Journalists’ Roundtable

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Join us for another edition of the Journalists’ Roundtable, as local reporters recap the big news of the week.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable," a State Supreme Court decision boosts Arizona's education funding by millions of dollars. And is Arizona ready for the start of enrollment in the Affordable Care Act's health marketplace? The "Journalists' Roundtable" is next on "Arizona Horizon."

Announcer: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable," I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary K. Reinhart of the "The Arizona Republic," Mike Sunnucks of the "Phoenix Business Journal," and Jeremy Duda of the "Arizona Capitol Times." The Arizona Supreme Court ruled this week that lawmakers must pay for inflation adjustments to the state's education funding as mandated by voters. And that's the key. Talk to us about this issue.

Mary K. Reinhart: It was a unanimous ruling. The justices said the Voter Protection Act means what it says. When voters said in 2000 they wanted schools fully funded, that's what they wanted. The legislature in the past few years has not done so according to the lawsuit. They have withheld inflation funding which is just basically giving schools -- letting them account for additional funding they need to keep up with inflation. The legislative leaders argue that's kind of what we did this year. We gave $82 million and said there, that's your inflation funding. The case will come down to how much and when. It's also about whose job it is to appropriate this money. House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Biggs believe it's the legislature's job to appropriate money. When the voters say this is what we want done, the Voter Protection Act says then you shall do it. If you don't do it you've got to have a 3/4 majority of the legislature to override it.

Ted Simons: It sounds as though the legislature says we're the only ones to appropriate money, and yet this was done. And the court is basically saying this was done, so it's got to be protected.

Mike Sunnucks: That was a more definitive ruling against the legislature. The legislature has been pushing the envelope on this issue for a while in different areas: Medicaid, some of the budget cuts. This court really took it to them on this one. We'll see when it happens and how much back money they might have to pay. It sets the tone going forward for future legislatures and how they try to take on some of the voter approved measures.

Ted Simons: Talk again about the state's position here. This thing was approved in 2000. VPA was in 1998 or something. It was in place when this was in place. The funding seemed to be going right along until 2010, is that when the legislature decided no more inflation adjustments?

Jeremy Duda: I think it was 2010 when the state went off the fiscal cliff and they were hemorrhaging red ink and trying to find places to cut money. We feel like there are some loopholes in prop 301 that can be used to side step the Voter Protection Act. You have to increase the base funding or transportation funding. Okay, that gives us an option. They argued in court that, much like the legislature is constitutionally prohibited from requiring future legislation, you can't bind them to specific things. Well, the voter can't do that, either. They can't force the legislature year after year after year to appropriate this money. The trial court agreed with the legislature on this. It just got overturned at the court of appeals and now at the Supreme Court as well.

Mike Sunnucks: The next time you see a recession and a budget crisis, you'll see the legislature do things like this and say, look, take us to court. We'll let the courts decide, and they will at least take their chances there when they are in these types of tough budget lines.

Mary K. Reinhart: That's what they did in the Access case. When they wanted to freeze, and they did freeze, childless adult funding for childless adults on Medicaid, opponents took that to court and lost. There was the word "available" fund in that voter-approved expansion of Medicaid, which the appeals court in this case said, you know, they probably -- they essentially said they probably shouldn't have done this because of the Voter Protection Act, but we're not going tell the legislature what's available. It's their job to determine what available funds are. Now that's moot because we're going to see Medicaid expansion. It does seem to have some bearing on that case.

Ted Simons: No back payments now on the previous years, this just means from now forward?

Mary K. Reinhart: That's my understanding. I think the fight is going to certainly be enjoined at the legislative level when we get back into the session.

Mike Sunnucks: The peril is if you try to get them to give back payments, where else do they take that money from? They're probably going to go after the people who are asking for the money in the first place. That's the big threat. The legislature still has a lot of power and how much do you really want to take them on when they are deciding other budget matters that affect schools and Universities and other things.

Jeremy Duda: There will be more funding for education in the budget next year. We've got kind of a cash surplus, an extra $200 million more than expected. There's going to be a lot of pressure to put that into K-12. Next time we have a budget crisis, what's the legislature going do, there's other places than education they can cut from. There will be more back doors around prop 301. You don't just have to go for the base funding.

Mary K. Reinhart: There are $900 million extra at the beginning of the fiscal year. We already hear legislative Republican leaderships talking about budget deficits as early as 2016. A lot of that is because of tax cuts they have passed. I don't think there's any appetite on the part of leadership to dump a lot of money on schools regardless of what the courts rule.

Ted Simons: Will we likely see more challenges on the Voter Protection Act where the legislature says, this is our job, not the public's job, even though the public already did the job?

Jeremy Duda: The legislature in general kind of hates this thing because it ties their hands in a lot of cases, but it's getting harder and harder to challenge. This ruling is the latest in a series that really strengthens the Voter Protection Act. There was one a few years ago on the First things First program that said the Voter Protection Act completely changed the rules of the game. It made the voters equal authority to the legislators in passing law. The one wild card is the recent ruling on the campaign contributions limit bill where the judge said, the Voter Protection Act, when it said it protected everything passed in the same year (1998), that's not applicable. All that stuff is no longer voter protected.

Mike Sunnucks: The legislature is very conservative, a lot of conservative Republicans, and they are adverse to some of these things voters have approved: Medicaid expansions, a lot of school spending, first things first.

They probably wouldn't vote for those things, that's why someone took it to the ballot and the voters. There's a natural built-in animosity to those things. When you're looking at things to cut in the budget during those tough times, what are you going to pick?

Mary K. Reinhart: We also saw a bill introduced last session or the session before to take everything approved after the Voter Protection Act by the voters and take it back to voters again. Because they may have meant it in 2000 but they really wouldn't want them to do this in 2013.

Ted Simons: Let them reconsider all their previous votes, yes.

Mary K. Reinhart: And putting time limits on things passed by voters, too. Who knows what kind of shenanigans they come up with next session.

Jeremy Duda: That's one of the dreams for a lot of Republicans in the legislature: some kind of Voter Protection Act reforms on the stuff that Mary K. was talking about. There was a proposal this last session, just kind of a warning, a mandated warning on the top of all ballot measures saying if you pass this you can only amend it oh or change it, three-fourths vote, it really makes it difficult for the legislature to maneuver, especially in cases like the budget crisis a few years ago.

Mike Sunnucks: It's an interesting dynamic with politics here. Redistricting has something to do with it. The people with name I.D. are Republicans, they vote for Republicans in the legislature. If you have a ballot measure with enough money and funding the voters will pass that, often to the chagrin and opposition of the same legislature they put in there.

Ted Simons: Can someone here explain what's going on with the clemency board and the governor? I've heard bullying, I've heard strong-arming. What's going on here?

Jeremy Duda: There's a death row inmate whose execution is scheduled for a couple of weeks from now, Edward Schad from Bisbee, I believe. His lawsuit claims that his execution should be postponed. He did not get a fair shake from the clemency board. They allege the Governor's office really strong-armed people to deny clemency. To back up their claim, they have affidavits from five former members saying, the governor's chief of staff Scott Smith met with them and said the Governor's not happy with these votes, she's tough on crime and doesn't want to see clemency. There were a couple votes for clemency she didn't like. They say they were really strong-armed. There is this death row inmate saying he was denied due process. It should be postponed until a new board can be seated that's independent and not subject to these pressures.

Ted Simons: And we should mention of those five ex-members, they are ex-members. They did not last much longer after these apparent alleged confrontations.

Jeremy Duda: Two were fired, I think three resigned, some alleged under pressure. One was the one who was ousted a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Hernandez who had a lot of other issues around him, too. Some say they resigned because they didn't like the pressure. Brewer is getting pretty well known during her tenure as not really being for clemency. She's given it a lot less than her predecessors.

Ted Simons: We should note, the clemency board is supposed to be independent, correct?

Mary K. Reinhart: Right, but they are all appointed by the governor.

Ted Simons: Including one that wound up either getting either fired or quitting.

Mary K. Reinhart: It's a political nightmare to commute the sentence of someone. You go back to governor Moffert, our caretear governor, who was basically tarred and feathered oaf commuting two sentences for convicted murderers. In Brewer's case, a lot of this goes back to the long-time chairman, Duane Belcher on that committee at the time recommended clemency. Basically said that was miscarriage of justice over a gentleman who has since been released. The Governor denied that request to commute the sentence. Within days they announced she was going to be running for governor. It's supposed to be an independent board, but it's a very political issue.

Ted Simons: If it's supposed to be an independent board, instead of the bullying and strong-arming and the other words here, why doesn't the Governor just step back and say, I disagree with this particular move, I think the board did something wrong, as opposed to sending the chief of staff to start pointing fingers and getting in people's faces?

Mike Sunnucks: I think you've seen governors past and present, Napolitano and her staff pressured on the Piestewa Peak things, where they are used to pressuring these boards into doing things. They're appointees they are usually political allies or friends of the sitting governor. This is a different case, though. We're talking about due process, a capital punishment crime and a lot of legal stuff. This isn't renaming a highway or some of the other stuff that goes on with these boards. This is much more serious matters we're talking about here. I think you saw Haley Barber in Mississippi, he pardons people, got a lot of national media grief for that. Maybe other Republican governors won't do that. But this is a different type of board, all the other boards we have, what they are considering is much more serious than these other panels that are out there.

Jeremy Duda: The Governor's office has denied that the governor interferes in any of these cases, but I don't think there is a lot of these individual allegations were really addressed. A lot of this will come out. Not too long ago the Governor's office met with a victims' rights advocate representing the father of a victim of somebody up for clemency, the half-brother of former Suns player Amar'e Stoudemire, actually. There's a lot of dispute of what was said in that meeting, but a lot of these individual allegations haven't been addressed no matter what's been denied by the governor's office.

Ted Simons: I can see the chief of staff finger-pointing and getting in the face of someone who does something along those lines or allegedly ogles women, whatever the accusations might have been. But for simply -- they are there to make a decision. But if they are not there to make a decision, what are they there for if the decision is always no?

Mary K. Reinhart: It's a political minefield. Governors from both parties from the beginning of time have found difficulty with pardoning or commuting the sentences of criminals. With this governor, you know, again starting with William McComber, before she ever ran for a full first -- her only first complete term of office, it was a very difficult sort of fence to walk when you had your clemency board and your chairman unanimously saying to the governor, this guy's sentence was a miscarriage of justice. He never should have been in prison this long. And then to have a governor deny that, that's all public record. Ideally, if you're a governor and you are making these appointments, you would like to be walking along the same track.

Mike Sunnucks: They have these political M.O.s, operate certain ways. But when you're going to take somebody's life, you want to give them the most fair shake possible. It doesn't appear from these stories that people are getting a fair shake, it seems like it's more politics.

Ted Simons: I guess what happens for the attorney general's race on the Republican side, there will be a battle. The incumbent Tom Horne looks like he's going to face Mr. Burnovich. Talk to us about the challenger here. We heard he was thinking of running and now it sounds like he is going to run. He's got interesting connections, doesn't he?

Jeremy Duda: He's been looking at this race for a while, and finally last Friday was his last day at the Arizona Department of Gaming. Everybody figured him leaving was a prelude to the A.G.'s race and they were right. He filed yesterday and he's got an interesting resume. He's been a prosecutor with the A.G.'s office, the U.S. Attorney's office, the state attorney's office. He used to work for the Goldwater Institute, he used to work for CCA, a private prison company, getting a lot of flak from folks because private prisons are pretty unpopular in some quarters. This could be an interesting race. A lot of Republicans are kind of concerned with all the problems that Horne has faced over the last year and a half, that if he gets into that general election against Felecia Rotellini, who ran a pretty tight race against him in 2010, they are concerned that's an important seat Republicans could lose. He's got some kind of big supporters in his corner, it looks like.

Ted Simons: But you've got the incumbent with Horne, and I know he's got some connections with Fife Symington's people and other big names in the Republican Party. And Burnovich has those connections to the Goldwater Institute. I don't know about the Republican side of things here. But is this serious business for Tom Horne?

Mike Sunnucks: I think Horne has enough baggage from the FBI investigations, the hit-and-run, the campaign finance, that if Burnovich has a legitimate campaign, some money to run ads and mailers, and maybe some fatigue with Horne. And there's concerns about Rotellini. She got money last time from Democrats nationally. She may be their best hope to win a statewide race this time. And there's a person named Janet Napolitano who won an A.G's race had a very successful career here, she's seen as an up-and-coming star in the Democratic Party. There are Republicans looking at that. From Burnovich's standpoint, it kind of compares to Bill Montgomery. Montgomery lost to Terry Goddard pretty badly, but ran a decent campaign, got his story out and people were impressed with him. He's now the Maricopa County attorney. What does he have to lose?

Ted Simons: Real quickly on the Democratic side, Felecia Rotellini seems to be the front-runner. I keep hearing Terry Goddard is interested in this. Would he step into something where an up-and-coming star seems like it's her turn? Are we going to see a little fight there on the Democratic side, too?

Mary K. Reinhart: Well, it remains to be seen. With Terry Goddard it's hard to count him out at this point. Felecia Rotellini believes it's her race at this point. I think she would love nothing more than to go up against Republican Tom Horne in the general election.

Mike Sunnucks: Democrats are really trying to clear their races up. Chad Campbell is out of the governor's race, they are trying to encourage Goddard to maybe run for Secretary of State if he chooses to run. He would be a formidable candidate if he ran there. They have a pretty formidable slate with Rotellini and him running in clear primaries.

Ted Simons: We have a pretty formidable date next week with the health care marketplace enrollment starts on Tuesday. Go ahead, tell us all about it.

Mary K. Reinhart: Goodness. Have you got a couple weeks? It's a big bill, the Affordable Care Act, and it's a lot going on on both sides of efforts to enroll and educate and enroll folks in online health care marketplaces as well as the Medicaid expansion that Arizona and roughly 20-plus other states passed over the past year. It is roughly a million uninsured Arizonans and other folks who may find better deals on the health care exchange. What Tuesday is, is sort of the starting gun. I think there are a lot of folks working very hard to educate and enroll people through the community health centers and other nonprofit organizations and hospitals who worry and sort of want to dampen expectations a little bit about the early results here. This is a long slog. This is a six-month enrollment window. It's really something I think the Obama administration is looking at over a number of years. Although they want to insure everybody in this country, they are looking at seven million people in the first year. We're looking at getting everybody on board at some point in the future, not necessarily Tuesday. That's just when it all gets started.

Ted Simons: We will talk about this Monday, what the community health centers are doing and the navigators and folks trying to get the information out. Is the information getting out? This feels like the common core issue where no one's really paying attention and it's here.

Mike Sunnucks: I haven't seen a big program like this where people have been more confused and had less knowledge about this. Business owners don't have knowledge, consumers, young people, nobody has much clue of what's going on. The media is accused of kind of carrying the President's water. But most of the stories are negative. It's about companies cutting hours to avoid it and people not knowing. There's so much confusion from employers, people that are uninsured and people that have insurance now and people are kind of waiting and seeing. People will enroll more towards the end when this word of mouth, they start talking to people they trust and families and friends and associates that have done this, they kind of explain it to them. Believe me, most people have no idea what's going on.

Mary K. Reinhart: The thinking is that people who have been insured in the past and lost insurance, and in Arizona there are hundreds of thousands of those people, and who have chronic illnesses, will rush to sign up. They will be the first people in the door. You will see insurance brokers and all kind of sort of private industry, H&R Block in Arizona, for example, is going to help people sign up as they do their taxes. You're going to see efforts rolling out slowly through the fall, into the winter and as the new year begins. I think it's going to be more of a slow roll than any kind of a big explosion on Tuesday. And I think that's intentional. You'll see more media, the federal government's media as well as private health plans and nonprofits and corporations start with more broad-based ad campaigns than you've seen up to now.

Jeremy Duda: It's going to be harder to reach young folks probably who don't have insurance or maybe don't see a need for it are now going to be more hesitant to sign up. Now you're seeing concerted efforts by conservatives, Tea Party folks, to actually discourage people from taking part. Urging people to opt out, kind of help undermine Obamacare. Keep government out of your health care and all of that. There's a risqué internet ad making the rounds in all of this. You mentioned the starting gun and efforts are ramping up. A 21-hour speech in the U.S. Senate by Ted Cruz urging defunding of Obamacare, some of these efforts are really ramping up now on this.

Ted Simons: The efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act: how serious are these, how prevalent are these, and will we see a really ramped up effort the next few days?

Mary K. Reinhart: Yes. To Mike's point about the confusion or lack of understanding, I mean, there was a poll a couple of months ago that showed a significant number of people didn't even know for sure if it was the law. So there's a big education effort that's been underway here. A lot of it directed toward young adults. They're key to the success of this thing. They are going to say the young healthy folks who come on the exchange will help pay for the sick old folks who cost more to care for. What I think people are concerned about is undermining the efforts especially where young adults are concerned, who may feel like they don't need insurance, the so-called "young invincibles" who will pay a fine at the end of next year of $95. They may argue "I'd rather have beer money in March than pay the fine at the end of the year." That's a little bit of a misnomer. Some of the polls are also showing young adults, if they have the option, the vast majority of them will sign up for health insurance and believe they need it. As that information gets out you start to see tables on campuses all over the state, what kind of decisions they make.

Mike Sunnucks: Like signing up for Medicaid, you go on the Access website and go down to the state office and figure that out. It's very confusing. Private companies are involved and people don't know where to go. There's no single point yet.

Ted Simons: I thought there was a single point.

Mike Sunnucks: Most people have no idea where that is.

Mary K. Reinhart:, I'll tell you right now. The one point you want to go to is online. It'll take you where you need to go. If you're in a state with its own state-run marketplace? It'll take you there. In Arizona, if you don't earn enough to qualify for anything other than Medicaid, it takes you to the Medicaid site. It's a pretty sophisticated site. The federal government and others are supporting navigators' guides and outreach and enrollment specialists. They are out there looking to do what Mike's talking about. Once you get somebody on there, help them figure out where they belong and what they need and how to get signed up.

Mike Sunnucks: Opponents have lost in the courts and Congress, but they have won this public opinion battle of confusing people. People don't know if they can keep their doctor. People are still talking about the death panels and those things. There are so many myths out there, not sure when the law went into effect or if it is the law. It's a complicated bill and a complicated program and it's not as straightforward as people are used to.

Ted Simons: And we should emphasize again October 1st is when you can start to enroll. It doesn't end October 2nd. That's when the gates open, you move forward at your own pace.

Mary K. Reinhart: You have until the end of March. If you're qualifying for Medicaid it's a rolling enrollment. You get on as soon as you're able to get on to Medicaid if you're eligible. Every step of the way, they have lost. This is a last-ditch effort to try to keep people from signing up for this thing.

Ted Simons: Representative Doris Giddell suffered a serious stroke. Sounds like the prognosis is pretty good.

Mary K. Reinhart: I was just talking to Speaker Tobin today and one of the house majority staff has seen her, she's doing much better, the family is much encouraged by her recovery. She may be back -- she's in a Las Vegas hospital recovering, it was that serious, she was air-lifted there. They think she might be back as early as this weekend in rehab and expected to make a full recovery.

Ted Simons: In time for the session. She's a champion for education up there representing northwestern Arizona. We wish her the best of health. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us. Monday on Arizona Horizon, enrollment in the Affordable Care act begins next week, we'll look at the details of how the program will work in Arizona and we'll talk to a health insurance marketplace navigator about helping Arizonans enroll in the system. Those stories Monday on Arizona Horizon. Tuesday, we'll learn about research that analyzes public opinion by looking at data from Twitter. Wednesday, ASU researchers will discuss their studies on the causes of obesity. Thursday, we'll look at a pet-friendly art gathering in canine-inspired art. And Friday, it's another edition of the Journalist's Roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us, you have a great weekend.

Mary K. Reinhart:The Arizona Republic; Mike Sunnucks:Phoenix Business Journal; Jeremy Duda:Arizona Capitol Times

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