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 Kathleen Ingley of "The Arizona Republic", Mike Sunnucks of "The Business Journal", and Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian".

Ted Simons: Well, with deficits of over $800 million this year and 1.2 -- what? -- $1.3 billion, lawmakers are looking at a variety of ways to cut spending -- including a revision to the state's criminal code? What are we talking about here?

Kathleen Ingley: Are we sending people away for too long for the type of crime they've committed, especially when you look at the prison population, which has been rising rapidly and spending almost a billion dollars a year on prisons and $8.5 million budget, where do you want your money to go? Prisons? But does it have a chance, I don't know.

Ted Simons: This is something people can talk about, but is there any political will for this?

Mike Sunnucks: I doubt it. Who are they going to reduce sentences on? Illegal immigrants? Sex offenders, drug dealers? And Republicans are the tough on crime party. They don't want to lose that tag. I think it's unlikely.

Dennis Welch: That's the key point there. The Republicans don't want to be seen as soft on crime. But not going to be here when they start looking at this next year and talking to the new chairman of the judiciary committee. He's going to be focused on a lot of other issues.

Mike Sunnucks: There's policy arguments. We put a lot of DUI people in jail, drug people, not violent, and end up going to jail for short sentences and some for longer and it's a public policy and fiscal argument. Just not a real political argument to be made.

Kathleen Ingley: But lots of states are looking at this issue and lots of states have the same problem. Prison costs are rising more rapidly than their budget so maybe our legislature, certainly right now, looking at it and saying, no, but Arizonans, when they look at where the cuts will come. Education, university, healthcare, they might start thinking why aren't you looking at --

Mike Sunnucks: Whoever is governor, you have the Willy Horton example. You let out a drunk driver and they kill somebody.

Ted Simons: But isn't is there a gulf between Willy Horton and maybe a white color criminal who is ill -- you know, even Rick Romley says, people who are not going to live too. Longer, do you look at something like that?

Dennis Welch: I talked to Senator Gould, head of the judiciary in the senate. He said, listen, he feels the citizens would be really upset if you let people out like that early. Regardless of the situation. The rules are the rules and people say if you put him away for such a period of time, he should do time behind bars and that's the way they're going to look at it. There's not a lot of legs with this.

Ted Simons: Ok. This is yet another idea that's been floated. Obviously, not too far, but --

Kathleen Ingley: Sinking.

Ted Simons: Exactly. Close to $900 million this year, 1.5 -- the number keeps climbing. What is going to be done? Do people understand the train that's coming this direction?

Kathleen Ingley: I think people have no idea. They might somehow stagger through this year, possibly because they'll go for a loan with the First Things First money, maybe. Legal questions how to do it. But, hey, sue me. That's been their attitude on a number of places they've raided money and they are being sued. But when you hit next year, $1.4 billion and if you haven't made permanent cuts this year, it's going to be ugly.

Ted Simons: How ugly can it get before people say, "Enough is enough"? I don't think we're getting the level of concern. Maybe people are saying we want this. We want everything just decimated.

Mike Sunnucks: There was conservative ooh folks in the legislature and the folks that vote for them, believe that. They want to starve the beast. They'll do the gimmicks but they have that list of prop 100 stuff that they said they would protect if we voted for the sales tax increase. That's going to get cut and walking away from the Medicaid, and even though there's federal matching funds. K 12, I don't know if the governor will let them do that, that will be proposed. Universities, shared revenue with cities that pops up and they can go after that. But AHCCCS is a huge pot of money and might be something that they look at.

Dennis Welch: But starve the beast is one thing. You've got a big freshmen class in the House, Senate coming in, not familiar with the process. I'm going to be interested to see, we're going to cut government, cut spending and reduce all of this stuff and I'm waiting to see the reaction when they float the first proposals out with massive cuts, their phone lines will light up. Email boxes get overwhelmed. That's when the reality sets in that people are going to have their lives changed.

Mike Sunnucks: It will be interesting to see who they listen to though. The teachers' union, Democrats. They're in the Democratic camp and there's not a lot of Democrats down there and no Carolyn Allen to protect those things.

Dennis Welch: A few years ago, the chairman -- the Republicans floated the idea of cutting $800 million out of education. A massive number like that. They brought everybody down there to -- and they brought people down to protest. Republicans and Democrats. And it will be interesting how the perspectives have changed.

Kathleen Ingley: There's an interesting interpretation that some legislators seem to be making that -- voters refused to go after the First Things First money. Which have plugged almost $400 million this year and maybe $120 million ongoing, a chunk of change. Voters said no. I would imagine because they value early childhood education but some educators are saying, no, they understood if they wanted to keep this, we're going to go in and whack the rest of education and I think they misread voters on that.

Ted Simons: Another line of reasoning I've heard, the voters said we just don't want the lawmakers necessarily getting their handing on it. We like the idea of cutting but don't necessarily cutting it because they're lawmakers -- you know what I'm trying to say. But there's a dichotomy. You have 301 and 302 passing significantly and the one cent sales tax passing significantly and yet you've got an electorate that says we don't want taxes and you're right, they're saying cut, let's do it now.

Dennis Welch: The 302 spared by the voters, if there's any overlap in AHCCCS or anything like that, overlap stuff, it's going to get cut and that's going to be the rationale, we warned the voters we can't afford this. We've got to cut money, let first things first provide services and if there's anything similar overlapping, it's gone.

Mike Sunnucks: There's a back story with 302. The governor didn't campaign for passage and I think there's a lot of people that think that alone was a quid pro quo type of thing and voters are down on ballot and like to vote no on things they don't understand. There's a little bit of that too, but there's contradictory messages interest voters. We like tax cuts and Republicans and fiscal conservative but we're going to pass these things too. And the two paths aren't meeting.

Kathleen Ingley: But they've been willing to pass some tax increases. It's my own personal formerly optimistic view but voters are willing to say, revenues and expenditures have to come in line.

Mike Sunnucks: I think you will hear from the private preservative folks, they're saying why shouldn't government have to cut too in this fiscal time and that's the disconnect they have to learn when they come in, because they're coming in without government experience and see if they stick with those types of dogma.

Ted Simons: Are there serious discussions regarding Medicare and Medicaid -- Medicaid, I should say and basically telling the government, we don't need your $7 billion? Is it that serious of business?

Dennis Welch: It's serious rhetoric. [Laughter] I mean, they seriously -- it was a nice talking point. I talked to Senator Pearce, president-elect, and asked him about that, he said nobody is going to cut AHCCCS, talk about if they can reduce what their demands are. They're not going to kiss off $7 billion.

Kathleen Ingley: But they could definitely -- other states are in trouble too, so maybe we'll see a move to allow co-pays. Some people can make modest co-pays which brings in money, but can affect -- you know, you don't have people using services without thinking about it.

Ted Simons: That's a good point. Are there ideas out there, besides -- we understand, cuts will have to be made and some folks will see a decimated landscape. But are there seeds being thrown after the cuts? What happens after the smoke clears? Cut, cut, cut and move on or cut, cut, cut and here's what we do from now on. Change things, revise the tax code. What's out there?

Mike Sunnucks: A lot of the business folks got behind prop 100 last year, earlier this year and changed whether they were going to get a jobs bill out of it. They're going to expect at some point from the governor and they're argument is we need to change some of the our taxes to attract solar companies to cut our property taxes on the commercial side to be competitive with the other states and big companies like Intel and Honeywell and those types so you'll see a lot of proposals out there, but I think Republicans won't get behind, these are temporary cuts.

Dennis Welch: Again, I can't overemphasize with so many new face, it's hard to tell what ideas they're serious about and what ideas they're going to get behind and float out there.

Ted Simons: That's the job of a leadership position and that's with Russell Pearce. He's got folks mumbling and not happy with certain things he's doing. Is he going to be able to herd that particular group of cats?

Kathleen Ingley: No, a lot of people are wondering because he sees himself as the Tea Party Senate President. That's how he signed a memo. And I don't think everyone down there is a Tea Party person. There's a theory once you have a comfortable majority, you actually don't have comfort. Because then people are -- they're sort of going off on their own. They feel like they can go off the reservation. You can't say your vote is the one that counts. If I don't get it, we're out of luck. No, that doesn't count, but then you have to herd people.

Dennis Welch: I think the comments and statements he's made, particularly riled up and concerned people within his caucus. When he signed a memo as the Tea Party President. I talked to one senator, well, he needs to remember it was a Republican caucus that elected him. That goes to the point, you got to remember who you are. And where you're at and some people don't want to identify themselves as a tea party candidate down there. So --

Mike Sunnucks: I think the Tea Party is the major player down here. Next year. Because it'll decide how populace they'll be and whether they'll go for the back-room deems. The business guys always try to get the tax cuts in and save spending programs and -- we're not going to play that game. The think the dynamic is going to be different. There's no Carolyn Allen and it was always her who was for the going to be at the vote or not vote for the budget and that changed things.

Dennis Welch: There's a few people you can look at more moderated but, you know, you need 16 to get anything through that chamber and now you're at 21. You can lose five people? Four or five people? And still pass anything you want down there. To the point that the tea party is the key one, it is down there. They created a new committee they announced today. It's called the Committee on Border Security, Federalism and Sovereignty. And you can only imagine what kind of political theater they're going to use authorize that and the Tea Party Anthems are going to play out.

Ted Simons: How about something like that -- how will something like that play when there's so many other things to worry about. This sort of effort? Is this something that the voters look at and go, oh, that's what we want, that's what we're looking for?

Kathleen Ingley: We did see when people are anxious, they want simple answers, so that's my feeling why one reason is S.B. 1070 was so popular. It seemed like a simple answer. Blame everything on illegal immigration. But as they tackle the budget, people will figure out, wait a minute, my kid's classroom, all of a sudden, 40 kids in the classroom. Or whatever happens in classrooms. More than 50% of all births in Arizona are funded by AHCCCS. This means that people you know, they or their kids are using AHCCCS and if that gets cut people are going to start feeling it and think this is a little superfluous. We had a great observation from someone on our staff, the answer to -- the question was, this state enacted S.B. 1070, an anti-immigration bill, and it was Arizona. And she observed, wait a minute, what happened to the days when they knew us as the Grand Canyon State?

Ted Simons: That brings to mind the issue of the business community and tourism and business and folks that are -- the movers and shakers, if will you. Where are they right now? Are they hanging back? Where are they?

Mike Sunnucks: They're almost as inconsistent as our own voters bus they don't want AHCCCS to get cut or K-12 or universities or the cities, they want quality of life. The spenders, as they're called. But also want low taxes because they want businesses to come and expand and how you do that is based on the tax rate. They want low taxes and want spending and it's a tough position because they're also a part of the Republican community here for the most part and have to have good relations with the legislature to do that so can't hammer them too much on the spending cuts and hope to get the tax breaks through.

Dennis Welch: The recent election a couple weeks ago now, had a lot to do with economics and if the legislature keeps monkeying around with a lot of stuff that continues to give us a black eye, I think people will revolt and reject that in a couple of years.

Mike Sunnucks: You're starting to see the murmuring, we've cut around the edge, we need to do something big and I think they go after AHCCCS before K-12 because of people that will turn out.

Ted Simons: There are a lot of folks who think that Arizona has a wonderful reputation because S.B. 1070 is fantastic. There are two sides of that one. Dennis, are you going to announce a candidacy for mayor of Phoenix. Can we count you in?

Dennis Welch: No, it's funny. Just when you thought you were done with one election cycle, another one starts back up and this week, the race for the Phoenix mayor is starting to take shape. I mean, you know, ally of John McCain, looks like he'll make it official Monday, Tuesday.

Ted Simons: Peggy Neely has a campaign committee. Greg Stanton and Jim Pederson have been mentioned as possible. Sal DiCiccio has been hovering there. These are supposed to be nonpartisan, but is anything nonpartisan anymore?

Kathleen Ingley: No, of course not. I was trying not to laugh. It's bizarre how wide open the field is. I think, I don't know, you -- to me, it doesn't seem like they're front runners. It reminds me a little -- the only parallel, if you look back to when they were running for John Shaddag's seat. And Mayor Gordon, now that he's leaving, there's no obvious successor.

Ted Simons: What campaign -- do Phoenix residents want to hear cut, cut, cut? What works in Phoenix?

Mike Sunnucks: It's moderate, than the rest the state. I don't know if a hardcore conservative can run there. Especially in a run-off. If it's a crowded election, I think somebody more moderate, I think Gullet has a name I.D., but he's a lobbyist and that's a dirty word for folks.

Dennis Welch: This is going to be who can bring jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs, and that's what you'll hear. Who can bring in the companies that have high-paying jobs.

Ted Simons: Kathleen, are people going to focus on the economy or peripheral issues?

Kathleen Ingley: I think people are unhappy -- the libraries closing, the parks. The ill fated moment when they were talking about having parking fees at the mountain preserves.

Ted Simons: The last election, I don't want to veer too far off course, but quickly, we're still counting ballots on that thing and Dennis, I understand the prop 203, what is it? -- the margin is gone?

Dennis Welch: 700 now. About for the yes on 203. Close the gap to 700 and whatnot and we were joking beforehand, the provisionals are trending toward the people who want to see medical marijuana legalized and that's the way it's been going and continues this route, by next week, they could have taken the lead.

Mike Sunnucks: I think it's automatic recount. It's that close. You have all of these Republicans win and conservatives win. Russell Pearce is the state senate president yet we legalize medical marijuana.

Ted Simons: The ninth circuit, Arizona does not have to count ballots of those questioned regarding citizenship. That thing is a long way from being over. That particular question doesn't have to be done. And last question - Symington is launching a media campaign firm.

Dennis Welch: Symington, the second term in office, he was convicted and had to resign. Eventually overturned and pardoned by Bill Clinton who we know saved from drowning but he knows how to deal with the media.

Ted Simons: When he was governor, was he known as being open to the media? Some folks say yes and others say they never got what they wanted out of him.

Kathleen Ingley: At that time, it so happened, I didn't have to deal with him a lot. But I would say the idea that anyone can suddenly, just because you have experience -- I've dealt with the media, well, I can teach you. Like my saying I can drive a car, I can teach you. If you know how I drive, you know I couldn't.

Dennis Welch: Reporters from that era who covered them say the same thing. Yeah, he maintained a good relationship with the media thing through all of that despite some of the tough stories written about them him. Even our good friend --

Mike Sunnucks: He helped in California with runs and despite his problems, he knew how to run campaigns and was successful at that.

Dennis Welch: He helped Ben Quayle who ran for congress and he matured from the beginning to the end.

Ted Simons: I guess we'll stop it. Good conversation. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

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