Legislative Update

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A reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times will give us the latest news from the state legislature.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The logjam over the budget and Medicaid expansion may be nearing an end. Here to give us the latest is Luige Del Puerto, of "The Arizona Capitol Times." Good to see you. Very busy day. Let's just start from ground zero. This all begins with senate president Andy Biggs deciding he's got a plan.

Luige Del Puerto: Senate president Andy Biggs decided to push ahead with his own budget proposal, and that started the ball rolling. His budget plan includes his alternative proposal to the governor's Medicaid expansion. Basically what he's seeking to do is for the state to pay for the childless adult population, we are going to continue the freeze to their -- On their enrollment and if the feds decide they are not going to pay or to continue or expand their share of the costs of paying for their insurance, the state alone would pay for that. Of course that runs counter to the governor's own Medicaid expansion proposal. And so that started the ball rolling it.

Ted Simons: Sounds like the senate plan was similar to the governor's plan except for that one big caveat.

Luige Del Puerto: That's true. There are several portions of the senate plan that is close to what the governor wants to do when it comes for money for CPS, for example. The way it's described the governor should be happy with the rest of the budget plan except the Medicaid portion.

Ted Simons: So with that in mind, was this a surprise move by the senate president? Was it an unusual move?

Luige Del Puerto: It wasn't necessarily a surprise move on the part of the president. He's been trying very hard to get a budget in the last few weeks. He tried this tactic before, and it has failed. It has failed because he doesn't have the support to get a budget out without the Medicaid expansion proposal, that the governor wants to see in the budget. Now, by actually doing this now, he may in fact be facilitating the beginning of the ending of this Medicaid expansion debate. Because there is no way that this budget -- the press is offering -- What the president is offering will get out of the senate without the governor's Medicaid expansion proposal. Either that, or the budget fails.

Ted Simons: So it sounds like the votes are there in the senate.

Luige Del Puerto: Yes.

Ted Simons: For the expansion plan.

Luige Del Puerto: Yes. That's true. What's likely going to happen is that now that the senate appropriation committee has approved all 10 budget bills, they're going to move to the floor for debate and a third reading tomorrow. Senator John McComish will offer the Medicaid expansion amendment to one of the bills, and as far as we can tell there are sufficient votes to pass the particular amendment and to get the budget out of the senate.

Ted Simons: That means there are a number of Republicans going along with the idea of expansion. How many, who are they?

Luige Del Puerto: There's at least three, there could be up to five members. We know, for example, that senator Rich Crandall, senator Bob Worsley and Steve Pearce have all declared support for the proposal. Of course we have senator John McComish who said he's in support of the plan. And we will likely see senator Bob Worsley also supporting this proposal.

Ted Simons: So we had a hearing today -- Everything else went pro forma as far as the appropriations hearing? Any fireworks?

Luige Del Puerto: It was a pretty civil discussion, democrats pretty much voted against the budget. It was a part line -- party line vote. They had a chance to criticize the points of the budget and basically said we need more funding for this area, that area. But it was pretty civil and they got a budget out. I think in a shorter time than most people had anticipated.

Ted Simons: The floor debate is set for tomorrow, and that we should get at least sparklers going.

Luige Del Puerto: We should get fireworks. I think President Andy Biggs has declared several times he's opposed to Medicaid. There are a good number of Republican senators who are adamant against this proposal, and on the other hand, we have this group of senators, Democrats and Republicans, who want to see it through and like I said, they have the votes.

Ted Simons: I want to get to the house, but as far as today, with everything else going on in appropriations, that's a lot of bills passed, a lot of budget stuff going on was there any concern there this was rushed, not as transparent as it should have been?

Luige Del Puerto: I didn't hear so much of that. I think people expect at some point somebody has to give in. Some would have to start this process. And senate president Andy Biggs started this process, and in a way facilitated the passage of the governor's expansion proposal. We don't know that for sure, because once the senate approves this budget plan, with the governor's Medicaid expansion proposal in it, it moves over to the house, and now it is in a house speaker Andy Tobin's court.

Ted Simons: Let us move to the house as well. It sounds like the speaker is floating his own idea, letting you and me decide.

Luige De Puerto: Yes. The speaker wants to punt this Medicaid question over to the voters. The key differences in the way he would want this Medicaid expansion to happen, but basically the speaker and the governor agrees that the state should expand its AHCCCS coverage to 133% -- To cover those who earn up to 133% of the federal poverty level. That's a key element in both proposals.

Ted Simons: But still in all, why is he punting? My impression is he thinks he needs a two-thirds vote is that one of the reasons?

Luige Del Puerto: There's speculations about why he's doing it. He may be trying to protect his members, to give them as much political cover as possible by punting this question to the voters. They're not directly violating the constitution, maybe, they're not directly raising taxes. Or they're not directly putting themselves in the line of fire. The Republican grass-roots are adamantly against this proposal. That may be one of it. There is another speculation that he's probably doing it just to start the discussion. Meaning to say, he may not necessarily ultimately push for moving over the questions, but he wants to offer his proposal. So then he has a starting point. This is what he wants, this is what the governor wants, maybe they can meet somewhere in the middle.

Ted Simons: When they find out what the senate wants and it's sent over there, of those three ideas, making us make the decision, the senate's budget coming over by way of senator McComish, or the third, what?

Luige Del Puerto: The third one would be the state basically paying for the insurance --

Ted Simons: Which is not going to happen.

Luige Del Puerto: It's probably DOA in the senate. I don't see the senate passing the senate president's Medicaid alternative proposal. In fact, what we know right now is that there's -- Of the three options, there's only one that has sufficient support of passing the senate and most likely the house. That's the governor's plan.

Ted Simons: Referral to the ballot is one thing, but when you send it to the senate what's going to happen there?

Luige Del Puerto: The five Republicans and the third democrats in the senate who support the governor's expansion plan are probably going to balk at the idea of punting this question to voters.

Ted Simons: Does it seem like the president of the senate and the speaker of the house are on the same page?

Luige Del Puerto: Clearly they are not. Senate president Biggs has his own proposal. He initiated his budget process by saying here's our senate budget plan, and the speaker has his own proposal about how to go about with Medicaid expansion. So clearly they are not on the same page.

Ted Simons: Not on the same page, but they could be within the same ballpark because they both realize something's got to be done, they gotta get out of there and this may get a couple balls rolling toward the finish line.

Luige Del Puerto: I think what's happening is that we are seeing the beginning of the ending of this Medicaid expansion debate for. For the last four months or so this subject has dominated the state capitol and subsumed every other major issue we have out there. Finally, by having three alternative proposals, we could see one of them finally getting out.

Ted Simons: It certainly dominates our discussions on our weekly legislative update with "The Arizona Capitol Times." We look forward to exciting times tomorrow during the floor debate.

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