Journalists’ Roundtable

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Local Arizona journalists discuss the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic. Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix business journal. And Steve Goldstein of KJZZ Radio. Now, the Governor and the legislature are looking at Arizona's finances and seeing different things when it comes to a budget. The budget gap, a term that we're hearing a lot of lately.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, mind the gap. This will be something that will, will dominate the weeks of the budget negotiations. Basically, the legislature takes more, a more conservative view of how much money the state will take in for the next fiscal year and have a smaller amount of spending. The Governor has a little more robust view. So, that's how you get this divide is, is it's always in your estimates, and of course, at this early stage of the game all parties are confident that they both will come to an agreement.

Ted Simons: So, so far, the gap is there, but the spirit of cooperation exists, as well?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. But, it's the second week of the legislature.

Mike Sunnucks: Well, it certainly helps that the Governor and the legislature are all in the same party. This is not going to be like when napolitano was there and they had, you know, very contentious fights and horse trading. Most people think they will end up splitting the difference on a lot of these things. The education, state worker pay. Obviously, the common core standards, the Governor wants more money for cps, officers, so, some of that stuff, they will agree to, and some of stuff, stuff they may split the difference.

Ted Simons: 580 some odd million deficit for the Governor, and the Governor plans 70 for the legislature. That's big difference.

Steve Goldstein: That is, and what really helps, when it starts budget negotiations, is this idea of how much money does the state have? Because that is the starting. That seems to be the hardest part about this. How much does the state really have, is there going to be any dipping of the rainy day fund? And I spoke with the budget director for the governor John Arnold this week. Those numbers are inflated as Mary implied. This idea that the difference really is not that great, so, I said well, is this a difference of optimism versus pessimism? Absolutely not, we're going to be optimistic and work together. This gap, we can find way to bridge it fairly easily.

Ted Simons: The education court decision where we got 80 some added million a year. Now, back into the equation. What does that do to the equation?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It could really mess it up. On the state court of appeals, ten days ago, said that, that look, the legislature, you have to fund the inflation factor for schools, that's about 82 million a year, and it's something that, that the legislature hasn't done for the last three years. The legislature is appealing this to the state supreme court. What we don't know at this point is will there be a stay? Will they request a stay? If not, then the legislature needs to pony up the money, at least until you get some kind of definitive ruling from the state supreme court and the problem isn't for the coming fiscal year. It's, it's in two and three years down the road, that's where the nervousness is, and that's why lawmakers say jeez, you know, you take this 82 million and you look out at three-year horizon, when they do now. And that's another, you know, quarter of a billion dollars that we have got to worry about.

Steve Goldstein: One of the things that stands out for me, for a, and I hate -- I asked about the impact of proposition 100 going away did, that affect the thinking. The sales tax. And he said absolutely not. That was an emergency measure, that's why the Governor wants it to be temporary. That's what makes it difficult because that's a billion dollars a year after proposition 204 was defeated, where is the funding going to come from?

Mike Sunnucks: That's in the back of a lot of republican legislative minds. They are talking about some one-time expenditure, and certainly they are looking at that sales tax money. Going away in their thinking. And, and I guess they will probably look at how the economy z' the revenue will come in, and that could move the barometer a little bit in favor of some more spending. But generally, they don't want to spend very much anyway philosophically, and they will use the sales tax one way as a, as an excuse to follow-up on that.

Ted Simons: When we had the jobc numbers, the legislature's numbers, didn't include much of anything, that the Governor included, correct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. Correct. Now, when they put out its budget, they are just doing baseline. They are assuming, what do we need to do to keep the Government running, and so, they are not looking at adding in spending. That's the debate that's to come and it has been started with the governor releasing her budget lastweek, so they will have back and forth over what to build, and if anything for common core for cps. You know. They don't need to build anything in for Medicaid expansion, but that will factor big.

Ted Simons: Let's get the Medicaid expansion. Are we seeing the Governor building any support for what she wants to do down there?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I'd say the fact that she has been, you know, making the rounds around the state. Sort of reprising her state of the state address, and then an hour or two later holding a Press Conference, with business officials in various cities to talk about this. Yeah, she's very much reaching out to the health care community and the business community to stand with her on this.

Steve Goldstein: One thing that stood out for me, following Twitter. Former Senate President City Pierce, so I didn't know Twitter account. Tweeted that expanding Medicaid is the right thing to do. And I think that there is -- there is no question in my mind, Mary Jo down there every day. There are enough Republicans to switch in the Senate to easily, easily do that. The house is the question.

Ted Simons: How strong is the opposition to this down there?

Mike Sunnucks: There is few, there is probably more opposition nationally to this. She's getting a lot of stories out there from conservatives questioning this move. A lot of other states have turned this down. The thing that they point out is we're going to get this match to begin with but what happens in the out years when the Feds cut things? They also -- there is numbers out that, that a lot of people who could qualify for Medicaid in this state are not signed up. What happens if those people start signing up and you have to have surge? We have a lot of people on access. So, there is a lot of concerns nationally from conservatives questioning Jan Brewer, their poster child on immigration about why you are doing this? This is a trap. You are kind of feeding into the big Government stuff, and there is a lot of drawbacks going forward.

Ted Simons: A lot of ideological opposition, were you thing that I did hear, the speaker mentioned it on this program, is you cannot get -- I realize there is circuit breaker in the Governor's plan. But, still, the speakers, you cannot guarantee a, the Government will have the money. And b, the Government will be willing to part with the money if we all go down the tubes in a second recession.

Steve Goldstein: There is no question about that. The Federal funding is an enormous question, a tremendous amount of money. Where would the state be without it? You have people who need that health care, and if, in fact, the Governor is onboard, affordable care act is the law of the land, supreme court said so. So going forward we have to assume that it's going to be there, and therefore, it makes more sense for the Governor to go along with it rather than fight it. And I think that a lot of these Republicans and the legislature are going to be fighting a losing battle.

Mary Jo Pitzl: A lot of them, you know, are saying, we have got to see the details, and there are a lot of details to be worked out. There is circuit breaker. Well, exactly how would that work? And you hear the discomfort not only in the national level, but locally about, what if, you know, we expand and then all of a sudden the federal money goes away and we need to contract. And some say well, you have done that already. The state kicked off bunch of people from the Medicaid roles. They could do it again, not that that's very humane or a nice thing to do, to do a yo-yo kind of service, but those are the questions that lawmakers need to have more detail and answers on before they can really commit.

Mike Sunnucks: She's looking at her legacy and obviously, nationally and locally. The first glimpse of her is 1070 and the finger wagging. This is Governor who supported a pretty big tax increase, a billion dollars a year, and a huge expansion of Medicaid. And most people wouldn't associate that with the Republican, with a Republican.

Ted Simons: That's an interesting point. People talk about the Governor's legacy. You mentioned between finger wagging and all of that stuff on one side and this on the other side, what does she want her legacy? Some folks would say that she wants her legacy to be the finger wagging and the 1070?

Steve Goldstein: Are you asking me to answer that question?

Ted Simons: Yes, I am.

Steve Goldstein: Is there going to be scorpion for breakfast too?

Steve Goldstein: I think that she has always been a more complicated person than we give her credit for. People have seen her as this conservative. She's been in office and never lost an election, whether it's the county supervisor, Secretary of State, Governor. She seems to know what she doing behind the scenes, so at this point I think this is a balancing point. I think the feeling is where is the practical decision there, even when with proposition 100, she makes a lot of noise. She doesn't like President Obama. She usually makes fair practical conservative side decisions.

Ted Simons: The hospital provider tax. What kind thoughts are you hearing from legislature of this one?

Mary Jo Pitzl: This one is interesting. First, you know, we have sort of tried to shop that around couple of years ago, and it did not work because we did not have all the hospitals onboard and even today we don't but you have more. But, to make this happen, you know, taxes is a four-letter word at the legislature. And so, the way that this is -- they are thinking of structuring this, is any kind of tax scenes, a supermajority of the legislature to approve it. Well, not if you call it fee. And then it just takes a simple majority, and that's how this is going to be structured, and that makes all the difference in terms of, of votes. Because giving, getting a three quarter vote on, I think three quarters out of the legislature for this could be very difficult. Getting, you know, 16 and 31, 16 votes in the Senate, 31 in the house, may be not as heavy of list.

Ted Simons: Haven't a couple bills been filed against doing that? Or is that --

Mary Jo Pitzl: We have Karl fields' bill that came out early on against a health exchange, which was already filed after the Governor had opted to not go into a health exchange.

Mike Sunnucks: You have seen him go the fee route before on these machinations. Maybe Grover needs to come up with an anti-fee pledge that they have to sign. It is, it is a way to do it, and it is, it is a bit of a cop-out. But they get caught up in this. But the Governor has been down there a long time, and that's Federal money that sits out there, that they dangle in front of them. It's so tough to turn down, and there is good reasons to take it and reasons, you know, you could worry about taking it, but it is, it is something, it's tough to turn down when you are looking at the budget.

Ted Simons: Not so tough for some to turn down though, Steve.

Steve Goldstein: I don't want to think it's too far off to come back to the Senate. There are a lot of people not happy that Andy biggs is Senate President and a lot of people who would love to vote against him to give tone. I think we'll see a lot of that, and other people in the Republican Senate leadership who are going to vote in favor of that.

Mike Sunnucks: Can you imagine what kind of hardball the Governor is willing to play? The bills that you want are not going to move and things like that. She has that power, and basically, she runs the show. It's her party and power, so, it matters how hard she wants to fight for this.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And what I'm hearing is she's, she's, she's in all the way, you know. This will be -- she's not going to waiver in her position, and they are going to get this thing through the legislature this session and, and whatever it takes to make it happen.

Ted Simons: What about funding for common core, whatever it takes there, as well? Or do we see a fight shaping up there, too?

Mary Jo Pitzl: You wonder if some of in that will be caught up now with this -- what are they going to do about the inflation funding for the schools, if they wind up having to give, to give the, the, that fund funding to the schools as that voters have required. Some lawmakers said we could pay for the common core out of that because you've been living without the inflation funding. They are saying, it's like I never got my pay raise and now I can take on these duties and this will, and this should cover it. So, a lot of that will be caught up, I think, with, with how the legislature deals with the school inflation funding.

Ted Simons: It also -- we'll get caught up in the idea of how much it's going to cost. No one really knows how much these common core requirements going to cost.

Mike Sunnucks: no, and it goes down to the schools and the districts who already have been facing a lot of financial stress the past several years because of the economy. They have a lot of stress on what kind of electives they are going to offer and services they are going to offer. And you have these common core guideline mandates, it's a challenge for them, too.

Ted Simons: and I would like to think, we have done couple of common core stories on "Arizona Horizon," which means I would like to think most Arizonans are aware of it. I don't think that most folks, even parents know what common core is, or the park test. They have no idea what's coming up.

Steve Goldstein: Don't quiz me on the park test. I know it will replace the ames test. This idea that the Arizona education association, I think the estimate was $130 million over couple of years.

Ted Simons: Everything from 30 million to $200 million.

Steve Goldstein: But, again, no one really knows how much going, this is going to cost because how do we know how much it will cost to train the teachers on these standards? Do we know -- who tell us. John is not a guy who likes to spend a lot of money. There was a lot of questions about this, almost similar to the affordable care act. There is too much to decide. But, it's supposed to make people more ready to go into the career field. They all sound good. There is so many fights about education. What do we do?

Mike Sunnucks: I think most parents, mike you said, I don't think that they have a clue what this is. You have had no-child-left-behind. Ames. And all the other states are going through this. There is a lot of states implementing this. The business folks love there because it will be a lot of career preparation for kids. But again, we don't know what the standards are and what it's going to cost and there is a lot of unattended consequences, and the road to hell --

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, it's got to get resolved, though, because the, the deadline for meeting these, these standards is coming. It begins next fall, and the schools have to have money for make that happen, you know. With that amount, somebody will have to land on the number, and find way to make it work.

Ted Simons: There is a lot of innovation there in common core that is different from the way that folks, kids are being taught and teachers are teaching. And, Ben Arredondo sentenced, no prison time.

Steve Goldstein: Yeah. And it sound like judge Frederick Martone, the one who put out the sentence, was not thrilled with the FBI, as far as the investigation of Ben Arredondo, thought that was embarrassing, and he also thought that Arredondo was pathetic himself in terms of the decisions he made. To review bit, Arredondo was with the sting operation saying can you help us get -- I want to say, zoning regulations. It may not have been that, but a deal in order to build this business in downtown.

Ted Simons: Right.

Steve Goldstein: And Ben Arredondo was drilled to offer this in exchange for -- it may have been tickets, money, it was supposed to go to a scholarship fund but instead went to his family. It sounded like the judge felt pity for him because he tried to commit suicide. Was so troubled. Was so hurt that he destroyed his family name. But, it's going to be house arrest, going to be probation. And no jail time.

Ted Simons: Three years' probation. 18 months home detention. I think a $5,000 fine, and restitution to charity which, again, as Steve mentioned, was a charity towards the Ben Arredondo family.

Mike Sunnucks: The effectiveness of public corruption prosecution and white collar is for somebody to go to jail. That deters a lot of other people from doing that because those are populations not used to going to jail. They don't want to. When you let somebody off like there for whatever reason it sends a negative message to the prosecutors, and the public. Think about kid on the lower end of the economic scale. He does not have bunch of friends, not in public office. He's kid. Does he get this sympathy? No, it really sends a poor message to, about the judicial system. And where people rank.

Ted Simons: Especially with the Ben Arredondo name. It pulls a lot of water in Tempe. That's a big name with a lot of folks and history down there. At the legislature, was there any indication that maybe the onset of dementia, which was mentioned at the sentencing, is there any indication that was going on? Was he not --

Mary Jo Pitzl: No, I mean, you know, because everything that Ben Arredondo was charged with dated from his time as a Tempe city council member. He was in the legislature when it was handed up. He was the ultimate back bencher. You did not hear anything out of him. He was not very involved. Didn't speak up. Didn't run much legislation. Didn't, you know, make fiery speeches on the floor. So, it was really hard to get a read. A lot of people didn't really pay much attention.

Ted Simons: And it's very different than the Ben Arredondo on the Tempe city council so maybe there is something there with the declining health.

Steve Goldstein: It certainly is possible. I would not want to speculate because we don't know. Even when Mike mentions friends, Mary Mitchell, Eddie basha wrote letters to the judge in support saying please don't do this to ben.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But to the point that Mike was making. I was talking to some folks from the church groups and they were appalled at the judge lecturing the prosecutors for -- judge Martone didn't think this was prepenny any, and these folks, you know, there was bribe and public corruption. Those are really terrible examples to, to, you know, to let get off without any kind of real meaningful jail time.

Ted Simons They were felonies.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right.

Mike Sunnucks: Yes. You can give sentence that, that has a headline that he has jail time that is what prosecutors are looking for essentially. They want coverage to show this, it deters others from doing these things. When nobody goes to jail, same with the Wall Street and the while collar stuff. When nobody goes to jail, it erodes confidence.

Steve Goldstein: It illustrates the disconnect. We talked about the lack of popularity for the legislature. When, if you were to say to people, church groups or otherwise, this is really how business gets done. It's not like this. Obviously, this is illegal but to the point of, the back scratching, almost a quid pro quo but not really. For a lot of people that's how politics has worked forever. So the idea the public doesn't like it, that should send a signal.

Ted Simons: And Mary Jo, another bill Tom Horne pushing it, an attempt to do something about the sect, the cult at Colorado city. Last year it took money out of his office to get Marshall, the Sheriff's Department's patrolled. What's going on? Is anything going to happen with this one?

Mary Jo Pitzl: As different legislature. Late, late in the last session, Horne was out there making a push to get this bill through that would replace Marshalls up in Colorado city with, with deputies from Mohave county because there is a belief that among many, that the marshalls are of a league with the people who run the FLDS church up there. And they are not enforcing the law, but rather, the church's doctrine. It was -- I have never gotten to the bottom of it. It was an amazing floor fight over this, this bill, which ultimately failed. It was led by two of the lawmakers who represent that district, which includes Colorado city, who says that they were standing up for, with their constituent up there want, and they defeated this. So Horne is back again. And Nancie McClain, one of the lawmakers that led this fight. Lost in the election. So she is not back. Doris gooddale back, I don't know where this is going to go this time.

Mike Sunnucks: This is probably something that should have been taken care of in 1912? Not 2013. [Laughter] The fact that we cannot dismantle a polygamist cult and local officials says something about, you know, the will of the state there. Horne is trying to do stuff. There's been kind of piecemeal efforts in the past that people haven't followed up on from both parties. What does the rest of the country look at us -- we have this image problem and people are concerned about that. And you have a polygamist cult up there. The prophet is dictating it from prison. You would think there would be more political will overall.

Ted Simons: And especially from a legislature that looks to be relatively pro law in order. If you are pro law in order you want the folks enforcing the law and the order to be on the up and up.

Steve Goldstein: I remember a for a months ago, Ted, you had Mike spending time there with choice words for legislators saying they were gutless. It does seem to be as Mary just said, people most influential in those districts were telling their colleagues, this is what's needed up there. You don't know. You are not there. This is unique situation. The scariest thing to me was this idea that Warren jeffs is in charge even from behind the prison walls.

Ted Simons: How does that happen? I don't understand that.

I suppose if one is the prophet, one makes the decision. We watch the shows with the drug dealers making the calls behind bars. It's scary that it's real.

Ted Simons: All right.

Mike Sunnucks: I think the Utah folks have been more aggressive on the other side of the border there in that other town. I think that they have tried to do more than we have over the years.

Ted Simons: Well, you could argue that. Before we go, what is going on with the idea of a loyalty oath in order to congratulate? Is that still out there, and --

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, it is. This is an idea of new lawmaker, Bob thorp, from Flagstaff. He's constitutional law guy. He teaches constitutional law to groups. And, you know, is a member of the Tea Party up in Flagstaff. And he just thinks that this is something -- his bill, he's modifying his bill. It was a requirement that, that the students have to sign an oath. Now he's talking about making it voluntary because this has gotten a pushback but I think it comes from his deep belief in the constitution, and that that's a fundamental things that kids should know before they get out of the school system.

Mike Sunnucks: The bill, itself, is unconstitutional. You cannot force somebody to do a loyalty oath. And maybe Joe, in Joe McCarthy's world we could have, kinda what it dates back to. I don't know if it's some kind of anti-dream Act, the kids undocumented or not U.S. citizens, aimed towards them? A post-9-1-1 anti-muslim thing? It could be all the above. They wanted to make it commandment to get, to graduate, to give a loyalty. That does not sound like a democracy.

Steve Goldstein: Two things, one back to the disconnection part of it. The people in the public are going to say, thanks for the distraction. Why can't you get a budget and get out of there. And I guess the other thing comes to mind for me is in, to Tom Horne, we're not teaching civics enough. How about if people congratulate from high school actually know what's in the constitution?

Mary Jo Pitzl: This reminds me of a bill a couple years ago that says you need a U.S. flag in every classroom. No money was appropriated for the classrooms to have that. And I have sat in a community college classroom with paper U.S. flag on the wall. It's almost -- it looks so tacky. Like what's the point?

Ted Simons: And as you said, the court case for the first kid who says I'm not reciting this oath. Can you imagine? How quickly will that happen?

Mike Sunnucks: Immediately because teenagers are supposed to rebel. [Laughter]

Mike Sunnucks: What's going to happen, because there's been attention paid to this, we'll see this bill again and again from folks on the right.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But, that said I don't know how far it will go. I do think that there is a, an intent at the legislature this session to sort of, let's tamp down these things. Everybody makes jokes about. The cuke bills, if you would, and we have serious stuff to do. Let's get the budget done and Medicaid and get out of there.

Ted Simons: Does that include reimbursing Russell Pearce for reimbursement costs?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think that might have a short shelf life.

Mike Sunnucks: They like throwing that out there. They don't like a clean election. They don't like public findings or campaign finance reform, but they want to pay for somebody. He doesn't have to spend any money on recall. No one is forcing him to do that or forcing anybody to run for office or to do this. It was part of the democratic process to have this recall thing. The Republicans seem to like it when it got gray Davis in California. So, it goes both ways.

Ted Simons: To Mary Jo's pointed, are we seeing a, a bit of a tamping down of these things?

Steve Goldstein: Absolutely. We're going to see that. The Senate leadership, other than Andy Biggs is, going to be doing this. Steve Pierce claims he did that, and he also kept the crazy bills from going forward. But this is Steve Smith. Smith and Russell Pearce were simpatico on the issues of illegal immigration, I think that is why it is brought up, but to Mary's point I would say doa on this one.

Ted Simons: Before we go, I know you wanted to comment on the sporting situation here in town. You have 30 seconds, go for it.

Steve Goldstein: Ok, I would say on the prediction show, I was hoping Robert would sell the suns. We have a new football coach, for the Cardinals, that's less exciting that long the idea that the original professional franchise in this city is unfortunately going down the tubes.

Ted Simons: And we can't forget the coyotes. Are they still for sale?

Mike Sunnucks: We have another week for Greg Jameson to come up with that money and that's when the January 31st, that's when glendale's $300 million arena deal is pulled off the table, so we'll see. It never ends but they are playing hockey.

Ted Simons: Yeah. And they traded Justin upton, too, so there you go.

Mike Sunnucks:He gets to play with his brother.

Ted Simons: Good stuff and thanks for joining us.

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