Join us for another edition of the Journalists’ Roundtable.
Ted Simons: Good evening, welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable," I'm Ted Simons. Joining us are Mary Jo Pitzl of the "The Arizona Republic," Howard Fischer of "Capitol Media Services," and Ben Giles of the "Arizona Capitol Times." The State has competing budget plans as House Speaker Andy Tobin pushes his own proposal.
Mary Jo Pitzl: This year it's a little unusual because there never was final agreement on a budget among the House and Senate and the Governor. They didn't even agree on a revenue number, which is their usual starting point. Senate president Biggs came out with his own budget proposal, followed by Speaker Tobin and the Governor released hers back in January.
Howard Fischer: We seem to be moving, if you listen to some of the more conservative House members, in the negative direction. Andy Tobin is trying to deal with a bunch of freshmen who insist the budgeting be truly balanced. There's money and there's expenses. But a lot of that has almost $750 million cash carry-forward. Why are we using the savings account? We purposely put it aside knowing the sales tax would disappear. At this late date, his way of cutting $400 million, 5% off the top of everybody.
Ted Simons: Why release this budget now?
Ben Giles: It appears he's trying to gain some control back over the budget conversation. Ever since the president released his own budget, Mr. Tobin has been sitting by the side and waiting to see what the Senate does know that it's in his court, he has a lot of freshmen breathing down his neck, a lot of Representatives saying this budget isn't conservative enough, we need to cut more spending. His does to an extent, but not enough to please the conservatives in his chamber.
Ted Simons: Does he have to please them? Does he have enough votes?
Mary Jo Pitzl: It's a numbers game. He would like to have 31 Republicans voting for the budget. I think another reason why we saw his plan come out this week, if you recall at the beginning of the week he said, okay, I'm done trying cut a deal on Medicaid expansion, it's not going to work. We're just going to move on. Since Medicaid is so tied up with the budget, you get moving on the budget. He puts his plan out. These two issues are so intertwined. Late yesterday he scheduled an up or down vote on the one budget bill that contains Medicaid expansion, widely seen as a way for Speaker Tobin to try to placate those conservatives who want less. Let them have their day, and they will go into the committee and kill that Medicaid expansion bill on Tuesday -- Monday.
Howard Fischer: But that's the opinion. We all know that even if it dies in Appropriations, Heather Carter has six, seven, eight, 10, depending on who you talk to, Republicans to put it back in on the floor. This is part, as Mary Jo says, this is part of the process. Who are we placating? Who are we patting on the head saying, you've got your chance, you don't have the votes, let's finally move on.
Ted Simons: If everyone knows it's not going to make it out of appropriations but it will make it eventually, what keeps appropriations from just not voting on anything?
Ben Giles: They will probably take a vote. It'll be a vote to strip Medicaid expansion from that health budget bill. Or they will vote it down entirely. Either way it doesn't matter, as long as you have a bipartisan coalition of however many Republicans and Democrats you need to get to votes, they can do anything they want on the floor to revive that bill, to add Medicaid expansion back in.
Howard Fischer: To your point, the committee refuses to vote or doesn't vote it out, the Speaker can withdraw it from the committee or find another vehicle. He can put it through a friendlier committee. It isn't subject specific, Appropriations is considering an abortion bill, too. Tell me what that has to do with Appropriations.
Ted Simons: The committee could muck up the works here, couldn't they?
Ben Giles: Three or four weeks ago now, if you have a majority of the chamber who wants to accomplish something, there are any number of ways they can do it. If it doesn't get through committee, you could use a discharge petition, you could just suspend the rules. If you've got 31 votes you can roll the Speaker or the chamber.
Ted Simons: Rolling the Speaker. Is he in the same situation here or close to it?
Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah, probably, because it's unclear exactly where Speaker Tobin will come down on Medicaid expansion. He can't vote for the Governor's proposal as presented and they might massage it a little in the House. We've yet to see that. Also to your question, could the committee muck this up, can they kill Medicaid, sure. As my colleagues said, in a way it doesn't matter. It'll be a very entertaining show and everybody will get their whack at the pinata called Medicaid expansion. If they kill it, it can be brought back and most assuredly will be.
Ted Simons: How unusual is it to have the president "rolled", the speaker possibly "rolled"?
Howard Fischer: Every few years we get these unusual coalitions of folks who are -- I don't want to call them pragmatists, sometimes the centrists, who find a way to build a coalition on whatever the issue is. This goes back to the 1980s where Alfredo Gutierrez, he could put together the coalitions. So it happens. Ideally the party likes to hang together. When you have people who are true believers on either side, you have the Carl Seals who stand up every day in the House to explain why it's the devil's work, and you need to move on. As long as the Governor won't sign any other bills, something's going to give.
Ted Simons: What do we hear regarding the Governor's office? Are they watching and waiting?
Howard Fischer: Finally, after she vetoed five bills they finally stopped sending them. Oh, is that what you meant by moratorium. They are all watching and waiting. It's now the 7th of June. They know there's a deadline in terms of a budget by the end of the month. I think their feeling is, look, something will break free. The Governor will want something, we'll want something, and we may end up sitting around this table in two weeks talking about a massive deal that involves things we didn't even know were in play.
Ted Simons: As far as the Speaker again deciding to do what he did when he did it, does that show there was maybe a little agreement, a complete impasse? I know he's speaking with the governor's office trying to ease some things with the Senate plan. No go?
Ben Giles: No go. No go whatsoever. Spent three weeks trying to work with the Governor's office to see if there's any wiggle room to amend Medicaid slightly. For this issue I think Speaker Tobin came to the realization finally that the Senate President came to weeks ago, that there is no negotiating with her on this issue.
Howard Fischer: Unless there was one other factor in play. The Senate did put on a couple of small amendments. They put on an expiration date, something dealing with uncompensated care. If the House makes further amendments it's got to go back to the Senate. The Governor does not want to make another Senate vote. While her press agent says, of course we want to negotiate reasonableness, the answer is, go away.
Ted Simons: How likely is it the House comes up with something very different than what we're seeing right now?
Mary Jo Pitzl: I think on Medicaid they want a few tweaks which I think could be fixed in the Senate if the sponsor Medicaid expansion there, if the senator concurs. But that's a pretty easy fix. On the budget we keep hearing there are things that didn't get quite fixed in the Senate budget that they could also do. It could look a little different but not significantly different than what came out of the Senate in mid May.
Howard Fischer: Relatively speaking, we're talking nickels and dimes here, except for the David Livingston plan where he cuts $400 million. There is not the political will of the entire body to do that.
Ted Simons: Are we expecting not only activity, getting something done here, but a flurry of other bills flying across the landscape?
Ben Giles: Gosh, that's hard to say. I'd say there's a 50/50 chance once they pass the budget they sign die and get the heck out. This Medicaid expansion issue has become so toxic I'm not sure there's going to be a desire to stick around and keep working on the cleanup bills, which include some of the Governor's priorities, TPT reform.
Mary Jo Pitzl: Certainly the House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, he's said they are out of there. What is so important that you've got to stick around after these toxic issues are dealt with.
Howard Fischer: The Democrats don't want the election bill that changes the initiative process. They are not particularly interested in the TPT reform as the governor put it, the religious freedom bill, quote, unquote, they are not interested in that. For them, we're done.
Ted Simons: But again, how unusual is it to see -- these are pretty high profile things. The Governor went out ahead and said the sales tax or TPT reform is very important to her and her office.
Howard Fischer: Well, this is the one issue as you point out that has a reason to do something. Congress is moving ahead with this Marketplace Fairness Act which says, any state that has a simplified sales tax system we will let you impose taxes on the internet sellers. We don't have that. There are ways of doing that without the controversial contracting stuff that has driven the cities crazy. Do they agree to simply deal with that and go home? Or will they figure, Congress hasn't done the act yet, and we haven't got a deal with Amazon, so what's the rush?
Ted Simons: They have been revived in some new election reform bill. But these things are so controversial, so much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth. Let's just get out of here?
Mary Jo Pitzl: Some of the election reforms are priorities for the Secretary of State's office and the county recorder, the people who run the state elections. They feel they really have to have this, they have the votes for it. But now it's in the big mash-up of a bill that does things like allows -- it gets into the whole attorney general conflict of interest issue, who can return your ballot, how many signatures are needed, must a candidate collect to get on. There's something in there for everyone to like and everyone to hate. Who knows which way that's going to go.
Ben Giles: It's a now or never issue. Unless they pass it this year it won't go into effect in time to impact the elections of 2014. Eight weeks they came to meet together to settle the issue with these election bills. Seven weeks they canceled because they were fighting amongst themselves on how to do it.
Mary Jo Pitzl: The reason a lot of these bill measures were in the bill, it stems from last fall's election. Remember the long lines and big numbers of ballots which take time to process. You just need to do a lot more voter education, people don't live and breathe it like those of us around this table might do.
Howard Fischer: And the real chutzpah, if you want to call it that, we want to make it harder to put an initiative on the ballot, they want to cut the time. They want to erect new legal hurdles. But by the way, in terms of us getting on the ballot we don't need quite as many signatures. That's just amazing.
Ted Simons: The fact that these bills, measures, ideas, are all still floating in the ether out there, there are still some being held. The Governor said don't send them. What's the legality of that? Didn't we go through this a few years ago?
Ben Giles: The Governor did sue the legislature for not sending her bills. In that case it was a budget bill, and they didn't want to send it because they knew she was going to veto it. She wanted to get it so she could veto stamp it. In this case there's a happy understanding between the speaker, the president and the governor, I want you to be able to get some work done. I want you to continue to vote in some manner on some of these bills. Maybe when the budget is passed they can just send her a flurry of bills. As long as she's not going to sue them again for breaking the law --
Howard Fischer: That's the point. Who's got standing to sue? If the legislature is not suing and the government is not suing, it's not like Mary Jo can say, I have an interest in this bill going up on the 9th floor. Either they will with hold the last vote, the last action, and so somehow they think they may have provided some cover. Ben's right. Nobody's interested in suing, nobody want to make a stink out of it.
Ted Simons: It may run counter to the law, but otherwise go ahead.
Mary Jo Pitzl: We went for a little period there without even having a budget. Nobody sued over that and the world did keep turning.
Ted Simons: Who else would sue?
Howard Fischer: The only people is A, the sponsor, or B, some other legislation. Maybe, but I don't think the courts will entertain it. Courts hate political controversy and they try to stay out of them.
Ted Simons: Let's try to get some groundwork here. Next week, two weeks? Sine die, is it on the horizon?
Mary Jo Pitzl: You're a fool if you try to guess that, I'm not going to be a fool. But -- that said, as she walks over the edge of the cliff, all the tom-tom drums seem to be suggesting they would have controversial votes on drugs and Medicaid. We have to come back and do such things as elections and tax reform and religious freedom.
Ted Simons: If it's a cleanup situation, can it be next week?
Howard Fischer: It can be done. If you take the Medicaid things to Appropriations on Monday, you still have to take the rest of the budget bill maybe on Tuesday. If they work more than three days a week, they could be out by Friday. Particularly if they make the decision everything else isn't that important. Some say you have to pass the religious freedom bill.
Ted Simons: We just had a rally regarding surprise searches.
Howard Fischer: This is a bill that came nowhere. The laws requiring a search of a Planned Parenthood clinic, an abortion clinic, has been in effect for years. Now it's been discovered, we have this clinic in Phoenix that may be doing something wrong. I think to the extent that folks really want to take this stuff from scratch and tear this apart?
Ted Simons: Are we done by next week? Or do we have another legislative update with the "Arizona Capitol Times" in two weeks?
Ben Giles: I think we'll be back in two weeks. It seemed so bright and hopeful on Tuesday when it was firmly announced that budget bills were moved in the House. Now we're only hearing one of the budget bills on Monday. They haven't scheduled the rest of the budget bills for a hearing yet.
Howard Fischer: And part of what's happening is the Speaker and the keep is bring in four, five, six of them at a time, what does it take to get you on a budget, what do we need to do. Republicans ideally, but at some point even the Speaker realizes you got to go home.
Ted Simons: Before we go, I know John Kavanagh has a couple of bills. One of them including medical marijuana referring back for a vote on the bathroom bill. What happened to those?
Howard Fischer: John made a big huff and puff and beat on his chest and said, look what I'm doing here. The marijuana bill is in some ways more interesting. He passed by eight thousand votes. If it was put back on the ballot in 2014, folks would defeat it. Suddenly Republicans realize, you future the marijuana bill on a budget, who does that bring to the polls? Democrats.
Ted Simons: Libertarians can go to the polls too.
Howard Fischer: It's hard to know, but there aren't that many Libertarians that are going to make that big a difference. Originally it was a crime to go into a rest room where the sign on the door didn't match your plumbing. Who's going to enforce that? Then he said, we will make it so a small business won't get sued for violating an ordinance. Some people said, come on, do we want to get in the middle of this? They had this ordinance in 1999, nobody brought it up.
Mary Jo Pitzl: This late in the game, they are going to go by the wayside. Will the final votes on budget and Medicaid shut it all down? That's the big question.
Howard Fischer: If they can work through Saturday I think we can get out. I love Ben's young optimism. We'll beat that out of you.
Ted Simons: Thank you so much for your contribution. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.