Journalists Roundtable

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Journalists discuss the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic." Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services and Mike Sunnucks of "The Business Journal."

Ted Simons: Gun sales in Arizona, a major topic of discussion this week after an undercover investigation by the office of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg targets a Phoenix gun show. Howie talk to us about it, what were they hooking for and what did they find?

Howard Fischer: They found probably what they expected to find. Gee, it's easy to buy guns in Arizona. The mayor's office hired some private investigators in Arizona and he needs to do that because you need an Arizona I.D. to guy guns at gun shows in Arizona, and guess what? They went there and found that they could get a Glock with extended clip just like Jared Loughner had. Duh, they're legal. The interesting part was you're supposed to go ahead and check if somebody is probably not a permitted possessor, there's no requirement to do a background check and several of these undercover agents told the sellers, I probably couldn't pass a background check so it's good that you're a private seller. So sure enough the sellers sold them anyway. And that was the videotape that caused a lot of action. Obviously we all asked the governor, are you ok with the person to person sales like this without a background check? And she says, oh yeah I really support the laws in Arizona and I protect the second amendment, and that raises a whole bunch of questions given the ease to get a gun at a gun show.

Ted Simons: Wasn't the operation designed to show that federal law wasn't necessarily being followed and that some these guns according to mayor Bloomberg were heading to places like New York City?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Exactly, there was a broader agenda on several levels. Bloomberg is toying with the idea of running for president, as an aside. But there's concern what that means for a city in a state such as where he lives and it does expose perhaps some lack of strict vigilance on enforcing those federal background checks.

Mike Sunnucks: They've gone to Virginia and the southern states to do the same thing and shows that the gun laws are lax there and more open. People are politicizing the Tucson stuff but this is probably the extreme of it. This is based on Jared Loughner and them coming out and trying to make points on that for an agenda back east in Washington and they've gone to numerous other states and done this too. So this is really nothing new it's just the latest chapter.

Howard Fischer: That's the key, the gap is in the federal law. It says that if Mary Jo is a licensed dealer, she must run an instant background check on me. If Mary Jo is selling it to me as a private sale and gun shows count as private sales, no matter, I've got these 4,000 weapons here but there all mine, they're private sale. No requirement for a background check and what Bloomberg wants and what he's using this for, obviously, is to put pressure on congress to close the loophole. Given the NAR's power, I'm not holding my breath.

Ted Simons: Publicity Son says Tom Horne, does he get points now for saying that--I guess my question is, the governor says I guess New York City's problems are all solved so he can focus on Arizona. Is anyone worried that guns were sold to folks who probably couldn't pass a background check?

Mary Jo Pitzl: We're not hearing from the top law enforcement official in the state. Horne went out of his way to make a point he was not consulted before they came in to do this. Who is holding the publicity stunt seems to be widely available and widely used.

Mike Sunnucks: It's interesting to see how many guns from Arizona show up in New York City each year.

Howard Fischer: That's the problem. There's no track. After that initial sale, where you're selling a gun to a federal licensed firearm dealer, there's no tracking. And that gets the whole issue of states rights. We're entitled as Arizonans to possess guns and the feds shouldn't come in here and tell us what to do. That's why they do the sting operations in Mexico where they go ahead and they look for guns that were sold in Arizona and track the serial numbers back from lessened dealers here and find out they were used in drug wars in Mexico.

Mike Sunnucks: Well there is nothing wrong -- this is a legitimist issue to bring up with these gun shows and these loopholes in here, but to pick on Arizona because of what happened in Tucson and our image right now nationally is nothing but a P.R. stunt.

Mary Jo Pitzl: To your question about is anyone concerned about this, well we saw senator Steve BARDO even he admits will nowhere to try to close the gun show loopholes.

Ted Simons: So basically his bill makes gun shows checks at these --- checks at the -- I'll get it out there somewhere. Anyway, checks at gun shows is the same as at gun stores, correct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Correct. It would no longer be considered a private transaction.

Howard Fischer: Heck no. You remember, this is the legislature that voted last year to take away the last vestiges of city power to do anything. Like keeping guns out of parks and this was cities that brought up the issue. This started, you know, a decade ago when Tucson said to the gun shows, you want to use our convention center, you'll do background checks and they passed a law telling cities, no, you can not impose additional requirements. This is part of the push for the second amendment. And truthfully, if you at Arizona's verse in the second amendment -- the second amendment talks about -- there's none of that pesky language in Arizona's law. It says you're right to protect yourself with a weapon is absolute. So from a state constitution perspective, they're right.

Mike Sunnucks: Well if you want to get Arizona to do something, is the mayor of New York City sending people out here to do something the way to do it?

Howard Fischer: He's not trying to get Arizona to do something, he's trying to get the feds to do something.

Ted Simons: OK, let's keep it moving here. We had university presidents showing up at the state capitol trying to explain what? That revenues are up after three years of cutting? What's going on here?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well this was a budget hearing on the university budgets, and as you know, Governor Brewer's budget which the legislature is working from. Proposing to cut universities $170 million, and ASU president Michael Crow stood up and said -- I think, I sat through both of those hearings, both the house and the senate, and I think the university presidents were not trying to whine and complain which is something they've done in the past to no avail. So they were trying to remind lawmakers, we've done a lot to try to trim our sales and save on money, but crow said if we have to absorb this cut, this puts us at 1960's funding levels in terms of state contribution per student, which means it puts more pressure on the universities to get money from other sources, there's grants, students and maybe privatizing, as they talked about. So this is sort of to kick off the whole debate over university funding.

Ted Simons: What kind of reaction from lawmakers?

Howard Fischer: Well lawmakers are saying that we got to cut somewhere. They are trying as best they can to protect K-12 and counting on the federal government granting them this waiver on the Medicaid we talked about. The universities, close to a billion a year out of an $8.5 billion budget. They're going to take a hit. The point is do they have other sources of revenue? Sure, it's the same argument as community colleges, which have tuition and local property taxes they can raise. But the state constitution says instruction should be nearly as free as practicable. What does that mean? We've never got a good decision out of the court, probably in the lower third. And now we're not mid range, is that the function of a state university. Well let me tell you the other half of it, there are lawmakers there who would be just as happy and give everybody a voucher and tell them go where you want.

Ted Simmons: There's a part in the constitution that the state is responsible for making sure that funds are there for higher education in Arizona.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right, and even though Howie, you know, beliefs there are lawmakers who would just as soon get rid of it, no one is proposing that. And this is perhaps this is the starve the beast strategy. But one thing that came up during the hearing, yes, revenues, the universities have more money coming in right now than they did three years ago but they also have more students. Some of these things are tied together. Representative John Kavanagh tried to make the point if they have more revenue; surely you can absorb the cut, but ignored the other side of the equation.

Mike Sunnucks: Rep. Kavanagh was also one of the ones who brought up how many students get free tuition if hardly any at all, so they're looking at that. And it's interesting we're looking at 300,000 jobs and there's a job bill and tax cuts and in these universities, especially ASU appears -- it's a big economic engine. They are bringing in a lot of R and D and grants, you're going to be graduating skilled workers and hopefully some of the kids will stay here. And so I think it's kind of a losable in this debate coming from the legislature.

Ted Simons: Well and you mentioned R and D and grants and things and when the university gets grants, that's obviously dedicated money. You can't use that just for anything. Where is the business community? We keep hearing from business community, we need educated workers, we need better education. Where are they?

Howard Fischer: Well, it's -- they're a little -- a little -- can you say Groundhog Day? Looking for their shadow to see what's happening. The official position of the Arizona chamber of commerce is, please protect higher education. But they haven't come up with some plan to make all of this fit together. The third shoe on this, of course, is -- and by the way, cut our taxes because we think we can grow our way out of this. That's the problem the business community is having. If somebody shows up and says don't cut $170 million from the universities and John Kavanagh is going to say where do you want us to take it from? Nobody has a good answer.

Mike Sunnucks: Well one thing the business community does here is they want to see -- they don't want to annoy anybody or get anybody mad at them so they go along to get along. You have the governor and Republicans wanting to cut higher education and the business community would rather have their tax cut and keep those relations there maybe to protect the hospitals a little bit, than to go out on the limb and protect state universities. Its pot partisan or ideological, they think they should be invited to lunch than be able to go and talk to the governor and speaker every day rather than take a chance.

Ted Simons: Alright, the feds offered some ideas regarding the cutting of Medicaid spending. Oddly enough, none of these ideas involved a waiver for maintenance of efforts requirements, surprised?

Mary Jo Pitzl: No, not terribly surprised. This came in a letter from the health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, to the nation's governors. There are states who is want out of the maintenance of effort requirements of the new federal healthcare law. Her response, well I'm not sure if I can really give you the entire wavier, but maybe you can try to save money here and here and there.

Mike Sunnucks: And that's basically like telling people, don't go out to eat as much. Don't buy dessert, cut back on your spending around the edges - it wasn't really -- and the bush administration did the same thing. They proposed the same type of little minor cuts. And that's why the waiver has a tough chance. If they grant it for Arizona, every red state with a red state governor is going to apply.

Howard Fischer: There's a couple curious points. Some of the things they are suggesting, like better managing the high-cost people, do preventive care, that's essentially what Arizona has had since 1982. A fee for service healthcare plan where you pay to keep them healthy so they don't cost much. Managing drug cost, that's built into the AHCCCS plan. So there aren't a lot of -- this is not a bloated system. The problem is that Arizona got stuck based on what voters did in 2000 of having much hire eligibility than 45 other states and they just want to go back to what the other states has.

Mike Sunnucks: I -- both parties at a fair level will tell us to mainly instruct cost, but they'll never approve drug imports from Canada or Europe. It's kind of hypocritical.

Ted Simons: They talked about this repealing AHCCCS altogether. I know that there's a bill, Senator Andy Biggs has a bill out. I don't know if that's ceremonial - or if that's -- how much traction is that getting?

Howard Fischer: Oh that's not going to get -- it's a threat. It's a threat. And the governor repeated it when she was talking to an audience in Flagstaff recently when she said, well, if we don't get this -- I'm not saying this, but the legislature is talking about this. Look, if 'you went back to pre1982, before we had Medicaid, before we had AHCCCS, the counties were responsible. But you had maybe 40,000 people getting care. We have 1.2 million people in the state getting care. Even if you cut back to the earlier eligibility levels you're still in the $900,000 range. The counties are not going to accept it, they are not just going to eat the cost.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Getting rid ever AHCCCS altogether isn't going to happen. In fact, the governor's line has been, and we've heard this from lawmakers as well is, you need to cut out this 280,000 people in an effort to save the larger program. Which benefits the people in nursing homes and severely disabled people who might have been that way since birth or something happened to them and it will protect pregnant women and protect certain level of children and parents and they say we've got to throw these over board so we can keep the boat floating.

Mike Sunnucks: I do think ideologically there's some people down there who would like to get rid of AHCCCS and Medicaid -- not that it's going to pass, not that there's enough of them, but there's -- there's -- there's more than a few that don't think government should do anything like that.

Howard Fischer: There are interesting questions. The question that Kathleen Sebelius brought up about co-pays. When something is free, people overuse it. I think a case could be made, you're not going to raise a lot of money, but maybe you should set up an AHCCCS program where somebody pays $10 for a visit.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Here's the rub. In fact I was just visiting with my doctor this morning and she's had a couple of AHCCCS patients in but says there are some people who are on 10 different meds and if you have to do a co-pay for each, you can't do it and they don't and then they get sicker. And then where do they wind up? So it's one of these --

Howard Fischer: It's tricky. It's very tricky. The question becomes can you do it on some basis? $10 a more or something like that. I don't know. It does become an interesting question of we have the system, everyone below $18,300 a year for a family of three gets free care. At 18,400 it's all yours.

Mike Sunnucks: They need to start thinking of these things because the chances of this waiver going through, I don't think are very good. So they need to think about co-pays and some of these alternatives out there.

Ted Simons: Real quick before we leave healthcare, what's the latest with the transplant funds? What's going on down there?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think the transplant funds are -- are gone. They're not going to be reinstated for the these certain services. The state continues to fund a certain type of transplants but the ones they cut out of the budget become effective October 1, there's no political will to restore funding.

Ted Simons: What happened to the ground swell we saw before the session? The pre-session ground swell if you will.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think that pre-session was driven by emotion and a lot of data pouring in, especially to representative Kavanagh. He's really getting targeted by because he's the money guy and I think with a little more time and distance and you distance yourself from that and the -- it's going to -- it's -- and the realities of the budget and the unwillingness of the executive to consider this, the issue is not going to be addressed beyond what's happened already.

Mike Sunnucks: I don't think you saw Republicans get on board. It was the media, the hospitals and the transplant companies and the doctors and patients and families. I didn't see one Republican coming out to do this. And what is it? A million bucks. They are making no effort. It goes back to the gun. They get obtuse and entrenched on issues like this. When someone confronts them -- it's and impediment not a movement.

Howard Fischer: Obtuse and entrenched when you're referring to the Arizona legislature? I'm shocked, Michael.

Ted Simons: All right. Howie, the marijuana dispensary rules, kind of a second draft of this idea. I know you're paying really close attention to this. Released after public comment. All sorts of changes, any surprises in these changes?

Howard Fischer: I think some of them were already telegraphed. One of the big problems with the idea in order to have -- the initiative requires an ongoing physician-patient relationship, you have had see your doctor four times after the last year, there was a little escape clause. People said, wait a second, I've got a herniated disc. I see the doctor once a year. Why should this be an exception? Will humble obviously wants to make this more than Colorado - oh doctor I have a headache, here's your script for marijuana. So he said, I'm going to require -- he says I'm going to put the burden on the doctors to say I will manage this person and I've done a full physical and I have the medical records from the last year and we'll then allow the doctors to recommend it. The other interesting one, he said I don't want all the of dispensaries in Phoenix and Tucson, especially Tucson since they voted for this stuff we know there will be a lot of sales. And there happens to be 126 healthcare districts in the state and there's going to be 125 of these outlets. Well, didn't that work out nice? So he's going to essentially farm them out and you can get your marijuana courtside as easily as downtown Phoenix.

Mike Sunnucks: The is just the first step cause you're already going to see that cities are already taking steps to restrict zoning and none of the people came out against it during the election. It's interesting because none of these people came out against this thing in the election, everybody quiet and now after the voters voted for this thing narrowly, they're trying to squelch a little bit.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But what's interesting is -- the inverse that is happening in some quarters of the legislature where there was no support for medical marijuana, at least from the Republicans and now we've got the attorney general coming out and saying we need to tax this thing and I think we can do this, we probably don't need to change anything so there's a recognition it's here, it's probably going to become part of the Arizona economy, the state may as well tax it and make some money off it.

Ted Simons: And as far as the rules are concerned, will humble on the program saying other states are watching here. They figure if we get it right, they can follow our lead as oppose to us looking at California.

Howard Fischer: That's the point, he looked at California and he looked at Colorado and said

Ted Simons: We don't --

Howard Fischer: I don't want to do it that way. And will, to his credit, is saying we passed a medical marijuana plan. Not a recreational plan and if we can keep it that way then that's great.

Ted Simons: Signing of the bill regarding the casino and again, this is a timetable. You sign the bill, 90 days at the end of the session, it becomes law, until then all sorts of things can be happening.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah the feds can make a final decision whether its casino land out there by the stadium, the court case could be decided they are going to have a hearing on this.

Ted Simons: Where is that? Give us the--

Mike Sunnucks: 95th avenue and northern, kind of north of Westgate and arena. So north of the Cardinals Stadium, its on unincorporated land bounded by Peoria and Glendale which the bill happened to narrowly target. It's a Glendale bill aimed at the tribe. Well see what happens, the timing may play a role in this.

Howard Fischer: There's a hearing later this month in front of a federal judge here in Phoenix to decide when -- this was a lawsuit filed by Glendale and the Gila Indian community saying it's not about money, it's about our sovereignty and to say that interior erred in allowing them to annex the property and taken into trust, into the reservation. The judge will make a decision, whichever side loses will immediately seek appeal. There's a race here. If there's a final judgment before the bill takes effect. It becomes part of the reservation; it's already part of the res.

Ted Simons: But there will still be appeals for that, won't there?

Mary Jo Pitzl: There might be appeals, but I think one consequence to watch for, if that does happen, if this opens the door wider for the concept of racinos. You have the expansion of gaming into the urban areas which was part of the deal in 2002, approve these compacts and we won't expand into the urban area. Some consider that all bets are off and the state will still be in deep water in terms of budget problems. Hey, let the racetracks have slot machines and give a share to the state.

Ted Simons: It does do a bit of a tumble in the jumble to the compact doesn't it?

Howard Fischer: It does. But you're going to hate me saying it that way, but if you look at what voters approved in 2002, it said there will be gaming allowed on existing reservations and any after acquired land due it to a land settlement. Now they already knew they had a land settlement, they were already shopping in January of '03, bought this land in Glendale so some sharp lawyer earned his other her keep making sure that the compact and ballot measure read that way.

Ted Simons: And in that time what did the cities -- what did Glendale do?

Howard Fischer: Glendale, they were sort of --

Mary Jo Pitzl: Working on the Coyotes.

Howard Fischer: Exactly.

Mike Sunnucks: They had to clue that was going to happen and the '86 law is the key to this. That's the tribe's big argument. It's going to supersede everything else and from previously lost land from past history and I think that will be the gist of their argument.

Ted Simons: Before we go, here's a new one. Legislation regarding kids in the back of pickup trucks.

Howard Fischer: Shocking.

Ted Simons: Every session -- What's going on with this.

Howard Fischer: I think before there was a "Horizon" show, 30 years ago, action they were talking about this. Every time they try to massage this bill to make it acceptable, first they say, well, we'll take out tribal lands because they're native American members of the legislation, they don't want that. Well, what about parades? We'll take out parades. What about on a road posted less than 30 miles per hour? We'll take that out. Well, the bill squeaked out of the house transportation committee but they also said, well, ok, if you've got chairs in the back, well, we'll let you do that. But the real fun one is you can let your kids bounce around in the back of the pickup truck if you put a helmet on them. If you find a helmet for the 3-year-old, put the kid in the back.

Mike Sunnucks: Well if they're on the way to a gun show, it --

Mary Jo Pitzl: This is a legislation from a couple years ago, about nine years ago, there was a bill that actually got farther along that would have outlawed pets in the back of pickup trucks. It didn't happen but we're a little more concerned at that time about pets than kids.

Howard Fischer: Let me go a step farther. The fact is you have to secure a load in the back of a pickup truck so it doesn't fall out and harm people. You have a dead elk in the back of the pickup truck, you tie it down. You have a live child in the back of a pickup truck who may fall out and get in the way of traffic, no problem in this state.

Ted Simon: Or a Doxon wearing a helmet in the back?

Howard Fischer: I like that.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Put a little cape on that.

Ted Simons: Let's end on that particular image. Thank you so much for joining us.

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