Bipartisan Legislative Update

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Republican and Democratic state lawmakers will talk about the issues facing lawmakers as they attempt to wind up their session. Senate Majority Leader John McComish; Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor, House Speaker Pro Tempore Javan “J.D.” Mesnard; and House Minority Leader Chad Campbell will discuss issues such as Medicaid expansion.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The state legislature is still in session, with the battle over Medicaid expansion holding up a variety of other major issues, including the budget and sales tax reform. Joining us now to talk about the session is Senate majority leader John McComish. Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor. House Speaker Pro Tem J.D. Mesnard. Minority Leader Chad Campbell. Good to have you here. Let's start with Medicaid expansion. Where are we on this and are things progressing?

John McComish: No. The short answer. There is a lot of conversation. And that was a -- you know, there is progress of a sort in that we're talking trying to sort out, but nobody has yet seen the path to victory, so to speak, where we can find a way to get this to a conclusion, whether it is pass it, whether it is not going to past. Division amongst parties, particularly among the Republicans and division amongst leadership and the governor is pretty single-minded, and it has just been tough. We haven't found a pathway to conclusion yet.

Ted Simons: The federal memo that the governor released, which I think the governor's office thought would be the smoking gun, if you will, the last nail that would hammer this thing in, why is that -- basically what was outlined in that memo seems there is only one option according to the governor's office

Leah Landrum Taylor: When you look at it in the grand scheme of things. If we do not go forward in making sure that the Medicaid expansion does take place. There as strong economic side, down fall that can happen. When you look at the rural areas, hospitals that can shut down. It spirals on and on. At some point, when is it going to be a give in there. We have to move forward with the Medicaid expansion and quite frankly, there is a number of ways that that can occur. If it has to go about being a special session within the session. At this point, it --

Ted Simons: What is holding things up? What are the arguments against this and how strong are the arguments and could there be some compromise in there?

"J.D." Mesnard: Sure, well, I think it is difficult sometimes to find compromise if it is a tug of war. And unfortunately on this issue, that is sort of what it has become. I would say that the governor has outlined her vision pretty clearly. I'm not going to speak for the Senate. But I guess that the Senate is mostly there. And the house is really where the battle is raging. And the real reason is because there are arguments for and against. And there will be consequences. Whatever direction we choose to go.

Chad Campbell: And I just want to add --

Ted Simons: Go ahead.

Chad Campbell: I think most of the arguments against Medicaid expansion are ideological. As Leah pointed out, economically speaking, it is a no-brainer, in terms of economic development, especially in Arizona, keeping their doors open. The only reason not to do it -- this is one of the people who have been pushing for the abortion argument, Mr. Steel, and he admitted yesterday that the only reason he is doing that -- he is trying to kill Medicaid. For all of the reasons most opponents are throwing out there, they are not relevant --

Leah Landrum Taylor: Tenure in the legislature, sometimes you see issues that become as big as this particular one in discussion. A lot of times it has to do financially. This is something -- our budget, our general fund financially. We're trying to figure out where are we going with all of this?

John McComish: You mentioned compromise. And I think one of the difficulties of this I don't see where there is compromise. You are either for it or against it. And I don't see that there is any half measure or partial measure. We can't partially expand Medicaid -- yes or no.

Chad Campbell: If you do partially restore Medicaid, as some has proposed, it is more expensive for the state to do that.

"J.D." Mesnard: I want to say it is not only ideology. There is a practical side you can argue against expansion. Supreme Court released us a little bit from the idea that we have to expand. That was the mandate under Obama care that they released us from. It is a little grayer once you do expand if you can unexpand. If we start to go down that road and find out that it is not working out like what we thought, we may be stuck. And that is a consideration that should be -- that should be given thought to.

Leah Landrum Taylor: But then you have the whole argument, and, again, after being around for years, I mean, we have heard the argument about the uncompensated care and we can't go down that road again. Hospitals are already struggling. And thirdly, many of the rural area hospitals. If we were not to have the Medicaid expansion then we would be moving back into that very risky area of uncompensated care.

Chad Campbell: And, you know, something hit me early on in the session. We were discussing Medicaid expansion, informational hearing, a ton of people came down to talk about why they were in favor of Medicaid expansion. Hospital, business community, you name it. They were there. One young lady that came down, one of the few single childless adults that gets coverage right now, the 50,000 or so that are getting coverage that will lose the coverage at the end of the year. If she loses Medicaid, she will go blind. Chronic condition, degeneration of the eyes. She will go blind. All of the numbers, all of the stats, that is the reason I want to pass Medicaid. It is the reason that keeps me up at night if we don't pass Medicaid.

Ted Simons: In the Senate -- I thought the battle was raging in the Senate. News to me. What is going on in the Senate?

John McComish: The battle is raging in the Senate. And it is the same ideological discussions that we are having here. There can't be any half measures. We're trying to figure that out. And how do you go about it? We could probably pass a bill out of the Senate that would include Medicaid expansion, but if it is not going to pass in the house, then why would we do that? So, you need to -- you need to get -- before we do that, you need to get the house on board and you can't forget about the governor. She has to be on board with whatever we do. And that is part of the hang-up. It is just a -- it is a very complicated issue, and people have unfortunately drawn the lines in the sand on both sides.

Leah Landrum Taylor: It is that time of the year, too, when we have to take a look at the timeliness of getting a budget fast forward. We are approaching toward the middle of May. That will happen really quick if nothing happens next week, then the time clock will be ticking away. We still have a responsibility, fiduciary responsibility to the various departments. We have to have a budget going forward. Schools, school districts, contracts that have to be offered to the teachers and they are dependent upon us getting this done. It gets exhausting getting to this point of the budget when we already know what needs to happen and the time frame of it.

Ted Simons: How much is this bogging things down?

"J.D." Mesnard: Oh, it is the reason the session is bogged down. In some ways, rightly so. This is probably one of the biggest issues we have faced in some time and will face for the next several years. And so, yes, we're in May and I know we all want to be done with session, but given the magnitude of the issue, we need to make sure that it is fully vetted and discussed and that we come up with something that makes sense.

Ted Simons: You mentioned the idea of unsecuring this or getting out of something that may not -- what are the other arguments against going into this agreement?

"J.D." Mesnard: One thing that gets overlooked, we're talking about two things that have been combined into one. You have on the one hand expansion. Idea of who is going to be covered? And the other is a mechanism of paying for it. Assessment on hospitals has been proposed, and there is some controversy with that because some would consider that a tax increase. So in addition to the philosophy of whether or not you want to expand, it is do I want to support a new tax? If you are against that, two issues have collided. You throw abortion in there and it is one convoluted mess.

Chad Campbell: You can call it tax, you can call it whatever you want. Hospitals are saying put this fee on us. It is not like you're forcing the hospitals to impose this fee. The hospitals want to pay this fee. This fee will more than pay for itself, the -- they will make that money back and lower their uncompensated care cost. Don't call it a tax --

"J.D." Mesnard: I agree that most hospital, not every hospital is there. Most hospitals -- because they -- they would serve to benefit from it, and, of course, the question would be will they pass it on to consumers? If they do, of course they will support it. They said they are not going to --

Chad Campbell: Prohibited from being passed on to the consumers. Consumers are protected. To me that is an argument that doesn't hold much water to me.

Ted Simons: From the start of the conversation, always a question is this a tax, an assessment? If a tax, why does it not need a two-thirds vote? I mean, go ahead. Let's say you finally get a vote. Does it go directly to court because someone --

John McComish: And you raise another complicated issue. Is it what we call a 108 which requires a two-thirds vote. And there are the same opinions, very strong opinions on both sides of that. Legal opinions, absolutely, two-thirds. Others say no, no, we have done similar things to this before. It is not a 108. And, I think at the end of the day when something passes, it will probably end up -- end up in the court as to whether it is a 108 or not.

"J.D." Mesnard: That is another reason some oppose it. In order to get around the 108 issue, the mechanism being used is to say, okay. We're not going to do the tax. We're going to let somebody else do the tax. And some folks in the legislature, including myself, with that particular aspect of this plan find that to be unacceptable.

Leah Landrum Taylor: That is why the hospitals were -- they're heavy-duty stakeholders that are a part of this. That is why they were in the initial conversations. Is this something that the hospitals could handle? Clearly this would be the better direction than the uncompensated care. Because then that would devastate the medical industry.

John McComish: Yeah, one more argument that I don't think we've touched on, and that is the federal debt argument that -- if we do the expansion and there is going to be $1.6 billion or whatever the number is, and that's money that adds to the $16 trillion, federal debt and -- it is not my argument, but it is -- and where does this stop and this is where we're going to draw the line.

Chad Campbell: Let me respond to that. Many of my colleagues in the house have on the GOP side. I don't see them turning down money for border security from the federal government or money for federal highway dollars. This is the first time I ever heard anybody voice concern about money coming to Arizona returning our tax investment that we paid in D.C. If we don't take this money, our federal tax burden does not change and the tax dollars that we pay to D.C. will go to another state. Our tax dollars will be thrown away if we do not pursue Medicaid expansion.

Ted Simons: Last point on this. Ideological and philosophical differences here -- is there talk about what -- I may be against this philosophically but most in the state are for it and thus I need to maybe bend one way or the other?

Leah Landrum Taylor: Right. When it comes right down to it, most of the people in Arizona, they do want to make sure that there is, you know, medical care. And there has been a big, big concern about those who are single adults, disabled, individuals that really need to have good medical care. Absolutely. The question is, moving forward. We have had a couple of votes that have went forward to the ballot where the voters have shown this is what is needed in order to have this. So, I think the voters have already spoken, yes.

John McComish: They're duels polls out there now to continue the complicated issue. The one poll that shows that the people do want this. I happen to think that is more valid that there is a dueling poll that shows particularly the republicans don't want it. I don't think that poll is valid as the first one, but there are dueling polls.

Leah Landrum Taylor: We have had two past ballot initiatives that --

"J.D." Mesnard: On the other side, prop on the other side that said, hey, we have the right to be in control of our health care. Some look at this as giving up some of that control. And so, there are -- in addition to dueling polls, there are dueling propositions as well.

Ted Simons: We are talking about 133% of poverty level, childless adults, trigger matching funds from the feds which may or may not be there in the future. Another argument.

Chad Campbell: The circuit breaker that governor Brewer built into the proposal --

Ted Simons: When you get to the circuit breaker, who knows what happens. I just want to be sure we clarify terms. Because I want to get into sales tax reform and TPT, which I would imagine most folks have no idea what it is or what it means. But this is another one, loggerheads going on.

John McComish: Two issues keeping us from a budget. One, the Medicaid expansion. The other is TPT. TPT for the viewer's benefit stands for transaction privilege tax. It is a privilege to pay sales tax in the state of Arizona.

Ted Simons: Nice name for a sales tax.

John McComish: Yes. And I know more about this than I ever wanted to know. Spent my summer vacation on the governor's task force to address this issue. And I think we're pretty close to a really major reform bill. A long-time coming. It is once again, a very complicated issue. But we have the worse system of sales tax in the country. And we're close to reform.

Ted Simons: The reform bill includes this business of counties not getting -- if you don't have a home depot in your county, you're not getting the point of sale benefit there. I mean, that sounds like that is a real sticking point.

Leah Landrum Taylor: It is a big concern. Again, for years we have talked about this and the fact that we do have a volatile tax structure here within our state. And so there has to be something done about it. I think with that all being said, it is really important that we take it into consideration of the concerns of the cities and the towns. And I think that has been the case. And trying to work on --

"J.D." Mesnard: And you bring up the issue of prime contracting, what you are talking about. Outstanding issue at this point. Most of the other issues related to auditing and collections, I think there is some agreement on or we are very close. That is the sticking point. Various iterations have been proposed. They all have their weaknesses. This is something that I think both caucuses agree needs to be -- we do agree on some things.

Leah Landrum Taylor: It hasn't been, you know, quite frankly the sexier conversation to talk about, but it has been one out of all of the conversations I think has come up with more agreement.

Ted Simons: But it has been one where folks in Maricopa and folks in fountain hills and who live in some of these communities don't have -- they are wondering who is going to pave the streets.

Chad Campbell: And I think that issue has to be resolved before this moves forward. There is no way the original language around prime contracting will go forward -- to your point, you talked about spending the summer learning about this. And I have done the same thing. I have been calling for sales tax reform for about five years. Actually called for this committee four years ago. I'm very excited about this, which I never thought I would say I was excited about tax policy in my life. But we have a long ways to go. After this, we have to continue to fix our sales tax code. Way too many exemptions on the book and our sales tax is way too high. Close the exemptions out and lower the sales tax, we make the state much more competitive, friendlier to small businesses and an even playing field for everybody in the state. This is a good start. We have to keep moving forward.

Ted Simons: We will save that for the next show. Next go round. Let's get to CPS funding. Emergency measure that went through. We have got, what, $4.4 million that went through -- Along those lines. Obviously the governor's office wants I think, $ million or so. Is that a sticking point or a numbers kind of thing?

John McComish: No, I don't think it is a sticking point. I think it is numbers -- we may have some quibbling about the numbers, but I think most of the legislature, at least republican leadership and the governor's office very, very close what would in essence add other employees to CPS. The only thing is how much money would that be --

Leah Landrum Taylor: And specifically towards caseworkers. We added the 50 in there. One thing that we wanted to make sure as we move forward with the budget and the conversation, that was not forgotten. And when we had the task force, governor's task force, that I had the privilege of serving on with that, there is concern about making sure that we're doing something about this big bear of CPS.

"J.D." Mesnard: Not all of the $50 million is for CPS alone. There are other services involved. Some of of the numbers may be negotiated. But I think John's right. I think we're in agreement that CPS, in particular, caseworkers the top priority.

Leah Landrum Taylor: Also we have to not forget about prevention as a whole and throughout the years of the budget crisis that has went on over the last several years, we have to make sure that they are our dollars put back to be sure that there are preventative mechanisms --

Ted Simons: Other major headlines of the legislative session involve gun issues. We could spend an hour talking about those. But the most recent, gun buy-back bill. Thought on this. Why was this necessary?

John McComish: Well, what it was a reform of where we already were in terms of gun buy back. There was a loophole that allowed cities to do what they were doing for -- what the city of Phoenix was doing, and so this -- close that loophole. It didn't create a new policy. It closed the loophole on the current policy.

Chad Campbell: Bill this session, that would have allowed cities to do whatever they wanted to do with a gun. Mandate, local law enforcement, what we passed -- forces the city to sell these guns back and put them back on the street. Mandated local law enforcement, mandating on cities, telling them how to manage their own communities. If you think about this -- if you are a gun owner, I am a gun owner -- you need common sense gun laws in the United States. If I were to go to the city of Phoenix with my gun, here is my weapon, I'm the owner, destroy it for me. They cannot destroy the weapon. That gun has more rights than the owner has in the state now. And --

Ted Simons: What would the argument be, if you want the gun destroyed, destroy it.

Chad Campbell: It doesn't matter. Gun owner, city, preventing the city and cops in that city to make the best possible decision to protect their communities.

Leah Landrum Taylor: And that is some of the argument that we hear on a regular basis on the other side of the aisle from us in all due respect as it relates to the federal government not jumping in and jumping into state business. Well, at the state we jumped right into the cities and towns and with that being the case -- this recent buy-back, I heard stories of individuals that pulled up that were involved in domestic violence situations and wanted to, you know, get the weapon out of reach and out of touch of harm. And with that, you know, again, it is up to the cities and towns and to come in as the state we are going to go ahead and regulate what the cities and towns do, that was a bit of a concern. Not to mention all of the other issues that we had. That was a hard-pressing one that we moved forward with.

Ted Simons: Why is something like this necessary?

"J.D." Mesnard: Well, I think whether it is necessary in the eye of the beholder. A loophole, the idea to close the loophole. If someone wants to destroy it. They can still destroy it. This hasn't prevented an end from happening. It is saying that law enforce. Will sell the gun if it is brought to them.

Chad Campbell: Again, there is this weird mindset taking place in the political debate, not just Arizona, but the country, around weapons. It is almost like people that are pro NRA are almost attaching personalities and their own character to weapons. Weapons are weapons --

"J.D." Mesnard: You haven't named your weapon?

Chad Campbell: You -- but the point is there is no need for this. It is a good question. With all due respect, I don't think I can answer the question. There is no need for this. If you want to keep your weapon, keep it. If you want to have destroyed, have it destroyed. Why are we telling people who have ownership of their guns what they can and cannot do with it and local law enforcement what they can and cannot do to keep their streets safe.

Ted Simons: Only a few minutes left. With this in mind, gun issue, overall, the impression that you think the legislative session so far, this go-round is leaving on voters? I mean, some would look at the gun buy-back program as being a black mark on the legislature. There is a disconnect there. We hear that a lot. What do you think the impression the legislature is making on Arizona? What do you think that is this session?

John McComish: I think the impression that we're making on the people is probably not fair in this regard. And that is that we've got these huge issues that incredibly complicated and we haven't dealt with them yet. We are working on it. We will get it done. In the meanwhile, we have gone about our business in a professional way. Very civilly. Probably the most -- nine years' experience, and we get a lot done. The wheels of government which is most of what we do. Most of what we do is not the big sexy stuff. Most of what we do is the grind it out, make the wheels of government turn and we have done a very good job of that. But that is not the impression that people will have.

Ted Simons: What --

Leah Landrum Taylor: And you know, there are so many different things of priorities that the public is concerned about. Education, for instance. I mean, wanting to restore things like full-day kindergarten so that families are not having to go to public schools and pay for all day kindergarten. Making sure that we have the Medicaid expansion. Making sure that the budget gets out on time. Hopefully as we move forward things will happen quickly by the end of next week. Other than that, the impression of what we're doing and how we're taking the priority of the people seriously may start fading.

Ted Simons: About 20 seconds.

"J.D." Mesnard: Perception that people have?

Ted Simons: Yeah.

"J.D." Mesnard: Probably not good. We're all politicians. Nobody likes politicians.

Chad Campbell: Disconnected on the issues -- direct result of the policies being driven down there right now.

Ted Simons: We have to stop it right there. Good conversation. Good to have you all here.

John McComish:Majority Leader, Senate; Leah Landrum Taylor: Assistant Minority Leader, Senate; Javan "J.D." Mesnard:Speaker Pro Tempore, House; Chad Campbell:Minority Leader, House;

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