Legislative Update

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Ben Giles from the Arizona Capitol Times will give us the latest news from the State Capitol in our weekly political update.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," the latest political news in our weekly update with the "Arizona Capitol Times." Also tonight, Arizona could be looking at an El Nino weather pattern for later this year. And Phoenix tons gather input for walkable communities along the light rail line.
Those stories 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." I'm Ted Simons. The battle over the budget continues at the state capitol. Here with more in our weekly political update is Ben Giles of the "Arizona Capitol Times." Ben, it's good to see you. The battle is a phrase, it's a term, and we expected some pushing and shoving and fighting and biting, it's getting ear owe serious down there.

Ben Giles: The battle has come to a standstill portion, I guess, where you have six moderate Republicans in the house who are stalling any progress whatsoever because they don't agree with the roughly 9.18 billion dollar budget that the senate sent to the house last Thursday. They want more spending in areas like CPS, particularly in education, they object to some of the cuts to education that are -- Or rollbacks that is proposed, and they actually came out and had an impromptu press conference to say there's no deal still, and there's no negotiating to be done because we're not going to stand for these cuts.

Ted Simons: Basically the senate had its budget, sent it to the house, that budget a no-go, so much of a no-go that we've now got a group of six Republican lawmakers in the house saying we're serious about this stuff.

Ben Giles: Yeah. And six is just enough to prevent house speaker Andy Tobin from getting the votes he needs from his Republican caucus in the house to send the budget out and maybe back to the senate in something that could go to the governor's desk pretty quickly. It appears now as long as this group of six moderate Republicans and the rest of the caucus both in the house and the senate can't come to an agreement, there's no end in sight.

Ted Simons: So when the senate sent the budget over to the house, did the house look at it and hear the concerns of the moderates and send something, maybe a counter off back to the senate?

Ben Giles: Not particularly. The budget as it was supposed to go to the floor on Monday, no one really knew who was going to vote how. From what we've been told, no one in the house is really counting votes, even within the GOP caucus before they sent the budget to the floor to see how it was going to shake out. And it didn't take them long to figure out that there's enough of a block of Republicans in their own party that are saying, we can't go for this, we're going to vote against this. So rather than have it be defeated on the floor they pulled the plug Monday. And every day since then it's just been a waiting game to see are negotiations going well, has there been any progress? We've been told that the six Republicans sent a counteroffer to Tobin and senate president Andy Biggs saying this is what we want the budget to look like. That was rejected. And now a counteroffer from Biggs and Tobin we're told was sent to the moderate Republicans, that was rejected. So we're going nowhere.

Ted Simons: And again, this is a seat that post-CPS, the new child welfare a factor, it sounds like the bigger factor is education, specifically the idea of public K- schools starting charter schools in order to get more state money. Talk to us about this.

Ben Giles: Just in the last fiscal year, there were schools operated -- Public schools guy districts converted to what are known as district sponsored charter schools. And the benefit they get is in addition to having access to the local districts K- education funding, they also get chart school money from the general fund. Senate president Andy Biggs has said that's an inequity in the funding of schools because the per pupil funding a district sponsored charter school gets is more than a public school student and more than a normal charter school student. So his argument is been if you want to be a charter school, act like a charter school and deal with the constraints a charter school has to.

Ted Simons: I think it's like a thousand dollars more per pupil.

Ben Giles: Roughly more, yes.

Ted Simons: And which makes for an interesting argument. You're hearing the senate president, a very much a conservative Andy Biggs, opting against school choice?

Ben Giles: It was that, in appropriations in the senate on Tuesday, you had lawmakers actually questioning if there was going to be kind of a competition for students in districts as more and more they anticipate opt for district sponsored charter schools to get more funding. And some superintendents who came to testify were kind of aghast because the thought is school choice and innovation in schools, which is what these charter schools are doing, that's exactly the kind of thing that Republicans always talk about when they say this is how we want to improve schools. So to now have the senate president proposing initially a $33 million rollback of funds for that program, retroactive to July 1st,2013, that would mean the schools would have to go back to being public schools. But now he's also proposing just a more widespread change to the funding of that program, that would basically discourage any school from doing it in the future.

Ted Simons: And we should note that one of the major areas that would be impacted here is where a certain lawmaker, her district happens to be. Talk to us about this. Some people say this as retaliation by the senate president.

Ben Giles: In fact, the senate president did say on Monday when he introduced this bill to change the governance, change the funding of district sponsored charter schools, he was doing so essentially as a threat to the house, where you had representative Heather Carter sponsoring a measure to take out his rollback of the $33 million that the president says I'm not sure we want to spend on this program, her amendment did also include a moratorium so that schools couldn't convert, but -- And that would give the schools and the state a time to study the issue. But it wasn't enough for senate president Biggs and kind of furious that the rollback might be removed, his threat is this bill, which democrats and these moderate Republicans say would be far worse than the program.

Ted Simons: Yeah. So you basically -- You've got democrats who are saying, go charter schools, move over to charter schools because at least the district gets more money. And you've got conservatives like Biggs saying, no, we don't need to see more of these kinds of -- What -- Education establishment, what are they thinking?

Ben Giles: The argument from senate president Biggs too is that this is the fiscally responsible thing to do, and depending on who you ask, there are estimates that more and more schools as you said are going to try and convert to gain access to this funding. Which admittedly they've been doing, because for the past three years or so billions of dollars have been cut from K- education funding. But as this program grows larger, the senate president has predicted in the next three years it could be a half billion dollar budget item. That is coming from the general fund that he fears Arizona won't be able to fund without increasing taxes.

Ted Simons: A vague ALT fuels feel from the dim and distant past. Last point, you said six moderate Republicans are a factor. Who are those six Republicans?

Ben Giles: Heather Carter, Kate Brophy Mcgee, Jeff dial, ethan ORR and bob Coleman. Those are our six.

Ted Simons: All right.

Ben Giles: And they say they also have a couple of other Republicans who share their concerns in the house, just maybe not willing to go public in a press conference as those six did this afternoon.

Ted Simons: Never a dull moment. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Ben Giles: Thank you.

Ben Giles:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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