Journalists’ Roundtable

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's Journalists' Roundtable," republican lawmakers agree on a state budget after much debate and compromise within the caucus. And the fight against last year's law restoring Medicaid expansion gets an appeals court hearing. The "Journalists' Roundtable" is next on "Arizona Horizon."

Narrator: "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 us tonight, Mary Jo Pitzl of the "Arizona republic." Jeremy Duda of the "Arizona Capitol Times." And Bob Christie of the associated press. Quite the week at the state capitol, as budget talks made for a noisy family fight among republican lawmakers. The week started -- I thought you were all saying it is going to get over to the house. Things will be moving on. Things didn't move on very quickly.

Mary Jo Pitzl: In the context of the budget, it took a week for the budget to get out of the house. It did get off to a rocky start on Monday. It was the hurry up and wait. Hurry up and wait. Budget stalled because of objections from a number of lawmakers.

Ted Simons: Yeah, and basically what $. some odd billion thing, comes over from the Senate, a lot of problems with the house there. What happened?

Jeremy Duda : You had six republican house members who were viewed as more of the moderate members who were holding out. Unified, all had the handful of issues they didn't feel the Senate budget funded all enough. The money for U of A, a handful of things. They were -- problem is -- you had house republicans for this, and you need votes, six holding out. Several days of negotiations. They held a press conference to denounce the negotiations, and then it seemed like things were going to drag on forever, and within hours they had a deal and all voted out.

Ted Simons: When the week started, let's see what happened in the house. Things deteriorated kind of quickly, didn't they?

Bob Christie: No one in the house had been briefed. Leadership had not briefed any of the republican caucus. They are presented with the budget. Normally they go through small group meetings and have a little understanding of what is in it. They had problems with a couple of issues in the Senate passed version. They said no, we want to talk about this before we vote on it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It wasn't just the six that have become somewhat immortalized in photos, but there were other -- one lawmaker said there were other clicks within the GOP caucus that had problems with the budget and a lot of that stemmed, as Bob said, there hasn't been this small group briefing. People came forward, what about the DPS pay raise, a lot of small schools in my district, this is going to hurt them. It took work to get those people on board.

Ted Simons: Small group meetings, that usually happens, doesn't it? Doesn't it seem like leadership is doing this and the rank and file doesn't know what is going on, and I hear no, no, small group meetings. No small group meetings?

Jeremy Duda : All of the stuff that we saw very publicly this week, usually this goes on behind the scenes, wrangling behind closed doors. And then the legislature starts to move the budget proposal before. Senate passed the budget last week. It was clear that nobody was talking to the house. It came to the house and nobody knew what to make of this.

Bob Christie: It is not surprising -- it won't surprise us if we have the same problem in the Senate. In the Senate, a week and a half ago, they said this is just the beginning. We will have plenty of time to talk about this and bam, bam, in two days it was done. When it comes back to the Senate, people over there will have the same type of questions.

Ted Simons: There seem to be a couple of major sticking points. Mid-week, amazing that the business with public school districts and charter schools which I don't think people knew existed or at least understand, and this was a major sticking point.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It certainly has the biggest dollar, price tag on it. State law allows a public school to convert to a charter school. It hadn't been used a lot until education funding took a dive during the recession. And then the public schools, hey, if we convert to a charter, we get an extra $ 11,000 a student and many districts did that to help themselves financially, and offer, broaden the array of programs that they offer to students. This kept growing and growing. The state support to education has been climbing back up somewhat slowly from the depths of the recession, and thus it was popular with school districts and that has an impact on the budget.

Ted Simons: Senate budget, retroactively saying no go.

Jeremy Duda : Senate budget they were getting rid of all of that. Senate president Biggs adamantly opposed by this. Double dipping by the schools, getting the tax dollars that normally go to the public schools and extra charter money. Some extra money to go around and not enough for what everyone wants and he thought that was one of the things that definitely had to go.

Bob Christie: The charter schools, what we will see now, they tried in the house to stop the Biggs plan. They were not able to. They were able to get a one year reprieve and then they go away. They were hoping to get at least three years and time to talk about how the conversions happen. There have been schools converted in the last year and a half that are going to cost $ million. They are looking at -- Andy Biggs saying $ million, $ million a year, pretty soon because every school district will roll on board.

Ted Simons: It made for strange bed fellows when you have conservative republicans saying this particular choice is no good and this particular innovation for education is no good. And democrats saying oh, no, the charter school idea is a great idea. It seems a little topsy-turvey there.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Maybe a little. It is a way to keep the charter -- charters are public schools. You know, no matter which way you cut it. And more of the district schools wanted to come on to it. The larger issue out of this debate, are we seeing a reckoning, everybody asking themselves the question dozen Arizona have enough money to support public schools? As you remember, during the recession, through 2012 , public funding to -- the K-12 system had gone down by about to 18% -19% It was a big, big drop. That money has not come back. There has been a court decision that will help the schools with inflation funding, which is something that the legislature had not paid for for a couple of years. But there are other issues out there, and the charters was a nice way to sort of boost your bottom line.

Ted Simons: Creative way to boost that bottom line but not for long.

Jeremy Duda : Not for long. At least for one more year, if this goes through. We don't even know what will happen in the Senate. The interesting thing is, there will be other schools who have already done this and you know we are hearing chatter that some people might be willing to sue over this if this money is available for some schools and now the schools that want to switch aren't going to have the money available.

Bob Christie: Strange bedfellows, the legislature, school choice legislature, oh, no, we have to stop this school choice. At the same time talking about expanding the voucher system, education savings account, and we have the school tuition organization where you can funnel money to. So, all of those things are either very large or being expanded and when we see districts doing it, regular public schools doing it, innovative classroom instruction and specific programs that really aid kids, costs too much.

Ted Simons: Funding for the new child welfare agency, whatever it is, whenever it is, and it sounds like what the governor wants, what the Senate had and what the deal -- a lot of difference there.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right. And I think the big rub here is you're phrasing whatever it is, whatever it is going to be become. A lot of lawmakers said look, until we know what the master plan is for this new child welfare agency, how do we know how much money should go for it? Other people say, look, we sort of get it. We know that we need more caseworkers and staff to help the state dig out of a big CPS backlog, handle all of the uninvestigated cases, as well as everything new that is coming in. Prevailing argument among republicans in the Senate and pretty much in the house, well, with that -- look, we don't know. Let's let this work group Brewer has put together come up with their plan and then we will have a clear idea. Craft an amendment that got on the budget, intent of the legislature to come back and examine the need for more funding for child welfare after this plan comes out. She says that that means the work group is going to come out, not just with the plan, but with the budget. The budget gives them now an extra $3 million more than what the Senate plan does.

Ted Simons: But that extra $3 million is still far short of the -- granted, we still don't know what it is going for and that is the idea is to wait to find out to a certain degree. It still is no where near what the governor is looking at and what other folks are calling for.

Jeremy Duda : When the Senate passed the budget last week, governor's office kept saying we have problems with this, priorities not addressed, never specifying what they were talking about. What everybody read into that, new child welfare agency wasn't being funded to the degree that she wanted. There is a lot of talk that once the session is done, we are going to see a special session for CPS. As Mary Jo mentioned, this isn't going to be ready for awhile. Final report is due May 1st.

Bob Christie: Senate president Andy Biggs says it isn't worth the paper it is written on and called it ridiculous and several other choice words today when we asked him about it. Legislative intent clause really doesn't do anything, but it does commit them to at least having their names on the document saying we're going to come back. We're going to fully fund this and we're going to at least look at funding again.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Not fully fund. There is a lot of slippery words in there, and a lot will hinge on this final report. And, you know, I've got to wonder if -- the argument, you can't hire fast enough anyway. Why give them all that money? I can see this being kicked down the road until next year when we have a new governor, new speaker, and a number of new lawmakers.

Ted Simons: That begs the question, certainly asks the question, is the governor going to put up with something like that?

Mary Jo Pitzl: That's a great question.

Ted Simons: Yeah, I guess we don't know, do we?

Jeremy Duda : The governor's office being very cagey about their thoughts on the budget in general. They didn't sound as pessimistic about the one the house passed as they did with the Senate one. Withholding all judgment. Too early to see. We have to see what happens in the Senate now.

Ted Simons: This -- the republicans, were they working in conjunction with the governor's office at all?

Jeremy Duda : These folks were all part of the governor's Medicaid coalition last year but it seems like they're all on their lonesome here, both them and the governor's office say they are not working in concert with this. Some priorities aligned, not all of them. But they are pushing for some of the things the governor wanted.

Mary Jo Pitzl: When it comes to CPS, governor kept her cards really close and she has not talked to these lawmakers.

Ted Simons: Talk about this break-away group. Who were these folks? Why were they willing to go this far, I mean go so far as to have a press conference. And it sounds like -- they were doing all of the negotiating. Fascinating stuff there in the middle of the week, all sorts of folks negotiating with all sorts of other folks.

Bob Christie: They cut off the budget meeting Monday and it blew up from there. Six of nine republicans who joined with the democrats last year to embrace governor Brewer's Medicaid expansion plan. They took great heat for it. They stood tall and did it and the governor is going to back them up come re-election time for doing so. Only six of them, from Chandler --

Ted Simons: Heather Carter --

Bob Christie: Ethan Orr. They managed to get five of the six to vote for the budget. Ethan Orr wouldn't. He didn't think it did enough for education and didn't think it did enough for university of Arizona and he didn't think it did enough for CPS. That is arguable. Whether or not they got everything they wanted. But I think as we talked earlier, the republican caucus wanted to stay together. Even though they had had this big break-up.

Ted Simons: And I was going to ask that question. I mean, much drama, at least in the middle of the week, and the press conference and the photographs, walking, you know, some sort of formation, I don't know what that was all about, but the fact is that they wanted -- they wanted something and they were willing to go to the wall. Was this a good deal for them? It just seems like -- I don't know, from a distance, it doesn't look like they got anywhere near what they wanted?

Jeremy Duda : Most of them got a little bit of what they wanted but not nearly all of what they wanted. If you would have given them too much, you start to lose votes on the more conservative side. And conservative lawmakers in the house saying I don't like how much we increased the spending here. We have to pass something. We don't want to hold things up. We will hold our nose and vote for this.

Bob Christie: This wasn't going to be a democratic, republican budget like we saw last year.

Ted Simons: No chance of that happening.

Bob Christie: No chance of that happening. This group needed to bring the conservative, tea party republicans along to their position and get something. And I think -- if you look back, they got some of what they wanted, not everything. Other people gave, but the caucus is still together.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think they got a little bit of what they wanted. And this ain't done. I mean, this is going over to the Senate. The Senate has a harder line on it to even accept elements of this house budget. It is going to be hard to get some of the senators in the republican caucus over there to agree. For example, on the charter schools, you know, Heather Carter, who has been the big champion, she stuck her neck out on this big time, she said, look people, make no mistake. We get a one-year reprieve, but then that is it. Done, over, no state funding for the innovative programs, like teaching advance science, technology, education, engineering, math in the schools. It is not going to happen. Promised her a beefed up study committee. We have lots of study committees, issue lots of reports.

Ted Simons: What happens over in the Senate? Do you think there will be a grinding of teeth but let's go along with anyway?

Jeremy Duda : There will be some of that. I think they will probably push to knock a little bit of this new funding off as, you know, Senate Andy Biggs wants to take a very hard line on the revenue issue. Structural budget deficit a few years down the road. But a lot might come down to how the negotiations go with the governor's office now. They have taken more of a hands-off approach. They say they're waiting for everyone to agree in the house and legislature to agree but once it goes over there, governor Brewer starts pushing for her priorities.

Bob Christie: If they take off the legislative intent, if they mess with the charter school deal at all, that we will be here for weeks. These house members didn't get a lot. What they did get, they're going to fight to keep.

Ted Simons: Yeah, that is the impression that I got. They did not seem to get a lot, especially after all of the drama.

Bob Christie: Right. But if you talk to them, we got more than we started with. This was thrown at us. We wanted to have the conversation. We weren't just going to take a budget and pass it which is what leadership wanted us to do. They did change the budget. And they did tweak it a little bit. They didn't get a huge new $200 million program or big checkbook for CPS. But they made some progress.

Mary Jo Pitzl: A couple of other things we should note in the budget that were also -- that just showed up on -- last night. An extra $900,000 for private prisons. That had not --

Ted Simons: Where did that come from?

Mary Jo Pitzl: John Cavanaugh, apparently, Cavanaugh, chairman of the appropriations committee and he ran the amendment that added a lot of things to the budget. But that had not been vetted before through his appropriations committee. The democrats and some of the republicans made a plea for money for child care subsidies, arguing, look, this is a big preventative measure. We may not have as many problems down the road -- they got zip, nothing. And then we had a lovely amendment coming up, about last night when representative Stevens successfully passed an amendment on voice vote that would rebid this -- the mental health care contract for Maricopa county. That is going to -- that contract changes hands on Tuesday. And on Thursday night the legislature is looking at starting all over again.

Ted Simons: That was certainly an interesting bit of information, because last night we had the folks from mercy Maricopa and talking about the switch -- we had them on the program. And they were optimistic. April 1 st, things are going to change. Integrated care replaces what happened before. We -- we could have had an earth-shaking thing happen here regarding behavioral health services.

Jeremy Duda : Contract goes into effect on Tuesday. Magellan who lost out on the bid, they are fighting this on court. Administrative law judge let it go into effect. Suing in Maricopa county Superior Court. The court process drags on for a long time. It looks like they might have felt this would be a quicker, for efficient way -- this got added on to a budget bill and taken off later when a lot of people started raising cane when they realized what this was.

Bob Christie: It was interesting. It got put on a voice vote. Someone called for a roll call vote. Stood up don't like this. Do you know what this does? It starts next week. It stayed on on the vote. They walked away. Sure enough all sorts of people started scurrying and cell phones started to go off and text messages and next thing you know we're back in committee and whoosh, it's gone.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It is gone from the house budget, but it is not gone. Representative Stevens as well as -- we think this contract was awarded illegally, we are taking this to the Senate. They see this as an opportunity to educate people. They realize they can't stop the contract from changing hands on April 1st. Senate can't act that quickly. But they're hoping to send a signal and I guess they're hoping that Governor Brewer might pay attention and try to step in and void a contract.

Ted Simons: Not only void the contract, but then keep mercy Maricopa from even bidding on the next process, is that true?

Jeremy Duda : One of the provisions would more or less keep them out of this. The big argument for Magellan for why they shouldn't have gotten this, state law prohibits regional behavioral health administrators from actually being behavioral health providers. MMIC -- a partnership between the county hospital system and behavioral health provider.

Ted Simons: Nonprofit.

Jeremy Duda : They're arguing it is a conflict of interest. This amendment would have reiterated that this law we passed years ago would bar someone from doing this.

Ted Simons: The rule is, just be aware of what's going on there.

Bob Christie: Oh, absolutely.

Ted Simons: Any time during the session.

Bob Christie: Absolutely. I was flipping through this giant stack of amendments and trying to find this. They took a break. I -- what is this? Do you see what this does? Not only do you void a contract -- prevent them from bidding again. It just pops in.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And, you know -- this amendment has been out there since Monday. If people -- if lawmakers and lobbyists had read these packages, but there was none of the staff write up that takes this technical legal language and puts it into plain English. So, yeah, a lot -- watch for more of that in the Senate.

Ted Simons: That will be interesting. I can't wait to hear what you have to report on that. The governor has freed a long-time prisoner, murderer. What is this all about?

Jeremy Duda : Patrick Maloney. He has been in prison for about years. He murdered his mother and stepfather. The governor just in the past week commuted his sentence. He is freed. This is very unusual. The governor -- this governor has commuted far fewer sentences than any of her predecessors. I believe this is only her second. Offered no explanation for why she did this. This recommendation has been sitting on her desk for four years. We have no idea why she did it. It is very significant considering how rarely this happens under governor Brewer.

Ted Simons: Any clues as to what this is all about?

Bob Christie: Really not. Clemency board looked at it, recommended it, sat on the governor's desk --

Ted Simons: For four years.

Bob Christie: Well, the governor takes her time, I guess.

Ted Simons: So, again, four years -- is it unusual for the governor not to make a comment or the governor's office not to make a comment?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Not in -- well, we only have had one other case.

Ted Simons: Yeah, you're right.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think that it is sort of pro forma for her.

Ted Simons: We don't know why she did it. We don't know why she waited and we may never know.

Jeremy Duda : We may not.

Ted Simons: Medicaid expansion, the big to do in the legislature last year, that is still going on. Appeals court hearing. Still the same argument that what they did was unconstitutional.

Jeremy Duda : That is part of the argument. The lawsuit filed over whether Medicaid violated the constitutional provision that required a two-thirds vote. This is the fight over the fight -- this group actually has the right to sue or challenge this, Superior Court judge threw out the case -- judge said the only people who have the right to sue are the people who pay the tax. The only problem with that is the people who pay the tax get more back in federal dollars. Every hospital in the state who pays this gets more back. There is a great disincentive to challenge this.

Ted Simons: I believe they prefer the term assessment --

Jeremy Duda : Assessment not a tax.

Ted Simons: Judge was saying, he can't be harmed because you are the one who made the choice, correct, in terms of the vote?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right, right. But, again, as Jeremy said, it is the fight over the fight. And you have a -- as it turned outing, a minority of the legislature saying that we don't like this. And you had -- I'm sorry, and they declared -- I'm going to get this backwards.

Bob Christie: Okay. In order to require a two-thirds vote, more than half of the lawmakers have to vote to require that. We have to say, it is a tax. Now we need two-thirds. Only 51% -- so, it went to court. Legislature sued. Andy Biggs, Andy Tobin and all republicans who were not on board with the expansion sued. Superior Court judge threw it out. Said you don't have the right to sue because you haven't been harmed. You are not paying the assessment. And now the appeals court is deciding whether to review it or not. The whole argument Wednesday was should we review it? We haven't decided to take it yet. Is it a tax, not a tax. Based on the questions, I think we might see them take this case.

Ted Simons: Okay.

Bob Christie: We might see them take this case.

Ted Simons: Will we all be on Medicare by the time they take this place

Bob Christie: Medicaid will be well implemented by the time we get a resolution.

Ted Simons: We have to stop the conversation here. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Mary Jo Pitzl:Journalist, The Arizona Republic; Jeremy Duda:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times; Bob Christie:Journalist, Associated Press;

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