Democratic Legislative Leadership

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House Minority Leader David Lujan and Senate Assistant Minority Leader Rebecca Rios discuss the priorities of their caucuses for the remainder of the legislative session.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Andrew Thomas announced today that he's officially running for attorney general and Thomas says his last day as county attorney will be April 6th and will run as a -- will face
Tom Horne in the primary for attorney general.

Ted Simons: A bill that would lighten the penalties for juveniles who send sexual material to kids via -- lawmakers said the current bill is not right yet and a revised version could be acted on next week.

Ted Simons: Democrats have accused Republicans of passing a phony budget and disagree with the idea of suing the federal government over healthcare reform. Here to talk about it from the democratic perspective is house minority leader David Lujan and senate assistant minority leader Rebecca Rios. Let's start with the idea of suing the federal government over the new health care planWhy is it not a good idea?

Rebecca Rios: My feeling is this. And I understand this is very important to the Republicans. But there was no need for the governor to call a special session. That was clearly a P.R. stunt to give her a lot of attention. She can join in a lawsuit with the other 14, 15 states that are suing Without any cost to the Arizona taxpayers. For me that's the issue. One of our Republican colleagues said it would cost about $3 million. I don't know how they can justify spending $3 million on an attorney to participate in a lawsuit that we can do without expending all of that money.

Ted Simons: The whole idea is protecting the state from what some see as a federal quote/unquote mandate. Why is that a bad idea?

David Lujan:: I agree with our own attorney general Terry Goddard and the 37 other attorney generals around the country and a host of legal scholars who say the lawsuit has no merit. The United States congress has broad powers under the commerce clause to do what they did with the healthcare reform. There's many other examples of legislation that's been passed that the United States Supreme Court has upheld. This is pure political gamesmanship and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Ted Simons: Yet Republicans will say they're fighting these provisions to -- if Arizona wants federal dollars, but the federal government should not dictate programs without sending the money to fund them. Is there a disagreement there or in terms of logistics it doesn't make sense?

David Lujan:: What makes this particularly ridiculous, there's no federal mandate on Arizona. Even if they were to proceed with the lawsuit and win, which I don't think they will, the state of Arizona would still have an obligation to provide the healthcare funding because it's not a federal mandate. It's a mandate imposed by the people of Arizona when they voted in 2000, proposition 204. So we would have to provide the healthcare. It's what the people of Arizona want. We're not listening to the people when we pursue this litigation.

Ted Simons: The concept of a mandate bandied about. A de facto mandate, the idea that if you don't do this, this will happen. It may not be a mandate, but close, isn't it?

Rebecca Rios: Part of what we need to take into consideration, as David said, the voters required that we provide healthcare under prop 204. I think a lot of what the Republicans have used as an argument is this cost that's been pushed down on the states but yet when we look at the estimates from our join legislative budget committee, the Republicans are saying this is going to cost $9 million over the next 10 years, but a cost savings of $3.2 billion. What are we achieving? The net result will be a cost savings to Arizonans and healthcare.

Ted Simons: But the cost savings begin in 2014, correct? How do we get to 2014? There's a lot of money in between here and there.

Rebecca Rios: Part of what you're saying is the healthcare coming up with an initiative. There are people who believe that we need to provide healthcare resources and the healthcare industry proposing an initiative. At the end of the day in the legislature as with anything it's a matter of priorities and healthcare has not been a priority for Republicans. Had it been, they would have found a way to fund it.

Ted Simons: Again, the idea we're going to have to pay for something somehow. The Republicans say if we don't fight this, more cuts are on the way. Agree?

David Lujan: No, I don't agree. Actually, we could restore kids care and the prop 204 money without any cost to the state for the next fiscal year because it looks like congress is going to extend the stimulus dollars which will pay for the kids care and the loss of prop 204 coverage. It won't cost anything gfor the fiscal year '11. It's fiscal year '12 and '13 that we need to find the money. We don't have to spend one additional dollar under the healthcare reform. We just have to maintain the funding levels that the people of Arizona have told us to fund.

Ted Simons: Yet maintaining the levels, the Republicans say it's impossible, the state doesn't have the money right now.

David Lujan: There's a lot of alternatives, Democrats put out a lot. Let me just give one. Kids care. Costs $18 million a year to fund kids care. The department of revenue estimates there's over $400 million in delinquent taxes owed to the state of Arizona which they can't collect because we've will to lay off the tax collectors. If we give them $1 million they say they can rehire them to bring in $400 million in delinquent dollars. We don't have to talk about raising taxes in that instance. The Republicans haven't considered that option.

Ted Simons: Is that a realistic option. A million dollars for a bunch of folks who can get $400 million.

Rebecca Rios: Absolutely. That came out from the direct of the Department of Revenue. When the cuts were made. These folks knew what the net result was going to be.

Ted Simons: We should mention we had the department of revenue director on recently and said some of the folks are being hired back. That's encouraging in one respect there. For others, I'm not so sure. The idea that the federal healthcare plan infringes on the liberty of Arizonans, the ability to choose. The fundamental freedoms of Arizonans, talk to me about that.

Rebecca Rios: Well, I think what you're saying is there have always been opponents to reform. We had opponents to reform the civil rights act, the voting rights act. The social security act. That's part of the process but I believe there are provisions in the bill where folks that can't afford insurance, won't be mandated to provide coverage. There are exemptions and what's most amusing, a lot of the folks have not read the bill. Don't know exactly what's in it. It happens on both sides. We get caught up in the fervor of the moment without knowing the details.

Ted Simons: A lot of play, and hearing that a lot and a lot of people are concerned about that, should they not be concerned?

David Lujan: There's a lot of things we have historically, you pay out of your payroll for Medicare and other things that the government mandates but I think in order to have the healthcare reform system work, we all need to participate and make sure that -- because otherwise, the costs are going to be shifted somewhere. Either in the hospital emergency rooms or we're going to pay more through our health insurance premiums so it's important for everybody to participate.

Ted Simons: Longer waiting, rationing and these things are mentioned by the members of the state legislature as consequences of federal healthcare reform.

David Lujan: Every one of them is a complete and utter myth and it's people who have not read the healthcare reform bill. You know, it was amusing to watch in the house appropriations committee, the Republican members bring up the things you mentioned and my colleague, Kyrsten Sinema pointed out the inaccuracies in every one of them. There's an example of people parroting things they hear on talk radio but have no substance behind them.

Ted Simons:What about the legal standing, why Arizona has a legal standing in a case like this. Republicans say we do, I'm guessing you say we don't.

Rebecca Rios: There we've seen, there's a number of scholars who indicated they don't have legal standing. So -- and when pressed, what is your legal standing, they weren't able to answer that. So I don't know that they know what they're legal standing was, they aren't able to -- they weren't able to articulate that during a recent press conference.

Ted Simons: The gist is they're trying to give a voice to those who may not have a voice. The concept of a class action suit, there are folks who don't have the resources, time available do that, the state could be acting on their behalf, on the behalf of citizens. Again, does that make sense?

David Lujan: No, and that's an example of why this lawsuit has no merit from the state standpoint. The state doesn't have standing to pursue this. You're talking about individual requirements and not a state mandate. There's no state mandate in this bill. So the state wouldn't have standing in those instances to sue on behalf of individuals. Individuals could bring the lawsuit, but not the state.

Ted Simons: And back to the idea of a mandate and whether or not it's a true mandate or a de facto mandate. We're hearing from Speaker Adams, filing the suit, just going after this particular plan is much better than the alternative which would be in his eyes, cuts. Cuts to education and healthcare, etc. How do you respond?

Rebecca Rios: I have seen them use everything they disagree with as an excuse for -- if we don't this, we're going to cut education. Everything is used and connected to education. They've cut $1.5 billion from education. For me, it doesn't hold water. It's a convenient excuse for something they intend to cut anyway.

Ted Simons: We had the Republican leadership on the program recently and Speaker Adams, I mentioned the fact, the democratic idea was to use tax exemptions for warranties and get that exemption out of there which would pay for kids care, according to what the Democrats were saying and Democrats according to it him, quote, there have been no proposals from the Democrats dropped in the hopper or shared in a Plaintiff's Exhibit meeting related to new revenue sources. Is that true?

Rebecca Rios: That's not true. We've posted things on websites and had press conferences and they're not interested. They would rather tax everyday working Arizonans to fund Adams' job cuts proposal. They're not interested in closing corporate loopholes and for him to say we've not provided anything is false.

Ted Simons: Now this is a quote, Democrats is not -- have not come forward with an proposal to increase revenue. Again? Just with a broad brush and said here's our
idea and let's hammer it out.

David Lujan: We've given them -- the first minority party that I'm aware of that put out two balanced budget proposals but it's what we've seen, trying to shift the responsibility and I can understand why they'd want to, because the Republicans have control of the legislature in Arizona for over 40 years. They've controlled the budget process for over 40 years and when you're dead last in the country in funding public education and completely eliminated healthcare for 40,000 Arizonans, I can understand why they would want to shift the responsibility. But they can't. They have 40 years of failed leadership on their watch.

Ted Simons: I'm hearing they're not getting a concrete proposal. Dropped in the hopper from the Democrats because the Democrats don't want to put themselves on the line.

David Lujan: It's interesting, the Republicans put out their bill 24 hours before we voted on it, in the history I've been following the legislature, a few hours before the budget. They wanted us to put out a budget bill at the beginning of the session, which has never been heard of. If you look at past legislators where they actually used to work together in a bipartisan fashion, they never put out their budget bills ahead of time but they were able to work in a bipartisan faction and this isn't about Democrats being shut out of the process, this is about people of Arizona being shut out of the process.

Rebecca Rios: It's important to remember, there was a plan that was put forward on a bipartisan basis to the joint appropriations committee and it was just a framework of how we could pay off our debt within five years and it was a thorough proposal. Chairmen Pearce and Kavanagh tore it apart. They're not open to other ideas other than cuts. They don't want to increase revenue in the ways we've proposed and what you find are economists and others in the community have the knowledge and don't have to appear in front of the appropriations because of the way they're treated and that was a blatant example you have folks who worked on a project and it was summarily dismissed by both chairmen.

Ted Simons: The sales tax, headed for the ballot -- will you campaign for the tax hike?
Rebecca Rios: I will only vote for this if that Adams' tax cut, jobs bill, whatever we've renamed it, does not pass and not signed by the governor.

Ted Simons: Because?

Rebecca Rios: Because it's just a redistribution of wealth. It's not fair.

Ted Simons: If it does pass and it's a good chance it will, will you be against the sales tax as well?

David Lujan: I agree with Rebecca. It's going to take out a billion dollars in revenue every single year. Rebecca is exactly right. It shifts the revenue and helps to fund their corporate tax cuts.

Ted Simons: We'll stop it there. Good to have you on the show.

David Lujan:House Minority Leader;Rebecca Rios,Senate Assistant Minority Leader;

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