Jim Small from the Arizona Capitol Times will give us the latest news from the state capitol in our weekly political update.
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. A federal judge ruled today that Arizona and Kansas can require proof of citizenship when residents use a federal form for voter registration. Both states sued the Federal Election Assistance Commission after the commission had refused to add a state mandated proof of citizenship on federal registration forms. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said he was "delighted" with the ruling. State Senator Steve Gallardo criticized the decision, saying that college students in particular will be harmed by the judge's ruling. The state Senate released its budget this week, and lawmakers again attempted and failed to undermine Arizona's new education standards. Here now with our weekly political update is Jim Small with the "Arizona Capitol Times". Good to see you.
Jim Small: Good to join you.
Ted Simons: I think the House compared today. What do you say, comparing and contrasting what the governor is looking for?
Jim Small: The legislative budget proposals want to spend less than what the governor is calling for, and they anticipate less in revenues, also. They got out of the committee along party line votes, Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing. They are meeting bright and early, in the morning, to go to the floor and debate the bills and they will come back sometime later in the afternoon and vote on the bills and send them over to the House.
Ted Simons: On both House and Senate side, any grumbling going on there? From the Republican side in particular, that's where the problems were last session.
Jim Small: Right now, no. Even the breakaway Republicans from the Senate from last year in the fight over the Medicaid expansion look like they are all going to vote for the budget when it comes out of the Senate tomorrow. There's a sense of trying to move the negotiations along and realize this isn't the final budget. Whatever gets out of the Senate or the House next week is going to have to go to the governor. They are going to have to work things out with her to figure out where they are going to end up.
Ted Simons: One of those things I'm sure is the business for no new funding for a common core assessment, a common core test. Is that a place-holder or serious business?
Jim Small: Looks to be serious business right now. $13 million, something like that, $15 million for this assessment. The state hasn't signed on to it yet. We don't know which one the State is going to sign onto. Until the state decides which one it's going to pick and gets bids back on doing this test, we shouldn't allocate any money to it. The business community, four major business groups, the Arizona Chamber, the Greater Phoenix Chamber, the Greater Phoenix Leadership and Southern Arizona Leadership Council sent a letter to all 90 lawmakers and said the Senate budget does some really good things, but any budget that doesn't include the funding for this assessment is something that needs to be fixed. Essentially, why do we have these standards? And if we don't have a test to measure how students are being taught, we're not going to know anything about whether they are effective or what needs to be fixed. They said basically they would be flying blind in education.
Ted Simons: Coming into the session, the new child welfare agency, the Senate version wants much less money for the CPS successor than the governor wants. I think people thought there would be a little arm-wrestling going on with that. But the assessment for common core, did anyone see that being a major issue for this session?
Jim Small: Some people did. We heard from people in the fall that, you know, keep your eyes on this idea of this test. Last year there was a big fight, there was basically a bill to get rid of the AIMS test and replace with it a test called the Parks test to test against these standards standards. That bill got through one chamber and went to the Senate and it ran into some roadblocks. They ended up with a really stripped down version of that bill through the legislature last year. That was kind of a harbinger of what we're seeing now. It seems to be stronger in the Senate than the House, but the House frankly hasn't had any of these bills come to the floor yet.
Ted Simons: We just had three more bills to essentially undermine common core in a variety of ways. Those are addressed, voted down with the help of some Republicans.
Jim Small: And largely it's the Republicans that voted for the Medicaid expansion last year for the budget with the governor. The Governor has been a strong supporter of the common core standards. They were implemented under her administration, the state board of education did that in 2010. She supported them from the beginning. And she continues to support them. I think those votes from those Republicans, they look at it and say, look, the Governor wants these standards and the business community wants these standards. Why would we vote to get rid of them and go back to nothing? Essentially if you say the state can't use these common core standards, we have to go back and develop all new standards or go back to the ones in place almost years ago.
Ted Simons: Sounds like there's still a bill out there that needs to be decided, in regard to requiring districts to develop their own standards. They keep on rolling through.
Jim Small: They do. That bill -- we'll see if it comes to the Senate floor or not.
Ted Simons: That's true.
Jim Small: I don't think it's going out too far on a limb to expect it to meet the same fate as similar bills.
Ted Simons: APS and the idea of solar panels and a property tax hike on solar panels, which would be a tax hike. Correct me if I'm wrong here APS says we have no interest or position on this, but everyone who talks to APS says, oh, they do have a position on this.
Jim Small: The Department of Revenue reinterpreted a statute and put a tax on residential solar rooftop panels that hadn't been taxed before. The old interpretations say they aren't taxed and the new one says they are taxed to get something firmly in state law. The solar industry folks have said for months APS is involved in this, they want this tax to be in place. APS says consistently, we have no position on this bill, nothing that we're involved with. But we've heard from the governor's office they have met with APS tax folks to discuss this issue, among others. Also some legislators, House Majority Whip Rick Gray told one of my colleagues, yeah, I met with an APS lobbyist and he was supportive of this tax. Representative gray represents the Sun City area. The solar industry has installed a lot of rooftop solar on community centers and also on people's homes, selling them on the idea, you're on a fixed income. If you can reduce your energy costs by $50-$100 a month, that's a good thing.
Ted Simons: Sounds like the property tax assessment would hike perhaps the average resident, maybe seeing $50-$70 a month insurance, right?
Jim Small: If this tax goes into effect, and essentially the tax will be on, say, a company like Solar City. But it'll be passed on to the consumer. You essentially wipe out any energy savings they would have right there on the average unit with the average tax.
Ted Simons: We're going to make sure this assessment doesn't happen, and another says we're going listen to what APS says they are not saying, but apparently they are, and look at this tax.
Jim Small: A couple of competing things out there, one of them is in this tax conformity bill, something the state does every year to make its tax line up with federal tax code changes. There's a provision that would codify the new interpretation of the law and say this tax happens. Just yesterday the Senate Elections Committee heard a strike everything amendment that does the opposite. No, we're going to make sure this tax doesn't happen. Michelle Reagan, the sponsor of that amendment, said look, I was here when we put in that exemption for this rooftop solar. The point was specifically to do that, to make sure people aren't paying a tax on it, in order to encourage use of it. We're not going to go back and try to rewrite the rules that DOR basically was acting out of order when it went and reinterpreted that statute.
Ted Simons: Definitely to be continued. We will talk more about this with Congressman Gosar. Tesla, I don't know if it's a striker or not, but they can't sell their cars here, there's a move to change that?
Jim Small: Arizona's law requires you to basically have a dealership in order to sell vehicles here. The Tesla store about the mall, they can't actually sell you a vehicle there, they have to jump through some hoops to do that, you can't test-drive and inspection like that. There's a bill to open that up and it says we'll allow direct sales to the consumer. Dealerships aren't terribly happy about it. I think they see some potential harm to them down the line if all of the car companies or other major car companies decide to do the same thing and essentially put them out of business.
Ted Simons: Jim, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.