constitutionally prohibited. You can make all the arguments you want. I'm sorry you landed it on this side of the street versus this side, tell me how far Arizona benefits.

Ted Simons: He's -- how is this going to play in the legislature?

Dennis Welch: A lot of wondering how Cheuvront --

Mike Sunnucks: They're able to block a lot of things and stalled these bills out. The folks on the other side, say a lot of these things wouldn't get done without these deals because we don't have a lot of tax incentives and special give-aways. It creates jobs and investments.

Ted Simons: Last week on "Horizon," we talked about specifically sheriff Arpaio and his press conference regarding how he's going to deal with the crime suppression sweeps because of an obscure law that allows him. Matt, to his credit, says there is no such law.

Mike Sunnucks: Retain people because they look suspicious.

Ted Simons: That's the one. There's no such law. The sheriff's office backing away. Does it make any difference at all to much of anything beside how the sheriff carries out his business?

Mike Sunnucks: No, he could still go after employer sanctions. They can still go into workplaces and people for other crimes. If you've got a warrant out for your arrest, didn't pay a fine.

Howard Fischer: This is the Russell Pearce theory. He claims that local law enforcement has an inherent right to enforce local laws. And sheriff Joe says that sounds good to me. Joe believes he has an inherent right to enforce federal law. Without that 287G, can he legally question someone about their citizenship?

Ted Simons: That's a street level as opposed to taking them down and booking them. Which he can still do. But the question is whether or not he can do it on the street. If he's using nonexistent law, what's going on? What happened?

Mike Sunnucks: He's still going to need probable cause.

Ted Simons: Broken taillight.

Mike Sunnucks: Well, he pushes the limit on that. There's a lot of people who still support what he does. The people in the county and valley still support his tough approach to immigration and a lot said this is an aha moment. But I don't think it's going to erode support for him. He's a law and order guy.

Ted Simons: We have to talk about, a story of great interest to you. And that's the Meghan McCain where she was a little racy there.

Dennis Welch: I tried not to look at it for very long. But I did see the picture.

Ted Simons: Does this affect anything at all as far as McCain?

Dennis Welch: It's just an example of social media where people are doing all sorts of crazy things and I don't think people should be held accountable for what their kids are doing.

Mike Sunnucks: She's in a lot of public spats on the right wing, people who don't like her father. She's put herself in the spotlight and I think if you do, you get benefits and sometimes grief and you have to go with it.

Ted Simons: So promotional stunt at best but no factor as far as -- Tucson, we've got Tucson interest now.

Dennis Welch: A councilman running against McCain, and he'll be the sacrificial lamb and get slaughtered at the polls. I don't think it's going to affect him. Particularly not in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Did you see the picture, Howie?

Howard Fischer: No, I did not feel the need to check out her cleavage.

Ted Simons: Let's leave it at there.

Dennis Welch:The Arizona Guardian;Mike Sunnucks:The Business Journal;Howard Fischer:Capitol Media Services;

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