Legislative Leaders

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Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin make their monthly appearance on Horizon to give an update on the legislative session, now about halfway through a self-imposed 100-day deadline.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Arizona's law prohibiting school districts from offering racially divisive course assist for the most part constitutional. That ruling today from a federal -- Actually Friday from a federal judge who said objections to a Tucson school district's Mexican-American studies program did not meet the threshold of a constitutional violation. The judge did rule that the part of the law prohibiting courses designed for a particular ethnic group was too broad, and affects, quote, "legitimate and objective ethnic studies courses." Medicaid expansion, changes to the state's election laws, and another move to put a state sovereignty measure on the ballot. Those are among the higher profile issues at the state capitol as the legislative passes the halfway mark. Joining us now for their monthly appearance on "Arizona Horizon," senate president Andy Biggs and speaker of the house, Andy Tobin. Good to see you both here. Thank you for joining us. Let's start with Medicaid expansion. What's the latest there?

Andy Biggs: Well, it's my understanding the governor is going to release a draft of a proposed piece of legislation tomorrow, I don't know if it's going to go from there. I'm anxious to see what it contains, and I think that we're also trying to get more information.

Ted Simons: Do you know what kind of hearings are likely to be held?

Andy Tobin: It's kind of a weak process, to be honest. We had a speech on opening day, we had some language, the language was very specific about saying, OK, AHCCCS is now going to control this whole process. That's a nonstarter in my building. I'm not sure the president would be hearing that over there as well. So we all recognize there's a crisis, we recognize there's an emergency room problem, we recognize there's an uninsured problem that's out there. The question is, do you end up moving forward on billions of dollars in federal dollars that don't exist to come to Arizona, and that's where the debate is.

Ted Simons: The nonstarter aspect of what you just mentioned, is that because -- Is that the difference -- Are we back on the assessment?

Andy Tobin: That's a separate issue. The question is, if you got over the hurdles and said, OK, the assessment works, then you have to say who's in charge? Well, no disrespect Ted, I'm not putting you in charge of all that money all by yourself, and that's what this process looks like. That's the nonstarter piece. At the very minimum there's got to be oversight to whatever happens down there, and especially if we're going to be expanding putting new dollars in from a lot of my members' perspective, we spoke about this before. I'm not -- How do we know by saving the plot, the plight of this uninsured and making sure we don't have this hidden health care tax, how do we know the provider market doesn't continue to put pressure on the commercial markets without having some controls? Those are just two minor issues I think aren't even there yet until we see where this language is going.

Ted Simons: I know assessment and fees are usually managed by agency heads. This is too much in this particular case?

Andy Biggs: When we say that they're managed by agency heads, the legislature gives some small discretion usually to agency department heads. What we're talking about here is exactly what you said. It is a massive amount of money, and if this isn't a prop 108 I'm not sure we'll ever see another prop 108 again. This is truly something that the legislature is going to -- You're going see an increase in state revenues as a direct result of this. That's really the definition of a prop 108.

You're saying basically as a prop 108, you're going to need two-thirds of the legislature to vote this. Is that how you see this?

Andy Biggs: I do see it that way. We've talked before about should there be a cap, should there be a cap on this? And we've offered scenarios, different scenarios. What do you do when Governor Brewer is gone and the current director is gone? If the governor trusts hers and you get someone else with a different point of view, have you some room to raise that assessment, because what we're being asked to do is give really broad fee making authority, I think if that fee making authority is someone that we don't really trust, because we don't know who they are right now. That's a problem. There should be a cap there.

Ted Simons: Are those the kinds of things that can be negotiated, that can be worked into something that would expand Medicaid, or is baby gone with bath water?

Andy Tobin: Baby is not gone with bath water, but I will share with you, we're ready to sit here and have a conversation. We're not ready to have a conversation in the media. There's enough of our members that are out there, that are hearing from their constituents, they're getting letters to our precinct committeemen statewide. The problem is overwhelming from the base of the Republican Party that hey, we don't like this. And I think most of it is because they haven't done a god job selling this process. We haven't -- We've sat down and have had conversations with the executive, we sat down and have visited this but not much more than we've had this conversation with you, Ted. From my perspective there's ways for this to improve. But we need to start sitting down and having a conversation and playing the public relations game to move votes. I don't that I works this time. But I'm hoping we can sit down and continue the dialogue.

Ted Simons: Speaking of the public relations game, the governor has already come out and said the Republican Party will be blamed if thousands lose coverage that the political ramifications need to be considered by the Republican Party.

Andy Tobin: I was on your show not so long ago, about a year before president Biggs came on board, the same conversation we heard about expanding the unemployment weeks. The feds were coming in, they said we're going to -- You be need to expand unemployment, the governor called us in a special session and we didn't do it. That's not the first time. So at that time people were saying they're going to beat you over head with a bat come fall. That didn't happen either. I think the answer here is that the members want to know if the folks who were paying all the bills, the folks paying all the bills, if they don't have a place at the table, we already know the folks who need to get the benefits have a place at the table, where's the place at the table for the folks paying all the bills? And I think that's really where this -- In my caucus they're starting to say, yeah, what's happening to the taxpayer?

Ted Simons: When the Maricopa County Republican Party says this is a government takeover of Arizona health care, when the Pima county Republican party says it, this is a compromising of core values for short-term political expedience, you say --

Andy Biggs: I say, well, I don't disagree with that. Let's think about it for a second. What we're asking truly is that we assess an unfairly burden not just today's taxpayers, but generations to come to pay for what? Current year health care. That's really what it boils down to. Because 40 cents of every dollar at the federal level is paid for how? It's borrowed. The federal level, they have just on a basic format in excess of $1 trillion structural deficit. You add in every year social security and Medicare, and it's $4.5 trillion. That's the deficit annually. And we're contributing to it. We're saying, let's go ahead and try to draw down some money. Which by the way, oddly enough, the Obama administration had put together the Simpson Bowles commission, you'll remember that, they were goon to analyze and say what we should do to cut costs. They specifically said, eliminate hospital assessments. It's a gimmick and it's bankrupting the federal government. So what do we do if the federal government walks away. There's a lot of issues that are not unsolved here.

Ted Simons: We've had some people on the program that say when they hear someone say what happens if the federal government runs out of money, what happens if the federal government walks away? That's akin to what happens if I step in front after bus tomorrow. We've got a situation right now that needs to be handled, handle it now, you can't be looking, 10-20 years into the future.

Andy Biggs: Let's think about the reality today. What's happening today? It's called sequester. What's happening with DES? They're trying to analyze how much federal money is going to be withdrawn through the sequester process. Who do you think is going to pick up the cost? I don't think --

Andy Tobin: I don't think we're saying the math doesn't work. The math works if you can assume that we -- There's a trillion dollars in a lockbox somewhere in Washington that they had never discovered before, and now it's like, here's the money, and it's not borrowed from China, it's real dollars. I just got a note they're hiring 15,000 new IRS agents. So they can make sure that everyone is paying their taxes for what is truly Obamacare going forward. My question is, here we are, we've cut Medicare, Medicare just got cut, reimbursement rates got cut, so we're piling all these reductions on same medical community that we're now supposedly trying to help, and I'm trying to ask myself, if we're taking this money from these folks, who's paying the bill? Somewhere along the line you have to give the folks who are paying the bill a chance to actually survive in the process, and this is clearly we're very generous nation, no one is taking care of their citizens better than Arizona's AHCCCS program. The answer is, we have a crisis, I think we all would agree with that. Is this where we want? Is this the only option we have? And I think our members are willing to sit and listen to other option.

Ted Simons: You mentioned, "Who's paying the bill?" Some would argue that with the uncompensated care tax we all will continue paying the bill and more so if, as the governor mentioned, we're not going to let people die in the streets. But because of that, we're all going to wind up paying the bill for these uncompensated folks.

Andy Tobin: I don't disagree with you. But Ted, the question is, what happened to the system before we got here? I'm in the employee benefit business. I can remember 10 years ago we were fighting over bidding on school districts for benefits, and it was the difference between $107 and $110 a person. Now it's five and 600. I think you have to start looking at where the reel real solutions are. You can do a -- Go to the same place that did a mammogram years ago, same machine, same address, it's 5-10 times more. How does that go up so high? I'm not saying that there isn't a reason for some expansion. Or especially as it relates to dollars and inflation. But for heaven sakes, I'm in business, I'm not charging my clients more money as this economy is getting worse. I'm trying to charge less and be more efficient. We being more efficient by throwing more money at it, and if that's the case, how are we going to keep the dollars coming in from the people who pay bills?

Ted Simons: If this doesn't go through the legislature, what do we do? Where do we stand and what happens to folks that would get kicked off the rolls and those that would otherwise apply --

Andy Biggs: Let me give you two scenarios. We can go back and talk about what do you do with the 50,000 people that we believe that are going to be coming down from the that are there now? We can look at them and say, who really is the most -- Who needs those treatments? And we could see if we can fund that. We can look to fund that. We can. We don't have to expand. What's happening here, not only are you expanding, you're bringing back all the prop 204 population, and you're also, the proposal is you're fully implementing Obamacare. That's what you're doing. And that's what people need to understand. But there's some other things we can do as well. We can decide if -- What way we want to go. We can make those decisions, but right now as the rhetoric is starting to heat up, it makes it tough to have that talk. I want you to consider this -- If they think -- If the people who say you got 50,000 people there, that you're going to be kicking off, let me ask you this -- How can it possibly be viable for the circuit breaker to ever work? After you bring on three to 400,000 more people, that's the lowest estimate, if the feds do withdraw, then what do you do?

Ted Simons: But that would be if the feds do withdraw. They're there seems to be among some who say this is not necessarily a possibility, it's almost a certainty.

Andy Biggs: Well, we -- We talked about Medicare. They were -- We're talking about sequester. They're reducing on that. I don't think there's anybody who's looking at it that is not saying, oh, yeah, the feds are going to fully fund this all the way. Paul Ryan is going to introduce his Medicaid block grant program again. You're talking about just two years ago they were talking about austerity programs that would reduce Medicaid copays by 10%.

Andy Tobin: We have other -- We have hospitals that aren't on board with this. We have some rural hospitals who have said we don't want any part of it. Private hospitals -- We get it. I've met with physicians who are sitting there desperately hurting for this uncompensated care. You have to really look at it and say, OK, is where you want to go single payer? Because with all the problems you're having with all the uncompensated care, if the commercial markets get pushed out of the picture, and that's the direction this is going, you have to start answering that question to yourself -- Do you want only one place where you're ever, ever going to get compensated? It's among the physicians. They just feel so desperate right now. And we're not saying no, let's have this conversation. But the options that we have on the table are very short.

Ted Simons: So when "The Arizona Republic" reports advisor to the governor, his quote was your humanistic instincts will prevail over your political instincts, you say --

Andy Tobin: I think he was the one who said you would take a bath to the Republicans two years ago. That didn't happen. Woe won seats in the house. I don't respond to folks who are out there campaigning for an issue. We're here to have a conversation about what the facts are. I would leave that up to whoever hired chuck --

Ted Simons: A different way to put it, is expanding care and coverage for these people, is it the right thing to do?

Andy Biggs: Well, my position is that there are -- We have other options that are not even being discussed, number one. Number two, it seems to me that you have expanded this program so greatly, that the question is ultimately, do you want to unfairly burden future generations? Because you are. I look around, I seat camera men and women and staff working here, they're going to be paying this bill before I do. That's the reality.

Andy Tobin: And to the president's point, if we find a way that we can fix that, I think we can come up with some solutions. But all we have seen is here it is, let AHCCCS put this together. And I don't have the votes for that. I don't have the votes whether it's a prop 108 or just a flat-out vote. I don't think -- This week in the house we're working -- Working our members through the math. If you just go through the math, say this works, this will pay this, few can argue that on that basis that you can see a mathematical solution. It's when you get behind the scenes you have to say, really where is the money coming from? Can we find a way for the short-term to get in and then get out? Let's come up with some very bright people, let's see if we can't find some solutions. I don't think we really know where some of those additional options are, but we're working on some stuff.

Ted Simons: Let's move on to another issue, the changing of the recall process. HB 2282 . Adding a primary election to the recall. Why is that necessary?

Andy Tobin: You're talking about the bill that just went out where -- Well, I think what you've got is members are very concerned. This is about the sheriff joe recall bill? Let's --

Ted Simons: It is but it's not, but it is.

Andy Tobin: Sheriff Joe endorsed my opponent up in my district. I had problems with Sheriff Joe. I've never been an endorser of Sheriff Joe. So this isn't a benefit to me. But I would share with you, I believe they are using this process to really bastardize the system. I disagree with it. If you're having members worrying about being elected. Two months after they've been elected and then two months later thinking, my gosh, I haven't done anything yet. Folks had their chance to vote out Sheriff Joe, I was disappointed over a lot of the folks who through his previous director were not getting their cases heard, I was very disappointed over that and very upset over it. However, everybody saw what that was, he got his vote, it's over, we moved on, and I would be -- I'm very disturbed to think someone would use this recall process on all lawmakers. That are already elected officials.

Ted Simons: With the speaker's points in mind and some would agree to every single point, the constitution says that if you get enough signatures in the right amount of time, a special -- A special election shall be ordered. That's one special election. That's not a primary, and it sounds like this -- Critics are saying this is blatantly unconstitutional.

Andy Biggs: I would disagree with that. The constitution also says that in every election there will be a primary election. And it doesn't exclude anything for a recall election. So I believe this is a perfectly constitutional bill.

Ted Simons: And why now? Why this bill, why now?

Andy Biggs: I think it was overdue several years ago. I think we've seen the recalls are now starting to be used as a club. There's never -- There's not allegations of malfeasance in office, there's not allegations that these people have committed a crime. What they're doing is they just don't like their politics. And so what you're doing is -- What you're seeing is the movement to use recall elections not as a legitimate tool to remove someone who should be removed from office, you're seeing it to be used as a political club. And so that's why --

Andy Tobin: They actually dropped this bill in the senate last year. This is long before -- So this isn't new. So we knew this conversation was going to be coming back, and we could be having 50 people getting recalled next week if you let something like this get out of hand. I talk about distractions --

Ted Simons: Regarding the last time this came up was when president pierce was recalled. And the Supreme Court looked at this thing and the quote from the ruling was, "adopting a standard that makes it more difficult for the public to remove its own officers would frustrate historical intent."

Andy Biggs: That was on a different issue. What you're reading is what we call dictum at the law. That was merely in my opinion that was merely comment on the law, not necessarily getting to the heart of the ruling. I think when we start looking at the constitution overall; it says there's going to be a primary election in every election.

Ted Simons: The Supreme Court, when this was mentioned, when this was the quote, this was written, they don't think it would frustrate historical attempt.

Andy Biggs: I don't think this frustrates historical intent, this bill. I don't believe so. I think it's necessary.

Andy Tobin: Me and the Supreme Court haven't been getting along for a while now. I don't know if I'm the best --

Ted Simons: I just thought I'd throw it out there. Before we go, again, this is something else we've heard from the past and now it's coming up again, this idea of state sovereignty getting back on the ballot, a continuing resolution, it looks like it's on its way. We just voted on this thing not too long ago, we got to vote on it again?

Andy Biggs: It looks like we might get to.

Ted Simons: How do you feel about that?

Andy Biggs: I'm ambivalent. Look, I think the reality is the issues is a real issue, and I think in all fairness to the sponsor of this bill, it wouldn't surprise me if there is what we would call voter fatigue. By the time you worked your way through thousands of whatever --

Andy Tobin: A lot of frustration.

Andy Biggs: So who knows why they voted yes or no.

Ted Simons: So are you even going to --

Andy Tobin: I wanted to talk about election officials retirement plans that are going away. The only state in the country that is talking about getting rid of political retirement plans that passed the house. You talk about where's savings, we're talking about these plans that are unsustainable. Guess what? We're doing that down here at the legislature. So I'm more concentrate order that than I am about an initiative that's not going to get out there. I promised my wife and three daughters I'd mention my tie today, and for St. patty's day, because I mention the president's tie last time. So Kelly and Laura, my wife Jennifer, I got your tie.

Ted Simons: All right, I can't think of a better place to stop than your tie. Thank you both for being here. We do appreciate it. Thanks. And Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon," hear the pros and cons of several bills that would make changes to public employee unions. And we'll find out about a tree friendly trail in the west valley. That's on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Andy Biggs:Senate President; Andy Tobin:House Speaker;

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