Journalists’ Roundtable

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Local reporters review the week’s top stories

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Casey Newton of "The Arizona Republic," Luige Del Puerto of "The Arizona Capitol Times," and Mike Sunnucks of "The Business Journal." A special session is called for next week and it's all over federal healthcare reform. Casey, it deals, I guess, with kids care only?

Casey Newton: Well, the special session doesn't deal with kids care. It's been called to do to give the governor expressed legal permission to try and sue the federal government in court and the reason the governor wants to do that, earlier this week, attorney general Terry Goddard said he would not join those lawsuits, said they were bound to feel. The kids care is a different issue.

Ted Simons: But there are a couple of constitutional questions here. The big one, you shouldn't be able to force states to do things and the state shouldn't be beholden to an unfunded federal mandate.

Luige Del Puerto: Giving the governor the power to sue on behalf of the state, the federal government, over this healthcare bill and, of course, they're going to try and say the federal government doesn't have the authority to regulate healthcare and there were comments made on the floor a few days ago, it's a violation of the 10th amendment. And so basically, the special session will be for two things. One is to give her that authority, and second, to basically say to the feds if you're going to mandate healthcare to us, provide for the funding.

Mike Sunnucks: I talked to attorneys about this. It's interesting. The feds regulate all kinds of things under the interstate commerce clause. That you have to provide family leave and the Americans with disability act. What could be successful is the mandate where they're telling people, you've got to buy medical insurance. We've never done that where we've told a person you have to buy a product and give your information to somebody. The idea of states' rights is weaker.

Luige Del Puerto: That's one of the reasons Goddard said I'm not going to join the lawsuit that other attorney generals have made because the chances of the state succeeding in this lawsuit is minimal.

Mike Sunnicks: They're lining up on the obvious partisan sides. Goddard is a democrat.

Ted Simons: And Goddard saying this is a waste of time and money when the state doesn't have a heck of a lot of both.

Casey Newton: Absolutely, he says regardless of whether or not Arizona participate, they're going to get litigated so even if you think that federal healthcare is unconstitutional, given Arizona's funding crisis, it's better to sit out on the sidelines.

Mike Sunnucks:They may not make it all there. But something will make it all the way up.

Luige Del Puerto: The special session is set for Monday, probably have the votes. They'll go in, the first read the bills, and then second read, and third read them and pass them at the end of the third day.

Mike Sunnucks: Rasmussen had a poll that came out, 60% opposed, 36% support, so politically it's good for Brewer in the primary to be fighting this.

Ted Simons: Back to the attorney general, Terry Goddard. He was advising the governor, forget the suit, just go ahead and reinstate kids care. It's a problem too.

Casey Newton: It's a huge -- I shouldn't say a huge problem but an unexpected problem for the state. Earlier in the month in the budget package signed by Governor Brewer, she signed into law the elimination of the kids care program which is part of the chip program. The national program. Arizona one of the first in the states to pay to get rid of the program, we paid 18 million dollars. We covered about 38,000 kids and got $54 million from the feds to take care of the kids. The problem is when healthcare was enacted, when President Obama signed it into law on Tuesday, we have a children's health insurance program. If we get rid of it on June 15th, the way we're planning, to we're going to violate the so-called maintenance of effort requirement where the federal government says we'll give you these billions of dollars for healthcare, but you've got to agree to keep spending the money you are right now on it. Because they don't want us to backfill with their money.

Ted Stevens: That means the state locked into where it was when the bill was signed.

Luige Del Puerto:: That's true and since the elimination of the kids care don't take effect until after I think the second week of June, that means if we didn't do that in June, we -- not reinstate kids care, we're on the hook.

Mike Sunnucks: The feds are way overreaching and depending states you can't do X, Y and Z.

Casey Newton: And there's a counter-argument, which is hey, Medicaid is optional. If you don't want the $7 billion we're going to give you, Arizona, you don't have to participate. But you're required to spend $5 billion you don't have on a federally protected population. But the end of the day, the argument can be made that Medicaid is an optional program.

Luige Del Puerto: I think there have been warnings about this one before. It's less do with the healthcare bill and more to do with another congressional legislation that's working now. Working its it way out of congress that would expand the three-to-one match in Medicaid we're getting as part of the federal stimulus package, the Democrats say we don't have to cut kids care, why? Because money is coming and probably spend the three-to-one match and we'll have it. But, of course, they're Democrats.

Mike Sunnucks: The public don't like the Obama care and the mandates and the spending, but they do want insurance for children. That's pretty popular across the board and you see Goddard saying we should get rid of some of the tax breaks and that will help reinstate kids care.

Ted Simons: A question comes to mind, you get rid of kids care, you have $7 billion of Medicaid money from the feds jeopardized here. Why are we hearing about this now?

Casey Newton: This is the big question. You go back and find out, when did this become part of federal healthcare legislation. It became part of the law during something called the manager's amendment added on December 19th. Since then, we've had lots of press conferences from the governor and others posed to the legislation, nobody mentioned we were going to be on the hook for the $7 billion and the most likely explanation is that nobody had read the bill. I talked to people in AHCCCS this week. Our state's Medicaid program. They were just reading the bill to try to understand how this issue would affect the state.

Mike Sunnucks: I don't think most members of congress read the bill. On either side. But it does put the state in a big pickle.

Luige Del Puerto: It's part of the reason they hadn't been able to do it. They were to focused on trying to solve this budget deficit and working on the budget problem since last year and so deep into this that it's something that slipped by, but the curious thing, I wanted to point this out quickly, the federal stimulus package, signed into law last year, the state legislature and the governor's office poured staff members resources into really looking into this federal stimulus package, I remember senator Gorman saying my computer is having a problem downloading, it's so huge, but they looked at it, looked at the impact of the stimulus package and what the state should do in response to it. They didn't quite do that in this healthcare bill.

Casey Newton: And I think you may ask, why is that? I don't think they thought it was going to pass. You watch what happened in Massachusetts, where Ted senator dies. Scott brown wins. The senate loses their supermajority. And when you have a crisis like Luige is talking about. I think it was easy to sweep that aside.

Mike Sunnucks: They always acquiesce to the feds. You go back to the drinking age. The states didn't want to do that. The feds made them do it. They'll find a way to get it back.

Ted Simons: Are you saying that the legislature, kicking and screaming, will reinstate kids care?

Mike Sunnucks: Yes.

Ted Simons: What do you think, Luige?

Luige Del Puerto: It's tough to say. If it's true that we're on the hook, and lose out $7 billion, I think they might reconsider their actions. I know they're looking into it. And right now reviewing it but it's tough to say what they're going to do.

Casey Newton: I think -- absolutely, they're going to have to do. Legislative leaders are already saying sometime before June 15th they'll have a special session.
Mike Sunnucks I think politically they have to do it and fiscally.

Ted Simons: With all of this number crunching, we're forgetting there's a lot of kids helped by this.

Luige Del Puerto: It seems draconian, losing out to the $7 billion and he was asking are the feds going to do it? Maybe there's some other way they can get us on the hook and not lose out of that much money.

Ted Simons: Cuts to AHCCCS, it's a whole new ball game there.

Casey Newton: Mike Sunnucks: That's what makes the kids care look like a minor thing. You've got to come up with $18 million or $20 million, and they'll be able to solve that problem. With AHCCCS, the budget package signed, included $385 million worth of cuts to AHCCCS, that's money that comes from -- that comes from proposition 204 that voters approved. Lawmakers said we're going to take that money, and it's going to kick 310,000 people off AHCCCS that's because -- we can afford. That's also a violation according to the most current thinking of these maintenance of effort requirements. So now, by January, the state has to come up with another $385 million. That's going to be harder for them to do.

Mike Sunnucks: I think you can see a big push to take AHCCCS back to the ballot. Buzz mills is talking about it. It was a million point two on it. A huge part of the budget. But do it via the voters so it's protected and they can go through with that.

Luige Del Puerto: I think we're going to hear argument what is they did doesn't violate the maintenance of efforts under the healthcare bill. The reason is they did reduce the budget for AHCCCS. They didn't change the eligibility requirements or do anything policy wise. Just say we're going to cut it by $400 million and you deal with the cuts.

Ted Simons: Quickly, is this the kind of thing we're hearing there could be something on the ballot? The hospital association may try to get something on the ballot? First, it that a possibility? And secondly, could it succeed?

Luige Del Puerto: It's something that the hospital community has been looking at since last year. I think they created some sort of taskforce. And it's possible we might see something about it on the ballot. The caveat, it's a few months from now and November is just a few months from now and they might have a problem getting the signatures.

Mike Sunnucks: They looked at it for the '08 cycle and there was a lot of hesitancy because there's a big company that's a big Anheuser-Busche -- and the hospitals are looking at it, and the things with AHCCCS versus kids care, everyone knows what kids care means. AHCCCS is more complicated in going to the voters and saying X, Y, Z.

Ted Simons: There's a lot of stuff on the ballot saying we need help here and we need help there.

Casey Newton: There's certainly going to be tons of stuff on the ballot, but you look at proposition 204, it passed decisively. Voters said we want to use the money that we got through taxes to expand eligibility. Especially now is a tough time to get voters to undo it.

Luige Del Puerto: The window is short if they're going to collect signatures. The other way is through a ballot --

Mike Sunnucks: If the sales tax pass, that could hurt the chances of beer and wine tax passing.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about another fact. The senate ok's medical marijuana tax. This is interesting. Talk to us about it.

Luige Del Puerto: Was it yesterday or two days ago, the senate passed a bill that would essentially put a tax or -- let me backtrack. Right now, food and medical supplies are exempt from sales taxes. Basically what they're doing is put a tax, basically not exempt medical marijuana from -- it's interesting thing, this is -- they're taxing something that's nonexistent yet. [Laughter] And so they did that one. And the debates were interesting on the floor. On the one hand, you have people who are ideological opposed to increasing taxes but on the other hand, they see a -- they see pot as destructive. So people like Russell Pearce saying I don't want this medical marijuana act to pass. But on the other hand, we have to be consistent with our tax policy, and if we're not taxing food and medical supplies, we shouldn't in this particular instance.

Mike Sunnucks: The chances of this medical marijuana passing in Arizona this cycle, I don't think it's going to happen.

Ted Simons: It's been passed twice.

Mike Sunnucks: They can't distribute it and there's a lot of restriction. We're not L.A. where there's shops on every corner. I don't think there's any in downtown Phoenix right now. I don't think the chances for doing anything for the budget is realistic.

Casey Newton: I can tell you this thing has a great chance of passing. These guys have gathered the signatures and people in the petition gathering business say this is likely to be the earliest to qualify of any ballot measure we've had in Arizona. It's passed twice before.

Mike Sunnucks: Correct me if I'm wrong. The last time, they had sperling's money and Lewis' money and it failed and you had bipartisan people coming out against it.

Ted Simons: But it has passed twice. And it passes again, the legislature scraping, decides to look in the farm field.

Luige Del Puerto: And certainly, there are people who have said we don't want to tax marijuana and have the supporters of the initiate saying, hey, you've got to pass it. Why? Because the state will earn revenues from it. There are people saying we shouldn't be doing it and giving the people ammunition to approve it.

Casey Newton: California, which faces arguably worse problems, is saying let's legalize marijuana and tax that. The amount of money we could raise is just a drop in the bucket.

Luige Del Puerto: In the legislature, this thing is going to pass. That's the reason for the bill. People know and realize the likelihood of it passing is good.

Ted Simons: We had a texting ban. This thing was ok'd in the senate. Surprised at all there?

Luige Del Puerto: You have to give credit to who has been pushing this legislation. He got the votes for it and the debate on this measure was postponed several times but finally got the votes to pass it and they did pass it in the senate. The big question is what happens in the house? There is probably strong resistance in the house and it might be assigned to Andy Biggs, the transportation committee and he might sit on it.

Mike Sunnucks: Triple A and all the insurance companies like it. But if you're going to punish somebody for texting but not punish somebody for writing something on a piece of paper or reading a newspaper in the car, which people do. And is there equal protection, due process thing there? I think generally people think it's a good idea. But we do have reckless driving laws and if you cause an accident because you're changing the radio or texting somebody, it can be enforced there.

Ted Simons: A tragic accident just the other day.

Mike Sunnucks: Yes, and he was looking at paperwork.

Luige Del Puerto: We have Ron Gould saying how do you enforce this thing? You have an officer pulling you over and saying, "Can I see your cellphone?" That might be a violation of your rights.

Mike Sunnucks: They obviously have more important things to do.

Ted Simons: Does this get through because a Republican was pushing it as opposed to a democrat?

Casey Newton: I think it helps to have a Republican on board and there have been lawmakers who have tried over the past three or four years to get this passed. But Melvin was dogged.

Mike Sunnucks: If a Republican pushes it it's a Law and Order thing, if a democrat pushes it, it's big brother.

Ted Simons: Ok.

Luige Del Puerto: They're also calling it big brother, but he's been very persistent. Steve Farley introduced the bill three years ago, at one point, it was triple assigned.

Ted Simons: Sarah Palin in the state. In Tucson, campaigning for John -- how much does this help John McCain in his primary battle?

Mike Sunnucks: I think it helps him a lot. I think this healthcare thing has helped him a ton. Folks on the Republican side always question his conservative credentials. I'm the real conservative here. He was not a good presidential candidate but a good challenger of the system. He stepped forward as one of the main Republicans to challenge the Obama care and the horsetrading and spending and mandates and having Palin in his camp furthers that.

Ted Simons: What do you think, Casey? Help him?

Casey Newton: It will be interesting to see how the rally goes tomorrow. The conventional wisdom is the people who love Sarah Palin don't necessarily love John McCain. I think there'll be an interesting mix in the crowd.

Ted Simons: And Luige, Sarah is here to make it known she's targeting the three Democrats that the Republican party is targeting. And does this help in terms of the Republican opponents or galvanize the Democrats?

Luige Del Puerto: You can look at it both ways. Those people Sarah Palin will convince to vote against, will probably vote against them anyway. But their votes in the healthcare bill will be used against them and it remains to be seen, really the people you have to convince are those in the middle. The independent voters. Those are the ones they have to convince either way. It's -- it certainly may make them vulnerable and I'm sure they'll make the case this coming November.

Mike Sunnucks: If you're on the offensive, you're winning. All the negativity that was against bush is now toward Obama.

Ted Simons: After the healthcare bill was signed, it looked like there was evenly split, if not a slight majority saying we like it.

Mike Sunnucks: The Rasmussen poll asked people if is the country better off if the congressional incumbents were reelected and 70% said they would rather have new people in there.

Casey Newton: I'd say watch those overtime- When you look at nationwide poll independents, their approval increased. I think it's because people like a winner and the idea that Democrats were actually able to do something against what looked like long odds. I think independent voters give them credit for that. In November, it's going to be see whether the Republicans will run against them.

Ted Simons: I want to get to Joe Arpaio. Eric holder saying the Arpaio probe is ongoing and serious. Yet we've got a supervisor, Don Stapley, calling Arpaio and the attorney general evil. And the guy should be --the judge saying he's going to go ahead and sue. Looks like Stapley is going to sue and maybe even Phil Gordon. What's going on here?

Mike Sunnucks: These are all the same types of accusations that Arpaio -- the sheriff was quiet when the grand jury came out, when it was announced -- uncharacteristically quiet. He's back out there doing the immigration raids and feeling more confident. But the same argument. They go after their political foes unfairly. Sheriff and Thomas say they're enforcing the law.

Ted Simons: What's going on here? What brought him back?

Mike Sunnucks: Maybe he feels the grand jury is not going to come back with anything against him personally. He's still talking about running for governor. It's not likely, but still talking about it.

Ted Simons: So, unlikely, but we've got a minute or so. If Joe Arpaio, just for the heck of it, looks out there and goes, "Why not?" Could he actually win a governorship?

Casey Newton: I think, yes, he's a serious candidate. He has a lot of money and probably the best name identification of anyone in that race. But his approval ratings have dropped over the last couple of years and he's under a cloud with the grand jury secrecy and he'll be hard pressed to be able it beat Terry Goddard in the general.

Ted Simons: Could an Arpaio make noise if he decides what the heck, let's give it a try.

Luige Del Puerto: I'm interested to see whose votes he's going to pull away from, if he's going to join the race. The incumbent governor, I'm interested to see whose votes sheriff Joe is going to take.

Mike Sunnucks: He said in the next couple of weeks. Casey is right. There's a lot of baggage over him. I think he would roll through a Republican primary because of the name I.D. With Goddard, it's law and order immigration and Joe is tough guy and Terry is laid back.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

Casey Newton:The Arizona Republic;Luige Del Puerto:The Arizona Capitol Times;Mike Sunnucks:The Business Journal;

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