Join us for a weekly legislative update with Arizona Capitol Times reporter Jim Small.
Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Medicaid expansion is still being considered and the governor continues her bill signing moratorium. Here with the latest in our update is Jim Small of the Arizona Capitol Times. Thanks for joining us. Medicaid expansion. We talked last week, Senate, all sorts of fireworks. Moves over to the hours, fireworks. Anything going on?
Jim Small: Nothing this week. The bill has gone over to the house on Monday, I think. Right now it's just a holding pattern. House speaker Andy Tobin last week put out his plan for how he wants to address the issue, has some reforms, legislative oversight, different provisions than what the governor had proposed. Most strikingly the thing it would is send it to the ballot for a special election. He's trying to get support for that. Initially there was no support for it. He's been meeting with hospitals, insurance companies, members of the business community to sell them on the virtues of why his plan is a better plan than what the governor is offering. I think there's also some discussions amongst Republicans in the caucus about his plan and what the Senate budget is, maybe what priorities they want to see in the budget versus what the Senate passed.
Ted Simons: As far as what he's trying to sell to outside interests and to lawmakers, as well, anyone buying?
Jim Small: Tough to say. Initially after last week he proposed sending it to the ballot a number of folks in our office were talking to house Republicans. Not finding a lot of support for it. In fact almost no support outside of the speaker and one or two others. You have a group of folks who don't like the expansion and don't want to put it on the ballot because of that, and a group that want to support the governor rather than putting it on the ballot. I think it's incumbent on him to get together a core group of people and use as a way to get something out of the governor's office.
Ted Simons: let's say he wins this and sells enough to get it out there, is the Senate going to go along with this?
Jim Small: As it stands, probably not. The thought process is that okay the Senate got their budget out, sent it to the house. Now the governor's office is going to work with the house. With Democrats, Republicans, whoever it is, to find a plan that's going to first of all get to the floor, the speaker will let it advance, second that will get the votes it needs to get out. At that point it will be sent back to the Senate.
Ted Simons: We almost had a mutiny there in the Senate regarding this plan for expanding Medicaid. Compare that kind of acrimony, good way to describe it, with what's happening in the house. The two dynamics there.
Jim Small: The Republican caucus in the Senate is fractured since Russell Pearce got elected Senate president you've had nothing but infighting and a clear divide amongst Republicans in that chamber. The house hasn't been that way. Andy Tobin is well liked amongst his members. Even folks may disagree with him politically he goes out of his way to defends what they do and fight for their issues. Stand up for them. I think he's built up a lot of loyalty there. While most observers think the votes do exist in the house, if the Medicaid expansion would go to the floor tomorrow the votes would be there. It would get 31,32,33 votes and pass. But the difference is you don't have -- the group of Republicans with who would vote for that are not willing to basically undermine their leadership, not willing to do the procedural things that happened in the Senate to force that vote to happen and to force the policy through.
Ted Simons: We have talked about this from the get-go, this idea that some see the provider assessment as a tax and thus would need two-thirds of the legislature to go ahead and approve this. Obviously we're not seeing two-thirds approval on anything right now. Is that still Damocles hanging over the whole process?
Jim Small: It is. That's one of the things speaker Tobin has said he thinks this is a tax increase. As such the constitution requires a two-thirds majority. Certainly some of the opponents of the expansion have said that. For a lot of those people whether that two-thirds majority exists they would still be opponents of it. It's kind of -- it's something to say against it but not necessarily what's keeping them from going for it.
Ted Simons: As far as the governor is concerned, moratorium on bills still intact?
Jim Small: Yes. The Senate passed the budget. Couple days after the governor had said I'm not going to sign any more of your bills, the basic response out of the governor's office when they were asked whether the moratorium would be lifted was, the budget out of the Senate was a good first step but we're not there yet. So finish your work on the expansion and the budget and other issues and we'll revisit the issue at a later date.
Ted Simons: As the speaker shops his idea of sending this to the ballot mostly with other things is the governor -- are they pushing? Shopping as well?
Jim Small: I think right now they are sitting back. By all indications they are sitting back. The folks Andy Tobin has been going to are folks that supported the governor since almost the beginning on this issue. I think that the response from the governor's office was, at least Andy Tobin is the first person with a plan of his own who has put it on paper and has something to take around to people. God bless him for doing that and we're going to let him do it because they are confident at the end of the day he has to come to them and they have to negotiate.
Ted Simons: any idea when the hearings would start?
Jim Small: No earlier than next week. The earliest is after the Memorial Day holiday. We'll have see what kind of progress gets made. Got made today and gets made tomorrow and in the days to come.
Ted Simons: Good stuff, Jim. Thanks for joining us.