Legislative Update

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A mid-week legislative update with a reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times.

Ted Simons: This week state lawmakers are focused on finding solutions to the state's budget problems. Here with the latest is Arizona capitol times reporter Jim Small. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. Before we get start, are we going to see proposal, a hard formal proposal by the end of the week, do you think?

Jim Small: I think it's possible. I think that was the idea with cancelling committee -- normal committee hearings and focusing on the budget, was, OK, they'll be able to sit down with members, brief them on the proposal, finish tidying up loose ends on it and roll it out and ideally put it through committee and even take it to the floor by the end of the week was the initial plan.

Ted Simons: And that seems like it's still on track?

Jim Small: Well, it's not as on track as people would have hoped. Republican leadership I think was hoping to get things moving ideally yesterday. Would have been the day they would have liked to get bills filed and start the process. It takes three days to move bills through. Three consecutive days. So yesterday would have been the ideal day in order to get done by Thursday, so if they were to start today, it pushes it off either to Saturday or next week. So it remains to be seen what will ultimately happen.

Ted Simons: What do we know as far as details? Let's start with the idea working both fiscal year '10 and '11 together. That still going?

Jim Small: The idea is that both the -- about a $700 million deficit this year and about $2.6 billion for the upcoming year that begins in July. According to the governor's numbers. And by and large what they're doing is taking a lot of principles and a lot of the ideas and even frankly a lot of the specific cuts and maneuvers that were in the governor's plan from January and they're making some tweaks in order to either account for things that she wanted the legislature to do back in January that they didn't do with regards to sales tax and things like that. And also in order to get some other members on board.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, how similar is what you're seeing to what the governor proposed?

Jim Small: Most people say it's about 95-98% similar. There are some differences. They are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.

Ted Simons: The fiscal year '11 budget, we keep hearing that there are two trains on different tracks here. One if the sales tax fails, the other if it's approved. Are we still seeing triggers if the sales tax fails?

Jim Small: That's the idea. And from -- by all accounts that seems to be at least from what legislators are saying, that seems to be the thing that's kind of holding up the process and keeping things from moving forward, is trying to make sure that the governor and the legislature agree on where to put those cuts. There's been a lot of talk that Governor Brewer was really looking at trying to put those cuts in education, K-12, and public safety. And -- K-12 and universities, and also on public safety, to make a mirror what the ballot proposal will be in May, because most of that sales tax money will be dedicated towards public safety and education. I talked to her spokesman yesterday, and he said that she really wants it, you know, to be -- to reflect the will of the voters. If the voters say, we don't want a tax, then those cuts necessarily should come from those areas.

Ted Simons: Basically here's what you're going to lose if you don't get the tax approved. Details again, big-time reduction in access, I should say, accessN enrollment eligibility. That's still on?

Jim Small: Correct. According to some documents that have made their way through the -- through capitol crowd, bits $385 million that would be taken out of access, mostly out of the enrollment.

Ted Simons: And there's still talk I would imagine that if that goes through there's going to be a legal challenge because it's not going to the voters.

Jim Small: Certainly democrats have said that they expect to see legal challenge on it. Even Republicans I think to a certain degree won't be surprised if there is a legal challenge. What's at issue is back in 2000, voters approved expanding the roles for access. And opening it up to 100% of the federal poverty level. Well, Republican lawmakers have looked at the statute, and they think they see wiggle room. It's supposed to be fund by tobacco settlement monies, or -- and anything that doesn't cover is supposed to be covered by the general fund or other federal monies where available. Their argument is look at the situation, that money is not available. That means we can go ahead and take it. One of the problems that could present itself is on that same ballot, that same year voters also approved a measure that would increase access rolls and limit the funding only to the tobacco tax settlement money. But because that one passed with a lower percentage of votes, than the more broad one that is currently on the books, that -- the other one won.

Ted Simons: Sounds like it's headed for the courts one way or the other.

Jim Small: Would I imagine.

Ted Simons: How about eliminating kids' care? Is that still on?

Jim Small: That is still part of the budget. It eliminates kids' care, it takes some of the money from counties that gets paid to counties to help them cope with some of the costs of running rural medical centers and taking care of folks out in other parts of the state.

Ted Simons: Department of juvenile corrections, still on the outs?

Jim Small: Yeah. That is still -- that's proposed to get rid of -- to be phased out by October, shifting the juveniles that are currently in the system to counties.

Ted Simons: And the graduate medical education, that money, gone?

Jim Small: There's a lot of cuts to it. Looks like somewhere in the order of $17 million in the current year, and $21 million in the upcoming year. So not entirely sure if that's going to be all of the money, but if it's not, it would be a lot of it.

Ted Simons: The idea of paybacks, using stimulus money, the governor using stimulus money to get some funds in to DOC and DES, is that in there?

Jim Small: There are some provisions to pay back some of these -- some of the agencies that are seeing these cuts to -- I think to make sure the cuts don't have some unintended consequences. Especially in public safety areas like DOC.

Ted Simons: That's more governor than legislature right there?

Jim Small: It was something she had proposed in her original budget in January, and it looks like it's included in the current proposal.

Ted Simons: Are you -- are you hearing much input from rank and file -- first of all, is there any input whatsoever from any democrat anywhere?

Jim Small: The formation of this plan that there really hasn't been any input. Republicans will be quick to tell you that they've given democrats ample opportunity to be involved, democrats have just rejected that idea and they've said we want to be involved, but on our own terms.

Ted Simons: What about Republican rank and file? Has it still been a closed, behind-doors secret meetings, if you will?

Jim Small: Yeah. Leadership put this budget together, house and senate leadership, in combination with the governor's office, put this package together. It's being disseminated to Republican lawmakers, but it is being done so behind closed doors, and it has not as we said earlier, hasn't been normally -- formally introduced.

Ted Simons: Very good. Jim, thanks so much for joining us.

Jim Small: Thank you.

Jim Small:Arizona Captiol Times;

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