Legislative Update

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An Arizona Capitol Times reporter provides a mid-week update on news from the Arizona state legislature.

Ted Simons: Busy times at the state capitol. Legislature approved a state budget and lawmakers are now considering the governor's plan to reform the state personnel system. Here with our weekly legislative update is Jim Small of the "Arizona Capitol Times." Good to have you. Very busy times for you at the capitol. Give us an overview of the budget. Modest increase in revenue but projections for the future not so optimistic?

Jim Small: Well, not optimistic. They predict growth but not as optimistic as what the governor had pushed for months this. Really a little more on the conservative side for lack of a better term considering the makeup of the legislature. The idea was, "Let's predict revenues." When you start predicting out two, three years it becomes more difficult. Small errors make for big errors in revenue. So they decided, "Let's play it safe and then if we get any extra money we'll be pleasantly surprised by we'll be in a good situation" as opposite where you budget for 8% growth and it comes in at 5% and we go, "Oh wow we have to take care of this problem."

Ted Simons: So we had a modest increase in revenue in the sense of more money for education, more money for prisons, more money for public safety. These were all the governor's proposals.

Jim Small: I think all tolled up it's a couple hundred million. In terms of new spending. Far less than what the governor had initially pushed for, in education especially. There's like $90 million in new funding for various programs. The governor had been asking for a number far higher, closer to $300 million, $250 million. They met in the middle but tended to meet closer to where the legislature started than where the governor started.

Ted Simons: The legislature also did go with the governor on some of the spending -- these were things the legislature wanted zero line items there. So why do you think, was it basic compromise? Basics negotiation?

Jim Small: I think some of it was basic negotiation and compromise. A good example where the legislature didn't want any part of it but gave the governor something was money for K-through-Third Grade Reading Intervention Program. Last year the legislature passed a law that said students who can't read at a self level at third grade can't go on to fourth grade. We get them reading early. They didn't put any money in the program to help make sure kids can read by third grade, so that's what this is. Legislators, a lot of Republicans didn't want to fund it. They ended up capitulating and giving in, saying, "Okay, the governor can have $42 million but we're going to put in some safeguards and accountability." But I think on the whole you -- this is a budget where if you're going to pick winners and losers the Republican legislature is seen as the winner more than the governor.

Ted Simons: Why did the governor go ahead and if not capitulate, if not cave, certainly agree to things that initially she wasn't that ready to agree to?

Jim Small: We don't know. We don't have a good answer to that. Certainly none of the sides that are involved are really talking about it, but most people tend to think it was out of political expediency. Republicans and Democrats were $40 million apart in finding a budget deal. They talked about this yesterday $40 million apart. They still would have had to massage where the money was going, but out of an $8.5 billion to be $40 million apart for two parties so philosophically -- there's a gulf between them. That's impressive. There were people with the governor's office who saw that going on, said, "We don't really want to be on the receiving end of this veto override. This looks really bad, looks like the governor can't manage and she can't govern the state. So I think they stepped into action and said "Let's find area where we can claim victory. We won't get everything we want. We have to give more than we otherwise would have but it's better than the alternative, getting nothing."

Ted Simons: The legislature is looking at personnel reform.

Jim Small: She will be, that bill got to the Senate today. This is an idea we had heard for a long time was for the tied to the budget. Senate leaders said, "No, we're just waiting for the right time." Lo and behold, the budget got out yesterday and here we are discussing personnel reform today. The bill will be voted on in the House, get sent to the governor. This is a cornerstone of her agenda. This is what she talked about at length about so she will certainly sign it.

Ted Simons: What's the business of reimbursing Russell Pearce, who lost the recall election, reimbursing him for recall election costs?

Jim Small: Constitutional provision that says the legislature is to enact laws to allow recall elections to happen and also to enact the law to provide for the reimbursement of reasonable campaign expenses for recalled officials, Russell Pearce in this case, recalled official. That law was struck off the books in the '70's, though. You have people who supporters say we need to find a way to make him whole constitutionally. We have to do our duty. So today there was a conference committee that met. They added an amendment to another bill that had to do with recall elections and it says that -- establishes a framework for how to repay recalled officials in the future. It doesn't have a dollar amount. It doesn't say we're going to give Russell Pearce a check, but it allows him to apply for reimbursement.

Ted Simons: Basically if he wins this next election he can be in the legislature and basically apply for reimbursement?

Jim Small: Assuming this thing gets through the House, the Senate and signed by the governor, he could probably do it right away.

Ted Simons: Basically you're talking about no money for Kidscare, no state money for KidsCare. There's money through outside sources, soft capital, school books, computers, we're seeing fund sweeps in unemployment benefits, but they can find money to reimburse Russell Pearce?

Jim Small: Well, there's certainly been a lot of discussion about that. I know Democrats and other people who are critics say, "Really, this is what we're going to do? Spend money on this?" It's the same conversation we had in the House and Senate when they made a motion to authorize a lawsuit against the IRC, well, we can't find money for KidsCare or adult education, for K-12, but find money to sue to make our elections easier?

Ted Simons: Sine die tomorrow?

Jim Small: All signs point to tomorrow. They have called off work for the day, so tomorrow it is.

Ted Simons: Good stuff, Jim. Thanks.

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