The Legislature’s session is nearing its end. Senate Minority Leader Anna Tovar and House Minority Leader Chad Campbell will give us their take on the session.
Ted Simons: Things are moving fast at the state capitol as lawmakers try to wrap up the session by powering through a number of bills. Joining us now to update what's going on is senate minority leader Anna Tovar, and house minority leader Chad Campbell. Good to see you both again. Thank you so much. What's happening down there right now?
Anna Tovar: Wow. There's a lot of bills that are being Rodrigues rented. Some of us call them zombie bills because we know a bill is not dead until we sine die, so we're seeing some particular bills that are concerning to Arizonans.
Ted Simons: Which ones?
Anna Tovar: In particular one we were able to defeat today on the floor was the Grand Canyon University, and that gives a particular tax credit to this private University, at the same time we're struggling the fund our public Universities here in the state of Arizona. So it's a bit disconcerting that we have a bill that's going to be moving forward are that gives a tax credit, but places the burden on middle class and lower class families that live around Grand Canyon University.
Ted Simons: Indeed, reclassifies the property tax would save Grand Canyon $, a year. Were you surprised it came back to life? I thought rules, the attorneys were saying this can't go.
Chad Campbell: Yeah. They did. But that doesn't stop bad ideas from moving forward. Again. A lot of times you see them pushing for something regardless of whether it's legal. We rush these last two weeks of session, we run through hundreds of bills and a lot of times this is where mistakes are made and we have could come back the next year and fix it. We have to fix this process; it's detrimental to the public.
Ted Simons: How many bills are being considered this week in the house, and are you able to read all of these things and get input?
Chad Campbell: It's tough. Today, for instance, we probably did about 60 plus bills. Between third read and final passage. And that's a lot of bills in one day. We were on the floor today for about 6 1/2 hours, and we do our best. We read the bills, but when you're getting the agenda late the night before, sometimes you get bills thrown on the day of the floor hearing, and you don't have time to look at it, and so we're doing the best job we can. But this process could be fixed if the majority wanted to fix it, and it needs to be fixed. It is not efficient.
Ted Simons: How would it be fixed?
Chad Campbell: We could put in time lines, make the session longer if we have to, the best thing is to limit the number of bills each legislator can introduce to or lower, that will solve this problem.
Ted Simons: That makes sense to you?
Anna Tovar: Absolutely. The issue of transparency is huge. In these last remaining days of the legislature, there's so much that is going to be introduced as we saw last year the voter suppression bill was ran through in the middle of the night, had mistakes, we're currently still trying to fix those mistakes with happened with bills like that. It's frustrating, but the issue of transparency is nonexistent right now for the public and that's something they should be truly concerned about.
Ted Simons: How many bills is the nature looking at?
Anna Tovar: We're about equal to the house in the amount of bills we're discussing on a daily basis and also third reading. So the process in other states, the budget is done with great care and transparency and here you see that it is just the opposite here in the state of Arizona. Republican-led legislature uses these bills, you know, to make sure that they get the budget passed that they want, and then they addressed bills.
Ted Simons: I know you call it the voter suppression bill, we'll call it the election law changes. Is there any chance of any of that returning here in the last waning days?
Anna Tovar: We're already -- We're ready, and we anticipate. Last year it was at the 11th hour. So we're very vigilant and we have our ear and making sure we're listening to all the amendments. But this is an issue that is truly concerning and it's something we'll be proactive in making sure that voter suppression, amendments do not see light of day.
Ted Simons: Aspects of that bill, anything you see likely to return, threatening to return?
Chad Campbell: I would hope not. I think the public outcry last year, and the referendum and everything else, woke up the majority party to the fact that people are starting to pay attention to what is going on down there. And I think people don't want their rights taken away, especially when it comes to voting, and see tee the value of having a transparent process. And a fairly easy process to participate in democracy. I'm hoping the attacks on voter rights are put to bed. But as senator Tovar pointed out, nothing dies until we sine die.
Ted Simons: What about the voucher system, the empowerment scholarship accounts as they call them, others call them vouchers. This thing was debated and the idea to expand to almost half the students in Arizona. Where is that stand?
Anna Tovar: It's currently in the process. We did -- One of the bills today, but essentially what the ESA bills do, it's a detriment to public education. I asked for an amount of how much they're currently being -- What their accounts are. It took about 7 1/2 weeks to get that information from the department of education. But since we had the information, there's over $2 million in the ESA accounts that are being essentially tax giveaways to our parents that go unaccounted for, they are not held to the same standards as their public school system. There's an additional up to about 2,400 students that have applied for the ESA scholarships, and next year it would be up to $4 million, general -- A hit to the general fund of $4 million, and that's money that's not going to our public education.
Ted Simons: Yet supporters will say that is money that goes to parents and families allowing them to make a choice for what's best for their kids.
Anna Tovar: They can make the choice, but it's not held to the same standards. Anyone can hire a person off the street and have them become a teacher. They're not held to the same standards as taxpayers would assume that our money would be spent wisely. But there's no accountability for these funds.
Ted Simons: Is this bill likely to return?
Chad Campbell: Probably. I mean, yes, I think it will. And I think it's a deeper attack and a deeper agenda as Anna pointed out on the public school system in the state, and we've seen it with the ESA accounts, the student tuition organization program we have in the state. This is a philosophical battle, no doubt about that. I think the majority party; at least the leadership of the majority party and the people elected on the Republican side at the capitol really truly do not seem to value the public school system. And I think they are going to keep chipping away at that school system and keep shifting public dollars away from that traditional model to these unproven charter schools to private schools, whatever it may be, but there's no trend that's changed over the past five or six years. They're continuing to attack public schools on an almost daily basis.
Ted Simons: I read in the "Arizona Capitol Times," this program that superintendent Huppenthal was involved in, the robo-calls to get people sign up for these vouchers proved to be a mild if not big success. Parents were interested in this program.
Chad Campbell: If you think that's a success in terms of shifting people through the schools, yes. But again, the problem we have in this state is it's twofold. First of all, you have the superintendent of public instruction promoting schools that aren't under his purview, which is contradictory to his role. But secondly, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy that parents are going to look for other alternatives from the traditional school that's failing when the people down there aren't going to support schools that are failing and give them money they need. So they're making sure these schools fail so parents have no other alternative except to look for other options. This is an agenda.
Anna Tovar: We're talking about $3 billion that have been cut for public education since 2008. We've seen our class sizes balloon, we've seen our infrastructure needs at our schools crumbling, essentially we're -- The public schools are crying out for help. And essentially what is happening as representative Campbell said is correct, that money is being funneled to private schools, ignoring the needs and wants of our public school education system. If we want a world class economy, that's going to involve an investment in our public education system. Our kids deserve better essentially, but then what is being given to them right now.
Ted Simons: Before we go, we just talked about the administrative law judge ruling on Tom Horne. I know there's a bill that would get clean elections out of the idea of having authority over privately funded candidates. Your thoughts on that?
Anna Tovar: Well, essentially there's much work to be done on the clean election system as well. So there's a lot of work to be done on that issue, and I'm hopeful we can roll up our sleeves and come to a solution. But it doesn't look like anything will happen in this session.
Chad Campbell: And to that issue in particular, I think that was the get out of jail free pass for Tom Horne, period. That's what that was.
Ted Simons: We got the decision by the judge; we don't know what the prosecutor will do. Does this particular piece of legislation have much of a shot?
Chad Campbell: Oh, yeah, it does. That's something we're hoping to stop. But again, we see this at the end of session, in this case Tom Horne and other cases it deals with actual institutions or entities out there. You see all of the special legislation being shoved through at the end in the middle of the night that benefit one person or a small group of people, and it's not doing any benefit for the state. It is truly special interest legislation, period.
Ted Simons: Last question as far as the budget, everything this session so far, how much input did democrats have?
Anna Tovar: We had input and we give -- We gave our list of priorities. And we feel that the budget that was passed by the brewer Republicans short changes the state of Arizona, our children, our economy, and it in no way invests in our economy to move Arizona forward. So it definitely is sad to see that they moved a budget that doesn't address the vital needs of the state of Arizona.
Ted Simons: Not much input at all, if that's the case how do you change that?
Chad Campbell: Well, people need to vote and start putting moderate Republicans and democrats back in charge. We actually spent time today debating on the floor of the house about the ranchers in Nevada and what patriots they R. the people who said they would put women in the front of the guns; we have Republicans defending these people during our debates today. First this isn't Nevada, second that's not our issue. We need to focus on the real issues, and I hope the people of the state are starting to pay attention to what's going on. We have extremists in charge that has to change.
Ted Simons: It's good to see you both again. Thank you both for joining us.
Both: Thank you.
Anna Tovar:Senate Minority Leader; Chad Campbell:House Minority Leader;