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 Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times, Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services and Jim Small of The Arizona Capitol Times. Six republican senators joined with senate democrats to formally and officially shake up state politics. Correct? Five or six? What was the final tally?

Jeremy Duda: The gang of five or a gang of six, depending on how you want to look at it. The amendments to these budget bills, and the big amendment was putting on the governor's Medicaid expansion plan and five Republicans joined the Democrats to pass those, the five Republicans we've been keeping an eye on and a sixth joined later on. Conflicting stories on why she did it and why she voted against it before she voted for it.

Ted Simons: Give us an overview of what exactly happened this week, because we went from news last week, waiting for something going on to all you know what breaks loose.

Howard Fischer: What happened is we've known and talked around this table about how Andy Biggs said not over his cold, dead body would a Medicaid proposal get to the floor. That pretty much is what happened. They came up with 18 firm votes. That number is kind of important because that's what you will need for a discharge petition in order to get it around the Senate President. So they have the 13 dems, five Republicans, and they said we're going to cut a deal. We're going to give the dems some of what they want in the whole budget package, money for CPS, grandparents stuff, the dems want Medicaid expansion. The house majority leader, former Senate president, some of the others want Medicaid expansion and they built the coalition and they rolled the president.

Ted Simons: They rolled the president and McComish kind of led the way?

Jim Small: As majority leader, he kind of ended up taking it upon himself to be the point person for this Medicaid expansion. He offered the amendment. There were 10 budget bills, eight of them sponsored by President Biggs and two of them sponsored by McComish, so he sponsored that bill and ran the amendment and was kind of the point person on that and I think, you know, it was two weeks ago where he came out publicly and took a stand for the first time on the Medicaid issue. A lot of people viewed him as sympathetic towards it but he had never come out and formally supported it. Once he did that, it was kind of the canary in the coal mine for them getting to that 18 votes. They fell into place rather quickly.

Ted Simons: And we had quite the debate for quite the considerable amount of time. Were there fireworks? Sparklers?

Howard Fischer: Well, there were two debates here. The first was in the Republican caucus. And you had people saying we elected you the majority leader, your job as majority leader is to represent the majority of the caucus and the fact is the majority of the caucus opposes it. They said they didn't quite use the word traitor but they said betrayal that he had betrayed them. McComish's viewpoint is, first of all, this is not one of those issues where you don't get to vote your conscience. Number two, I could say they're betraying the Republican governor so why not? We had those fireworks. Then it went to the floor. It was -- there weren't fireworks per se. Between Andy Biggs and Senator Kelly Ward, who is a doctor, they had two dozen amendments, each tried to weight down the bill, whether it's illegal immigrants or additional audits and we went through those time after time, the same 18 to 12 vote killing them.

Ted Simons: You basically had a bunch of amendments voted by democrats succeeding and a bunch of amendments voted by Republicans failing. How unusual is that?

Jeremy Duda: Very unusual, at least in the last five years or so since the last time we saw the old Napolitano budget coalition come together, democrats joining with the small minority of Republicans. But the democrats got money for CPS, school money in there. The one anti-expansion one, the Biggs amendment that put the sunset date on the Medicaid expansion for the beginning of 2017. There was other stuff. He wanted a two thirds majority requirement to pass this under the argument it's a tax hike. He wanted the illegal immigrant thing, where if one illegal immigrant is found on the program the whole thing is repealed. He wanted a lot of stuff that didn't happen.

Howard Fischer: And that tax question is going to be the big issue. The bill goes to the house where house speaker Andy Tobin wants the same stuff, a public vote. That goes back to the constitutional question of if it's a tax hike, it needs a two thirds vote of the house and the Senate. It didn't get 20 votes in the Senate and it's not going to get 40 votes in the house. The governor's argument is it's not a tax, it's a fee, it's an assessment. We see it as delegating the to the ACCCHS, we have the authority to levy the assessment. Steve Yarborough said we could delegate to the head of the department of revenue to set individual income tax rates? That's going to be the next big fight, which is do you really need a two thirds vote and if this passes without the two thirds vote, if the house comes up with the plan the way the house Senate did, we know there's going to be a lawsuit.

Ted Simons: I want to get to the House in a second, but back to the senate. The Senate president, how far did he fight this? And I heard that his floor speech, talk to us about that.

Jim Small: He was passionately opposed to this whole thing. He put up a lot of amendments for it and people were wondering if there was going to be a filibuster. At the end of the day, he couldn't fight it a whole lot because he was in the minority. The reality was that there were at least 16 people on the other side who wanted to make this happen. So to have the person majority, it's over. It's really all over. You can go through the machinations, which is what yesterday was, hours of going through the procedure and the things that you need to do in part of the democratic process. At any point that majority, we saw it, Rich Crandall called and question and he could do that because they had the majority behind him.

Ted Simons: You mentioned several people. What's the response, what's the fallout for these folks?

Howard Fischer: That's hard to say. McComish is in the state Republican district but the problem is the primary. And we know that there are groups, Tom Jenny's group who will try to find as they already did against Heather Carter who's carrying this in the house, somebody to run against them and that's going to make the primary essentially a referendum on Obamacare and is this some socialist left wing plot to drain the federal treasury?

Jeremy Duda: People trying to recruit opponents, threatening to recruit opponents. You've had the Chamber of Commerce already vowing to go to bat to beat the Republicans who vote for this and the other groups, Americans for Prosperity, they're going to raise money, too. You already has the conservative blogger threatening to run against Worsley. He spent $250,000 on his campaign last year though, so he's probably safe. But some of the other races, hard to say. McComish gets a lot of support, it will be hard to knock him off. It will be a tough fight. In the house, maybe a little bit different.

Ted Simons: Crandall isn't running again so he doesn't have to worry about this.

Jim Small: Crandall's not running again. The one who's intriguing is Michelle Reagan. She's looking to run for Secretary of State which is a state wide office. It's going to be -- it's a primary, she's probably going to run against Montenegro and she voted for all of the budget bills yesterday and took some flack immediately as did all of the other Republicans, conservative went after them and today, she put out a statement clarifying her position and saying the truth is that I don't support the Medicaid expansion, even though I voted for it, the rest of the budget, I did it basically to facilitate the process, to move the budget over to the House, to do our constitutional obligation and I still oppose the Medicaid expansion. It's an interesting idea, the budget and all the bills would have passed without her vote, she could have voted "no," so it was kind of an interesting walking back from where she was at and it sets the stage for her when this budget comes back from the House for her to vote no on the budget so she can have one of those I was against it before I was for before I was against it again.

Jeremy Duda: She could probably vote against this five more times but I think the die's been cast here. The one vote and it's all you need for 10, 20 mailers saying Michelle Reagan voted for Obamacare.

Ted Simons: Let's go over to the house. The speaker floated an idea when all you know what was breaking loose. His idea was let's go ahead and let the voters decide. How does that play in the grand scheme of things?

Howard Fischer: Number one, I believe that there are the votes in the House, maybe 31, 32, for the Senate plan, as it is. However, even Heather Carter who was carrying it said look, because Tobin at least had the fortitude to come up with his own plan, let's let him try his. Maybe he can round up the votes for that. They're going to let him do that. If he doesn't come up with that, there will be the same kind of maneuver that we had in the Senate. His concern, he's got a couple of concerns. Some of them are technical. For example, theoretically the hospitals are not supposed to take that $240 million and pass it onto private payers and insurers. We're not sure there's something in the bill to confirm that. He wants to make sure that happens. He wants to make sure that it does reduce uncompensated care, that the more people insured, the hospitals are, in fact, providing more care and they aren't making more money. The key as you point out is that public vote. His argument is A, gets us around the constitutional problem. B, it may be more politically accessible for lawmakers to vote for that, the way they did in 2010. But the big problem is are people really going to be voting on the whole concept of expansion of ACCCHS or is this an referendum on Obamacare?

Ted Simons: Does this not become just basically -- the entire country could be funneling money out here to make a stand for or against Obamacare some there's no doubt that we would be in the spotlight. We would be a special election. Most likely September or November and we would be the only ballgame in town. There would be a lot of attention on it. That's assuming that the vote exists to make this happen and they don't. Just plain and simple, we talked to a lot of people in that caucus, we found one person who supports it and one person who's a maybe. If you're going to try to work on this next week, he's got his work cut out for him. You've got the opponents who don't want to do anything to advance it. They would rather kill it, even if the people who support it like the Heather Carter's who support the Senate plan and they don't want to put it on the ballot, either. We have us the narrow gap in the middle and realistically, I don't know that you would --

Ted Simons: They still got to get it through the Senate.

Howard Fischer: That becomes part of the problem. He's counting on sweetening it with a few things, he wants no money going to planned parenthood, picking up folks this way. Andy likes to be liked. He wants to be seen as look at me, I put it all together, I rescued the governor's plan. I went ahead, if you like mine, come up with something better. This is Andy's way of doing it.

Jeremy Duda: The one thing I've heard from a few Republicans, one of the biggest concerns about the vote is voter protected and you need three fourths of the legislature to change it, if you do it in a special election, it has to be a constitutional amendment, which means you can never change it. That means any problems that arise with this, if you need to change ands to or, you've got to go back to the ballot, you can never change it no matter what kinds of problems there are. That's something the Republicans have been grappling with for more than a decade.

Howard Fischer: The point is you had a self-destruct date in there so the presumption was you get to try it out, take it for a test drive.

Ted Simons: So what's next here? We see if the speaker can wrangle enough votes? What kind of time table? The house told us they're not going to do anything this next week. They're not going to have any hearings, they're not going to take any steps on it. They're going to look at the Senate plan, adjust it, see what changes they want to make. I think, you know, I was right, they're going to work on this Medicaid issue and figure out what they can actually do and how they can move forward. I think the earliest they do this is after the Memorial Day holiday, that final week of May, probably the earliest they start to tackle it. Whether they're able to finish it that week remains to be seen. We'll see what pops up next week.

Howard Fischer: And what else is left in the pipeline. That's what always scares us is while we've been paying attention to this, what else is backing up? The election reform stuff, whether it's the freedom of religion bill that may need a final read and it's all that little stuff that tends to pop up.

Ted Simons: Last point on this. The governor's office from the get-go has been very negative towards the idea of a public vote, a referral to the public. Why? Because I would think that if you're confident this is going to pass, bring it on.

Howard Fischer: I don't think they're confident. I mean, look, you ask the governor, did a little dog and pony show for us, the public supports it, the polls say the public supports it. If you ask the question, should we use federal money in like a 5-1 match 6-1, whatever the math is, to add 300,000 needy people here, yes. If you ask the public, however, do you support getting more federal spending when they're already running trillions in debt every year to have a socialized medicine? It depends on who gets to phrase it. That's what Jim was talking about, the millions, tens of millions of dollars that would be spent here to phrase the question.

Jim Small: If you put it on the ballot, you take the conversation away from the governor's office and the supporters and put it into the public and we've already seen what the critics, just lobbying that Obamacare word is such a toxic word amongst Republicans and independents that invoking that word has given a lot of lawmakers shivers. So if you do that publicly, if you put it into the public realm, you let the critics drive the attack and they can really go after it.

Howard Fischer: It's already happening. The IRS news this past week, there's already folks pointing out that the Obamacare provision which says you either have insurance or you pay the tax, that's going to be enforced by the IRS so they're already attacking this.

Ted Simons: So we wait to see what happens in the house and we take things from there, you figure another couple of weeks at least, which means nothing else is going to get done for a couple of weeks at least, except now, we're hearing some movement on the sales tax reform?

Jeremy Duda: The governor's other agenda item, much less high profile, she wants to change the way we do our transaction tax and basically the sales tax and she's made a major concession on this in the past week, they were going to change the way that contract materials were taxed. Right now, they're split between the city where they're purchased and the city where they're used, which helps out fountain hills, the small towns where they build a lot of houses. The governor decided to abandon that, the league of cities and a lot of supporters are supporting them, they want to change it so only service contracts, air conditioning people, they would pay their sales taxes at the point of purchase and the city where it's used they don't get that revenue.

Ted Simons: That's a pretty big concession.

Jim Small: That has been what has been blocking the entire thing from moving forward for months now. It is a big concession. The league came out with their own counterproposal, which was very close but a little bit different on the construction side. At the end of the day I think what the governor put forward with a small change or two it looks like it's got the momentum behind it at this point. Really start moving forward again.

Ted Simons: With that concession.

Jeremy Duda: And I spoke this morning with one of the big allies on this whole thing and even though the league is still opposed, except for one or two minor tweaks, I like the plan, we can get this up for a vote in the house, and I think it will pass.

Howard Fischer: And the issue is a hold harmless for some of the small towns to make sure if you're a tiny city, where you don't have a home depot, and that somehow you'll be guaranteed all of a sudden that your sales tax revenues won't go down to zero.

Ted Simons: The election bills, I heard were resurrected, the election bills, nothing's going to happen there either?

Howard Fischer: Well, you know, part of the problem becomes they were going to be part of the budget and we were going to shove them through as part of that, then maybe not and the house didn't take them up and the appropriations and it went nowhere. I think there's -- there's always so much desire for so much blood and fighting in any one week and they decided we can put that off before another Steve Gallardo floor speech.

Ted Simons: We had basically an omnibus bill. You would early voters purged from the early voting lists, no committees or organizations can return mail-in ballots. First of all, did these things not make it through the first time around?

Howard Fischer: Well, they've been through several committees. The real key in what they're trying to push is in the initiative laws. And this goes back to what happened during the sales tax measure. The sales tax folks put in a printed version of their bill and put an electronic version of their bill and they were different and the Supreme Court said they were in substantial compliance with the law. This says that you now are going to have a strict compliance standard so if you forget to run a line through something or don't put a page number on something, they throw out your petition. This is the thing that I think a lot of people see as a legislative attempt to say only we get to make laws. And I think this is going to cause some heartburn, even though it's been below the radar.

Ted Simons: The sales tax issue, these sorts of things floating in the ether. Does the argument regarding Medicaid expansion and the budget affect those in terms of votes won, votes lost, friends won and lost?

Jeremy Duda: It's hard to say. Most of these bills are Senator Michelle Reagan's. There's so many personal politics it seems between the Senate and the house that have held this up, rivalries and disputes, Reagan's bills got held up in the house. They're on, they're off, they're up for a vote, they're not. It's hard to keep track at this point of whether or not these things are moving.

Ted Simons: If there's rivalries.

Howard Fischer: It's personal, so somebody says Rick Murphy's not letting my bills out of his committee so I'll tell you what I'll take his bills and we'll screw them up and it's wonderful to watch democracy take place.

Ted Simons: That's really going on?

Jim Small: It goes an every year and this year's version is the battle of the two Michelles, pretty much every lobbyist down there has been talking about it.

Ted Simons: As the speaker tries to get his cards in order, does that exacerbate things or calm things down?

Jim Small: I don't know. We'll see. It could go either way. Anything can happen.

Howard Fischer: And the problem becomes the less they have to do, the more time they have to think of ways to really screw things up. [ Laughter ]

Ted Simons: All right. We had a poll out that showed support for gay marriage and support for legalizing small amounts of marijuana.

Howard Fischer: You're misreading that according to Cathi Herrod. The gay marriage poll was very simple. Do you support and this was of all adults heads of household, it was a smaller group of registered voters, there's a 20 point margin of people who support allowing gays to wed. Now, Cathi Herrod who's head of the Center for Arizona Policiy, the people who shoved through the ballot measure five years ago said that's only because there's all this media publicity surrounding the California case, other states doing it and therefore, people are more sensitized to that and we keep hearing the stories about the poor gay people who can't wed. I talked to Jim Hanes, he said well duh. All polls are snap shots and are they affected by news? You ask somebody six months ago about gun control before Sandy Hook, you're going to get a different answer.

Ted Simons: How wide angle is the snap shot in terms of seeing initiatives, regarding legalizing small amounts of marijuana, regarding once again trying to figure out some way around the gay marriage issue?

Jeremy Duda: That's a lot harder to say. I think they interviewed like 700 people, but only 430 something were registered voters, and who knows if they're likely voters. So you can take a snap shot of what opinion is but it only matters if they're going to go to the polls.

Howard Fischer: And the fact is there is somebody actually took out a gay marriage petition, he's 22 and I don't think he's going to do anything. Arizona -- the trend is there. If you would have asked me when Arizona passed its gay marriage measure years ago would 12 of 50 states have a gay marriage proposal in 2013, I would have said heck, no. Look at the change in public opinion and it's coming, it's coming to Arizona eventually. I don't know if it will be why you're still hosting the show but it's coming.

Ted Simons: Jim would you put a bow on this one?

Jim Small: I think it also depends on what the Supreme Court rules in that California prop 108 case. If they overturn it, if they say that California can't do this and depending on that opinion, I think you may see litigation spring up in states across the country where constitutional amendments were added to ban gay marriage.

Ted Simons: All right. Good stuff guys. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

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