Journalists’ Roundtable

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Journalists’ Roundtable

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight Mary K. Reinhart of the "The Arizona Guardian," Howard Fischer of the "Capitol Media Services" and Casey Newton of the "The Arizona Republic." Some lawmakers are suggesting that a budget could be a done deal as soon as a couple of weeks. This seems to be coming out of the House. Is everyone buying into this Mary K.?

Mary K. Reinhart: People who have been around are thinking that might be a little optimistic. Speaker of the House Kirk Adams likes to say February is like the new June. There are some meetings and communication taking place, folks walking off to leadership meetings and some with the Governor and her staff. They say there are just a couple of pieces. They are 85% of the way there. They have had small group meetings where members are looking at the numbers, preparing the Governor's proposal with a new leadership proposal we have yet to see. But I think two weeks is a tad bit optimistic.

Casey Newton: The important thing to remember is that this is an election year. Lawmakers have an incentive to get home to their districts. If they are unable to get back by June, that only gives a few weeks to go knock on doors and press the flesh. So as ridiculous as two weeks might sound, they really do want to get back home.

Howard Fischer: They have a couple of things going for them. The legislative proposal really looks a lot like the Governor's proposal. It's not like their starting from a whole different place, so that's a good point. The other issue is they have made very short work over the orphan budget that was discussed here on the show a little bit back, where the people who supposedly were discussing it said we didn't craft it, nobody crafted it. They got a hearing earlier this week on the orphan budget. And after the lawmakers were done slicing, dicing, and marinating it they threw it out so the leadership budget is the only one really on the table.

Ted Simons: Was that orphan budget - I don't think anyone really thought it had much of a chance. The fact that it even got heard to that extent, was it a surprise?

Mary K. Reinhart: No because I think the reason it was heard was precisely to dump it. It was a way to say, hey, we talked about it at least. I think what at least Bill Copney (sp) would have lliked to see the proposal in some bill form and an actual hearing on some bills. He said that he hasn't been given permission he says, to put it into bill form. He and other lawmakers interested in this proposal said it was a talking -- a beginning discussion. I don't think anybody expected the five-year plan to be put into law, you know, I think it was intended as a way to look at different alternatives. Howard Fischer: And that's the point. Several of the Republicans last night even said, look, before we toss this out there are things we ought to look at. One of the things that five-year budget does is it wipes out the debt a lot earlier. Rather than borrowing for the next 20-plus years and having a couple hundred million built in the budget for the next 20 years, let's wipe it out earlier. They do that obviously with higher revenues. Some of it is based on some assumptions about revenues but some on the idea we're going to temporarily increase the sales tax, and then take it down from 5% to 4% and start to tax services. That's an idea that's been around a while. These pieces are probably worth looking at in some effect. Nobody expected the whole thing to be adopted.

Ted Simons: The rollover to K-12 and universities, obviously a sticking point in the special session. The fact that there was this little bit of a dust-up between the House and Senate, is that going to impact anything from here on budget-wise?

Mary K. Reinhart: Sure, I guess. I think Kirk Adams said they adjourned the session, no harm, no foul. They continue to talk. But they are two kind of very different chambers with different dynamics. I don't know that the rollover itself will affect the negotiations as much who these people are and what their political futures look like and how they can get their caucuses together.

Howard Fischer: But it's a practical problem. Bob Burns said I will deal with Kirk Adams' tax breaks for business, this $900 million package, when we have a budget for this year and next year, including the rollover piece. Adams wants this thing adopted before they deal with the rollover. Somebody's going to have blink here.

Ted Simons: Casey, is it the kind of thing where communication wasn't where it should have been? One sides looking over and the others looking back? Much of a problem there?

Casey Newton: Well, I'll tell you, when you talk to members of both houses there seems to be more enmity between them than we've seen in recent years. People are genuinely frustrated with the lack of communication. It can be somewhat surprising, the majority in both houses are Republicans, but there is still a lot of disagreement on how to resolve the budget.

Howard Fischer: And part of the problem is of course the election. You've got house members running for the Senate, and some senators saying, I'm not giving up this seat so fast. There's a whole political component.

Ted Simons: The Governor met with health executives, business executives, education types, trying to get this campaign going. How does that look like it's going to start, and who's lining up on the other side?

Howard Fischer: The problem the Governor is having -- is there are a lot of people supporting in concept. You need more than concept to wage a statewide campaign. You need perhaps a million dollars to wage a statewide campaign. Most confused people vote no. Will the educators come out, since in fact they were in favor of this? Will the firefighters come out and put some money up since they were in favor? Will the business community, since they were in favor of this, actually put up money? In terms of the other side, it's more for lack of a better word, tea party-ish, it's loose groups that basically say no new taxes, no higher taxes. They don't really need an organized campaign. You'll have folks like the Northwest group which will spend some time on it. But in terms of actual money they could raise $20,000 in ways an effective campaign in just word of mouth.

Ted Simons: The Governor did put together a campaign this week and it's starting to pull together members from some of those communities, the education community. The real question as Howie says, will be, how much money can they raise, can they get a coherent message together and take it statewide.

Ted Simons: You mentioned that health officials were involved there. The Governor had a closed-door meeting regarding her health plan. Who was at the meeting and what did they talk about?

Mary K. Reinhart: The meeting was Thursday morning and it was led by Senator Karen Allen, the Health Committee chairman. The Governor wasn't there but members of her office were there, the provider community was there. The regional behavioral health authorities, which essentially administer the money, AHCCCS, new Department of Health services. The Senate bill that will be discussed Wednesday morning in Senator Allen's committee essentially implements the Governor's proposal to the court, in the Arnold vs. Sarn case, that proposal would shift general mental health and substance abuse folks over to AHCCCS from the department of health services. The folks that are opposed to it say it bifurcates the system, it creates instability. AHCCS on the other hand say we can do this, we've had lots of experience transitioning people from health plan to health plan. We have sophisticated data systems, less beaurocratic holdup, there are a lot of reasons they are givig to do it. The question is whether it has legislative support, and right now it doesn't appear to have much.

Howard Fischer: The real key and where the Governor is in a starting point in the right place, people who have mental health problems usually have physical problems, too. You already have a bifurcated system where people who are poor and qualified for physical health care are also probably qualified for the mental health care. If you can integrate that successfully it does make sense. The problem becomes, given this state's history, going back 20-plus years, they have never actually funded it adequately to do the job and a lot of people are very skeptical.

Mary K. Reinhart: The concern is that people will get lost in the 1.3 million member access system. The systems that provide that care don't have the experience and the know how. The relationships with law enforcement and the courts and the kinds of things that take place every day over in the behavioral health services, these folks will get lost. The whole idea is integration of physical and mental health care, they say that's already taking place in the system. I think it's an idea, that the sort of a carve-in model where you have mental health as a part of the physical health system, there have been situations where the money doesn't -- the plans essentially offer less, not more to these folks.

Casey Newton: The thing that strikes me as kind of strange about this whole thing is that the Governor's proposal in this lawsuit, which is designed to meet the needs of people with serious mental illnesses, this whole discussion is about people who don't have serious mental illnesses. Her way of kind of fixing the serious mental health problem is to aid people with just more run-of-the-mill issues. So it will be interesting to see if this ends up benefiting any of the people who won this lawsuit.

Ted Simons: Very quickly, Mary K., you mentioned unlikely to get out of the legislature. Why? Which sides can we see are against it?

Mary K. Reinhart: Well I don't think people even know about it. Even after this two-hour meeting there were still more questions than answers. There are still a lot of questions being raised. I don't know how hard the Governor and her staff are working to round up votes. I think Senator Allen has agreed to run the bill. I don't know that she's agreed to pound the pavement and make sure the thing gets passed.

Ted Simons: Howie, clean election, the Supreme Court kind of weighing in on this, and not going to lift the stay on this.

Howard Fischer: Not going to do it, as we've talked about on this show Judge Rosalind Silver the provision that requires the state to match the funds when publically funded candidates are outspent by their foes is unconstitutional, there's an appeal of the 9th Circuit. In the meantime, both Silver and the 9th Circuit are allowing the existing matching fund system to remain in place. The question of cause that the foes have is, the longer we leave this in place, the more people are reliant on it, the harder it is to get this thing taken out after the election cycle. We've got a hearing in late April in San Francisco. Let the 9th Circuit take care of it. If they haven't decided by June 1st, come back to us. June 1st is an important date because in the third week in June is when the matching funds actually start to flow. The high court has said maybe we'll step in but not just yet.

Ted Simons: So what does clean elections candidate do? How do you prepare for all this?

Howard Fischer: You don't. I think you prepare under the assumption there will not be matching funds. I think the odds are very good there will not be matching funds. The 9th Circuit is a fairly liberal court, using the term loosely, they will probably say that you cannot do this kind of match. That when you're telling somebody, if I'm running against Mary Kay, I want to spend a million of my own money, she's getting $700,000. There's a gubernatorial candidate saying tell you what, Howie, we'll give her another $300,000 because you spent more money. That's not fair and not the role of the government.

Ted Simons: Ok well speaking of not fair and not the role of the government, some people are very upset regarding the Chicago Cubs and spring training, Casey, you want to handle this one or get it started at least?

Casey Newton: The concern is if you are not a big Cubs fan you might not want to pay an extra dollar on your rental car in Maricopa County, or a surcharge on your ticket for every other game in the Cactus League. People supporting the bill are saying look, it's going to benefit more teams than the Cubs, it'll raise $81 million for other facilities in the Valley. But it has raised some questions of fairness and why is the legislature bending over backwards to help this one team when it likes to talk about how government shouldn't pick winners and losers?

Ted Simons: There's a lot of heavy opposition, and it still made it past committee. Their still going for it.

Casey Newton: Never underestimate how much people love the Cubs. We're a long way from Chicago, but people I guess watch the Cubs on TV and they want to see them here in the Valley.

Ted Simons: Are there changes likely to come to this bill? Are we going to see a lot of fixing going on?

Howard Fischer: I think there will be some changes. You can't do what the Diamondbacks want and do a countywide or statewide sales tax, nobody's going to buy that. But I think they will have to tweak this. A lot of folks are saying, it isn't just out-of-towners and out-of-staters that rent cars. They rent cars for business purposes because they don't want to take their own car to the Grand Canyon and why should there be a surcharge?

Ted Simons: Historically that's been the way that TSA has gotten its money. Which it doesn't have any money which is why the Cubs are doing this. We should mention this, as well, the ownership of the cubs don't just want a stadium, they want to build Wrigleyville out there.

Howard Fischer: And that's the key. That's giving lawmakers the heartburn. We're not just subsidizing the new stadium. But we're going to give them the development rights around the stadium, sort of like what happened with Walt Disney. When he built Disneyworld he created his own municipality. There's a feeling, wait a second, aren't the team owners responsible for some of this? How much do we want baseball? And that's the problem, how much do we really believe in the Cactus League?

Mary K. Reinhart: I just wonder if this isn't going to be fodder for a lot of campaigns this fall, too. Rome is burning, frankly, and we're talking about budget deficits the likes of which we've never seen. We put the brakes on all of that and basically raise fees on folks that go to Cactus League for, you know, Wrigleyville.

Howard Fischer: Going to a Cubs game because you think they are going to win a series or what?

Mary K. Reinhart: I just wonder if this is fodder...

Howard Fischer: All these special interest things, same thing as the City North thing does, has the same legal problems here. Is the state going to get back what it's putting in? Even if the thing passes, I see a Goldwater Institute or a lawsuit here.

Ted Simons: I think they are just kind of waiting at the courthouse door. Minimum wage, the House O.K.'s a cut for under the age of 21 or 22?

Howard Fischer: The idea is that the unemployment rate of those under the age of 22 is about double the rest of the unemployment rate. This bill says, I'll tell you what: For the people for the next three years we'll have a minimum wage that's 75% of the $7.25 that is paid to everyone else. There's a small legal problem here. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Virtually every company in the state has to take the higher of the two. The only exceptions are if your company does less than a half million a year in sales and you have no involvement in interstate commerce. I've got news for you, if you're bringing sales in from the middle of the state your in interstate commerce. So it really doesn't do as much as the sponsor would hope.

Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing where a supermajority might be needed?

Howard Fischer: You'd need a supermajority because of the fact that you're affecting something that the voters impose. The voters were the ones who imposed the minimum wage. If you create an exception to that you need a supermajority. I don't see this going anywhere once folks figure out we're just helping a handful of companies, and we need a supermajority, and we're telling people who are 22, wait a second, these aren't just kids living at home. We're talking about people who may have families.

Mary K. Reinhart: There are 20-year-olds who are working and supporting a family. So there was some discussion I think in committee about perhaps lowering the age. I've got a 17-year-old who lifeguards during the summer, I think that's pretty important work. So I'm not sure why we're picking on teenagers here.

Ted Simons: Is it more likely if it's 18 and under?

Mary K. Reinhart: Sounds like it from what the folks were talking about in committee, but still there are some legal problems.

Ted Simons: Speaking of younger folks, texting while driving, Casey, is still being pooh-pooh'd. Apparently a ban was unanimously moved out of the panel?

Casey Newton: That was a bill that kind of died under mysterious circumstances at
the end of the session last year. But Al Melvin has brought it back and it's just getting unanimous support. When you look at public opinion polls something like 96% of Arizonans think you shouldn't be able to text and drive at the same time. This one appears like it's headed for passage.

Howard Fischer: And you've got a couple of changes that have taken place. The industry, which last year opposed it, now is neutral to supportive. There was one company very much against it called Alltel. They are no more, it's now part of Verizon. Verizon likes it. I think the industry believes if we can give them the texting ban, we can keep them from banning the use of cell phones while driving. They figure they will take the loss on this one.

Ted Simons: What about those that see this as a nanny state bill, who see this as an impingement on a liberty?

Howard Fischer: You've got pushback. Number one, it already is illegal to drive distracted, whether you're putting on makeup, eating a sandwich, trying to tune "Horizon" on their front seat TV --

Ted Simons: Bless their hearts.

Howard Fischer: -- there already are laws against it. This is more specific. There are other problems with enforcement. I have my cell phone and I go ahead and say, I'm not texting, I'm dialing a number. Dialing a number remains legal. How does the cop know whether I'm auto-dialing a number or pressing the 3 six times to get the letter S?

Mary K. Reinhart: And that's what the DPS attendant who testified this week said to me. There's no records on texting while driving. We know based on what people tell us after they have been in an accident, they say that it was inattention. Inattention includes putting on your makeup while you're driving.

Casey Newton: Phoenix passed a ban on texting while driving a couple of years ago. I asked police there how are you going to determine what this person is doing on the phone. And they said believe it or not people are pretty honest. When they get in a crash because they were texting they tell us, I was sending a text message.

Howard Fischer: The lesson being, when you're stopped, ask for your attorney.

Ted Simons: Moving on here: Speaking of attorneys, a law, a push to kind of get rid of judicial merit selection. Is it gaining any ground?

Howard Fischer: It is. Back in 1974, voters said for the Supreme Court, the court of appeals and the two largest counties you're getting to the point where nobody know who it candidates are and you really don't want Supreme Court justices out soliciting donations. So the setup is that you apply to a commission that screens the nominees,and then the Commission has to forward at least three names to the Governor, no more than two of which can be from the same party, and the Governor chooses from the list. The idea was we are getting politics out of it. You're never going to get politics out of it, but you have probably screened out some of the worst. I remember the pre-1974 days, in terms of some of the people elected from those days. These are people who clearly didn't belong on the bench but they had a cute picture or something like that. There is a frustration on two ends from the lawmakers. The big one is are the judges too distant from the people? They go ahead and overturn state laws, heaven forbid. Pass bad laws, they will get overturned. This would essentially set up a federal system. The Governor gets to pick who she wants, subject to sending confirmation. If it's a true federal system there's some interesting parts to that. If it's a true lifetime appointment, there are some interesting parts to that as long as you don't have them keep coming in for reconfirmation than you've set up the whole apple cart.

Ted Simons; You've got Sandra Day O'Connor against this, judges, both parties against this. Is this the kind of thing that's going to get heard and fly away, or will we see real change here?

Mary K. Reinhart: It passed through a pretty friendly committee in the Senate. It remains to be seen. A lot of things pass their first test. We elect judges in the other 13 counties and I think there was one of those judges that testified this week, he didn't -- and they were going to go to the merit selection in Pinal County because they have gotten big enough now. He didn't think it was such a good idea.
Howard Fischer: It's real tricky. We're up to close to 90 judges in Maricopa County. Even if you create five judicial districts, 17 judges you have to elect and try to figure out who they are? Most people don't even know who their lawmakers are.

Mary K. Reinhart: Just to be clear, he thought the merit selection was a good idea.

Ted Simons: Casey, real quickly, state parks, still trying to figure out how to keep these places open. What's the latest?

Casey Newton: You're going to see two big parks closing on Monday. They are the first of up to 13 parks that will close by June. There are a number of different measures under consideration in the legislature right now that would keep some of them open. Ward Nichols has a bill that would essentially borrow some voter-protected money for a couple of years, $40 million could be used to keep some of the parks open. That would likely be subject to a legal challenge. There are other bills that would create a surcharge on your license plate of $9. You'd pay $9 and enter state parks for no additional fee. There seems to be growing sense in the legislature that something needs to be done but I wouldn't say that lawmakers have coalesced around one idea.

Howard Fischer: And the problem is, what Casey points out, is that most Democrats believe it's unconstitutional to take money from this fund, which was created by voters in 1998 to go ahead and buy up open space and keep it that way. There's $104 million in the account because nobody feels the need to buy up open space because developers aren't trying to buy it. It probably is unconstitutional to just take it for parks.

Mary K. Reinhart: But it needs to further the purpose and there was some debate about whether or not it indeed furthered the purpose. It needs 75%, not just a simple majority.

Ted Simons: Before we go, the concept of taxing medical marijuana?

Howard Fischer: Dude, why would you want to tax my weed?

Ted Simons: Okay, Howie, I think you just summed it up...

Howard Fischer: It's an interesting question. There's a measure on the ballot that's very similar to California, there would be dispensaries, you'd have to have a note from the doctor saying I have a condition. This would be a 5.6% sales tax on it, probably clear about a million a year in taxes. If you're buying the marijuana, so you pay your share.

Ted Simons: Got to stop it right there, dude. Thanks.

Mary. K. Reinhart:The Arizona Guardian;Howard Fischer:Capitol Media Services;Casey Newton:The Arizona Republic;

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