Journalists’ Roundtable

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Three local journalists will discuss the week’s big stories.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon"'s Journalists' Roundtable, Arizona's new Governor is sworn in. We'll discuss Doug Ducey's inauguration speech and preview his first state of the state address as the Legislature gets back to work next week. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "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 is tonight, Mary Jo Pitzl of the "Arizona Republic." Jeremy Duda of the "Arizona Capitol Times." And Bob Christie of the Associated Press. Doug Ducey is officially the Governor of Arizona. Swearing in right there, lots of pomp and circumstance. Describe the scene for us.

Mary Jo Pitzel: Well, it was a nice, sunny day. A little cool in the morning. There were -- I think the estimate was more than 3,000 people attended. And you had music, you had prayers, you had invocations. You had the chief justice administering the oath of office, not only to Ducey but five other statewide officials. A fair bit of pomp and circumstance.

Ted Simons: As far as the speech is concerned, short on specifics but that's not really a surprise, is it?

Jeremy Duda: I don't think anybody of us expected to see a lot of details about what he is going to do. That will come on Monday with the State of the State address and especially Friday, when he unveils his budget. He is certainly kind of set the stage for the direction he want to take. He focused a lot on budget and school choice. Those are really the two big choices and bringing new businesses to Arizona. I think we have an idea of what's going to take up most of Governor's Ducey's time this first session.

Ted Simons: It seemed to push opportunity for all.

Bob Christie: He came back to school choice three or four different times. And in a couple of those times, he said, listen, school choice isn't just for the wealthy. I am going to make sure it's for everyone, essentially that's what he was saying. That was a big deal, I think, because there's a lot of criticism of the existing organizations and the existing school choice in Arizona that if you live in south Phoenix and you are poor, how are you going to get your kid there and take advantage of these charter schools and some of the private schools that are getting essentially vouchers in the state?

Ted Simons: Yes.

Jeremy Duda: And he talked throughout the campaign trail about, he would say fully funding the wait list for all these top charter schools that, these huge wait lists and want to expand so more kids can go there and he's never elaborated on what that means. We don't have the money to really do anything that actually costs money but there are a couple of things that he could do there. Charter schools association wants the authority for charters to issue bonds under the state's credit rating which would make it a lot cheaper. That wouldn't cost us any money. Other charter systems want some better way for them to buy preexisting facilities from district schools that are selling them. That wouldn't cost any money to pass a law. That might be a couple of directions the Governor might go this session.

Ted Simons: What about the direction of public schools as they exist for 87% of the kids now attend?

Mary Jo Pitzel: Well, Ducey does say, charter schools are public schools, first of all.

Ted Simons: Right.

Mary Jo Pitzel: And that's his focus is public schools. We will probably hear about getting more money in the classroom. I think representative Jay Lawrence is going to have a bill to that end to redirect, not just reslice the pie, not necessarily increase the funding. But we have yet to see when we see perhaps when we hear the State of the State address on Monday, or more importantly the budget next Friday, what that commitment to public schools is. Keep in mind, we have a state budget with deficits. And those deficits have not going to be resolved before you can start spending any money beyond what's already being spent.

Bob Christie: He made it very clear during his State of the State, he said, listen, no one, don't believe it when they say that state government has been trimmed as much as it can be trimmed. It's going to be trimmed more. It can be trimmed more and there's no way I'm going to raise taxes so he is basically saying, I am not going to raise taxes and there's other stuff to cut in the state budget.

Ted Simons: He did say no new taxes, not on his watch, and that he was going to tighten the belt on spending. What does all this mean?

Jeremy Duda: I'm sure that sent a shudder down the backs of some of the folks who rely on some of the larger line items in the budget. We don't know specifically what it means. We know cuts are coming. I don't think there's any question about that. But we don't know from where and we know they pretty much cannot balance this budget alone with cuts. But you can look at some more of the biggest budget areas are that they actually can cut because so much is either protected by court mandate or politically not feasible but universities, more than $700 million, probably an area that will get hit. Hard to say what some. Others are because you have almost 2/3 of the budget it's hard to see them going after.

Mary Jo Pitzel: It probably also means if you are a state employee I wouldn't count on a pay raise. There will probably be more pain there for the state workers and cuts, you know, and an emphasis on making service more efficient. I don't know if -- we'll see if you can cut a program and still have it serve the same population. What went through this drill four or five years ago when the great recession hit. And the poster child was Child Protective Services. They got rid of a bunch of caseworkers for a while and guess what? Cases piled up. You wound up having a big mess that the state is still digging out of.

Ted Simons: Any indication from the inauguration speech on how you handle this $500 million now, $1 billion next year budget problem?

Bob Christie: There was none in the speech. We will probably get some hints on Monday and for sure on Friday when it rolls out. And we will have a good idea whether is going to, whether it's going to be gimmicks. They probably will reach into the rainy day fund to get us through this year's shortfall which is, if you can back school funding or the current school funding, courts have order, it's about $520 million. So between some cash they can grab off the rolling fund and the rainy day fund they can cover that. Next year, hmm.

Mary Jo Pitzel: I think it's important to note that, I don't think Ducey's and certainly lawmakers are not counting that money that's owed to the schools as they look at budget deficit. They are sort of setting that aside and that certainly shrinks the size of the deficit. We still have it but it takes it down considerably.

Ted Simons: Is there, I would expect, some kind of a plan B in case that doesn't go the way they expect. Medicaid expansion, there could be a plan B down the road. I would imagine if that doesn't go as some expect, I would think.

Jeremy Duda: Probably. I think certainly they are hoping to try and cut down on the amount of money they will to have pay back to the schools in that settlement. There may be some kind of settlement, mediation by the court of appeals in the works. The judges may bring the parties in next week to kind talk this over. So if the state gets lucky, if Ducey and the legislative leadership get lucky they can knock a little bit off of that and then we are only $800 million in the hole instead of $1 billion.

Ted Simons: No escaping duty. Reality and arithmetic. Just in terms of the tenor and tone of the address and tenor and tone of what will be the Ducey administration compared to other administrations, is this a go get 'em stiff upper lip? I'm going to be a tough guy or I'm going to be a smart guy? Who is he going to be?

Bob Christie: Doug Ducey is going to be a fiscal realist. If you ask him that's what he is going to say, listen, I'm a business man. I come at this from a business perspective. The budget is the budget. And it has to balance. And we've got to fix not only these gimmicks we use to balance it every year by rolling over payments into the next fiscal year. He wants all that done within a couple years probably.

Mary Jo Pitzel: I sort of see the tone as a stern parent who is just saying, look, we got limits, we have got boundaries, we are going to enforce them. But not a parent who pulls out the paddle, if you would. But certainly because he always holds out the prospect of growth and opportunity, especially after we get over this big, big speed bump of our budget deficit.

Ted Simons: Is he going to be strict? You mentioned special interests. If they are not upset then he's doing something wrong. Did these special interests include correction, some of the things some see as being more on his side?

Jeremy Duda: I guess that depends on how you define special interests and everyone defines it differently. Pretty much as the person who opposes them. Someone will probably be happy with the budget. Someone who qualifies as a special interest because not everyone can get cut. But I think Ducey definitely signaled there's a lot of hard decisions coming and he is willing to make those.

Ted Simons: Let's go on to the session which starts next week. That will be obviously a major issue. That is going to be a major issue for a long time? Are they going to get this figured out?

Bob Christie: It depends. And now I have talked to senator Biggs at length who probably will be driving the whole budget process. He has for the last couple years. And he thinks he probably will this year. He says, listen, if we can get this, if we can get a deal early, if, when Governor Ducey rolls out budget next Friday, you see the Republican leaders behind him, when he announces the budget, you know that it will probably be a quick session. I think that's probably a little optimistic because as the Governor alluded in his State of the State address or his inauguration address, everybody has something to say about what's in the budget and nobody gigs to be happy with these cuts.

Ted Simons: Is that how you see it as well, the idea that if we see something happen quickly, it may not be the dominating issue of the session but if it doesn't happen quickly everything else pales?

Mary Jo Pitzel: Well, I think even if it happens quickly it will dominate. They will shut the session down early. What is the Legislature's job? Their job is to pass a state budget. If in the, I would suspect, unlikely case that they would actually have quick agreement on a budget, you might see the Legislature going home early.

Ted Simons: If we don't have quick agreement what would the sticking points be, do you think?

Jeremy Duda: When you have that cut that much from that many people, a lot of peoples' oxes are getting gored and there's always somebody that wants to protect this or that the and that could be a sticking point. Depends on, we have seen revenue projections, customer programs, even if they agree on 90% of the budget, there's, that last 10%, that last 5%, we have seen that keep them there for months.

Ted Simons: Is there something that in the last 10% or 5% you think may rear its head there toward the end?

Bob Christie: Just look at group that walked out and blocked the budget last year. They were word that child welfare and education funding. They are still there. And they are Republicans. And they need those votes. So if they don't like the budget, possibly they could block it. I have no indication that -- I mean they are waiting to see, too.

Ted Simons: And as far as things like common core, any indication from the Governor? Obviously in the inauguration speech not much here but what are we expecting from the Legislature on this? Are we going to go round on this again?

Mary Jo Pitzel: Oh, I suspect there will be legislation proposing to either end common core or once again undercut funding for the test that is needed to carry that out. I don't know how far that will go. As you said, government didn't mention anything about that in his inaugural speech which makes some sense. But -- and even school superintendent Diane Douglas who campaigned almost primarily or largely on the issue of getting rid of common core she sort of walked that back and moderated her stance on that. We're, we have got common core happening now.

Jeremy Duda: We have heard Ducey say for, he's railed against common core all year but we've also heard him say he's not going to get rid of this until there's something to replace it. It took us years to develop this. It will take us years to develop aims. And it will take years to replace something called common core now if we want to do it. That sounds like more of a long-term project. I can certainly see it happening but you do have to have something to replace it with if you want to get that gubernatorial signature.

Ted Simons: School choice will obviously be an issue. I imagine the Legislature will push for more.

Bob Christie: I expect that will be a major issue this year. We saw last year the voucher programs, what do they call those things?

Mary Jo Pitzel: Education empowerment.

Bob Christie: Empowerment scholarship accounts. There was a appropriate to increase that to where 850,000 public school students would qualify. There's only 1 million in the state. If you look at that one of the arguments that saves some money because they don't have to give all the extra aid to those people. You may see some appropriate like that.

Ted Simons: Interesting. 1062, are we going to see a return, do you think?

Mary Jo Pitzel: In terms of something on paper? Yeah. Somebody will introduce perhaps but I suspect there is not an appetite to relive what happened last year. Especially with the Super Bowl coming. Maybe post-February 1.

Ted Simons: I was going to say the Super Bowl is coming up but it's going to be going, and after it's gone, is that the kind of thing we could see? I guess we could see it. But is it the kind of thing that could get traction?

Jeremy Duda: It could. There's a lot of people that voted for that last year who said, if I had known what it did or seen what would happen, I would have vote against it. We got Governor dues see saying he was veto that or anything similar if it came back. I don't see it getting the kind traction it got before. Now, most, a lot of sessions there's something that some giant explosive issue that kind comes to define the session that we never really saw coming at the beginning. Last year it was 1062. Nobody saw that coming. 1070, nobody saw that until protestors were marching past our office. Who knows what it will be this year it could be something that will get on late-night TV.

Mary Jo Pitzel: Maybe the microbrewery fight.

Ted Simons: That could be a good fight.

That could be.

Mary Jo Pitzel: President Biggs at the, at the Chamber of Commerce's forecast luncheon on Friday, said, he thinks that will be one of the top issues as the little guys are going to try to break into the same kind of business as some of the bigger guys. Our current liquor laws have a very gradated system and after you produce so many gallons of beer, that's it if you are a microbrewery.

Ted Simons: If you want to have a restaurant you better watch how much you produce.

Bob Christie: And he mentioned the. Uber and ride sharing services versus the taxi, wouldn't be surprised to see that back.

Mary Jo Pitzel: AirBNB. How the internet disrupts the delivery of services.

Ted Simons: All right. Clarence Carter out at DES. Any surprise there?

Jeremy Duda: I think the only surprise was that he lasted as long as he did. People were calling for that guy's head more than a year ago. And on the "Horizon" year-end show last year people were predicting he would be gone before the beginning of 2015. He turned in his resignation and I don't think that's a surprise. What I am more surprised by is that Doug Ducey is keeping so many of Jan Brewer's other department heads. Even when they take over someone in the same party you want to put in people that you know and trust and so far we have got eight of Governor Brewer's heads. Will Humble, the services director head, the director of AHCCCS because he's also one of the architects of Medicaid expansion. We have some big names among those agency heads and Ducey's keeping them on board.

Ted Simons: Charles Ryan at corrections staying on as well. But as far as Carter is concerned, you heard a lot about Mr. Carter and the problems there at DES and CPS. What is his legacy?

Mary Jo Pitzel: Well, and he would define it, he wanted to work the system to the point where services would be tailored to the individual, which would be a whole reworking of how the caseworkers are trained. So that any one caseworker is very literal in all the different kinds ever social services that are available and they would know what would best fit person A versus person B. He started, he made a few steps towards that but didn't get very far. Spent a fair amount of money to get studies done but really it was tested on I think a few families and hasn't gone very far. But I think overall it will be the whole meltdown of the Child Protective Services cases that did not get investigated.

Bob Christie: Right. That was on his watch. Now, he has, he tried to make this one-stop-shop rollout as a pilot program about a year and a half ago. He made a big deal about that to where if someone enters the social service because this is a huge agency. It does food stamps and employment and AHCCCS, aging and adult services and on and on. Basically any social service in the state is provided through AHCCCS. But each of these are different entry ways into the system. And he has a really smart way of looking at it which is once they get in the system, we should figure out if they need Medicaid, if they need food stamps, if they need housing support, aging support, and get them the service they need right off the bat to get them more successful. It's a real logical argument but there's a huge bureaucracy to get it to work is tough.

Ted Simons: Will the new guy coming in, we do have a new director, do we not?

Mary Jo Pitzel: There's an acting director, Jim Hilliard, who has been at DES for a long time. Mostly on the fiscal financial side. Has been appointed the acting director.

Ted Simons: Does he dare take what you were talking about? Use these ideas and try to implement them? Or is that gone with Clarence Carter?

Bob Christie: He may not have -- may have no choice at this point because of the budget cuts that are coming down. They are going to center to figure out thousand deliver services more efficiently. Regardless. Most ever these are Federal funded issues but there is some state dollars involved and if you, if the Governor says to all his department heads trim 10%, period, you have got to figure out how to trim it.

Ted Simons: Do you think when you mentioned earlier keeping some of the department heads from agency heads from the Brewer administration, you think this is one of those deals where we are keeping you on, by the way, prepare?

Jeremy Duda: Probably. Like Bob said a lot of these agency are going to need cuts and the people that have been there a long time have a better idea than anyone where you could make those cuts.

Ted Simons: We will see what happens with that. Diane Douglas is certainly an interesting person, is she not? People think they know her and then she does this. This Tucson ethnic studies program, explain what happened there. Huppenthal, the previous superintendent, got tough.

Mary Jo Pitzel: Right. Huppenthal determined that the school district down in Tucson was violating a state law that says you can't have curriculum that's tailored just to individual ethnic groups. This is a long running battle to go after what is at one point seen as Chicano studies. This is bad, you have got to get your act in order or by March we will cut your state funding by 10%. That was his parting shot at Tucson Unified as he left. Enter Diane Douglas and she wants to talk to the people down there in the district and they want to talk to her and she's sending a more conciliatory tone.

Ted Simons: It's interesting because Diane Douglas has campaigned a lot on local access. One of the things she doesn't like about common core is it's not locally controlled. If you want local control sounds like Tucson has some ideas how they want to educate their kids.

Jeremy Duda: And Diane Douglas says she wants to work with them, maybe even creating kind of a statewide curriculum based on some of the stuff. She said if any child educated in Arizona is not exposed to all ethnic groups who have contributed to our state's rich cultural mix we are failing to teach accurate history. That is not the fire breathing opponents that her opponents have made her out to be. That's a change in direction from what we have said from the last two predecessors because Tom Horne did the same thing in 2010, firing that shot TUSD over the ethnic studies program.

Bob Christie: She said I support ethic studies. However, as they are currently being implemented in Tucson they are illegal. So we are going to have change them. This is a huge difference from the old ethnic studies program which was an immersion program. These are individual classes. Right now they are only in three high schools. They want to expand it to eight and it's part of a Federal desegregation case that's 35 years old that was finally settled just two years ago and part of that settlement was you have to give minority students ethnic classes that are focused on their ethnic back ground. And then we can close this case.

Ted Simons: Is that, are we headed down to yet another Federal preempt son thing here? Is this basically Federal versus state?

Mary Jo Pitzel: Well, I think you give it a little bit of time because I think again there's a conciliatory tone coming from the new comes over the Department of Ed as well as the school district.

Ted Simons: It's different with Diane Douglas where everybody thinks they know what they are getting and I don't think anyone is quite aware what they are getting now.

Guests: Not right now.

Ted Simons: That's point. All right. Before we get out of here, just in general, you guys have been around a long time. You have seen these sessions and things. In general, just on a scale of one to 10, just no opinions here on a scale of one to 10, how testy do you think this legislative session is going to be? Either between Governor and lawmakers or lawmakers amongst them snow levels.

Jeremy Duda: I think Governor and Republican lawmakers might actually get along pretty well, at least in terms of leadership. Between Republican lawmakers and Democratic lawmakers, make not so much as we saw a little bit at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon that we were all at today.

Ted Simons: What about Republicans and Republicans?

Jeremy Duda: Probably see some of that. Just like you mentioned last year you had the six Republicans walk off the budget negotiations and really stand their ground. You might see that this year. I wouldn't be surprised.

Mary Jo Pitzel: Don't forget Democrats and Democrats. In the Senate they, for their 13 members, they have two whips. Usually it's just one person. And I think that's there to appease what different faction within that caucus.

Ted Simons: It's ironic to have a minority party with two whips. How many people do you have to whip?

Bob Christie: It's going to be a difficult year because of the cuts. Every lawmaker has a program their constituents want them to fight for. It could get brutal.

Ted Simons: More than in the past couple years?

Bob Christie: Won't be medicate brutal but I will be pretty brutal.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Mary Jo Pitzel: At least all the cases are Medicaid was so brutal because you had the Governor in opposition to the majority of her own party. And I just don't see those dynamics shaping up. I think Ducey has really been working hard to reach out to lawmakers of all stripes but especially the majority. And his chief of staff is a former house speaker, so I think they will be a lot more comity among them and maybe some comedy among them.

Ted Simons: Thoughts, same thing?

Jeremy Duda: Yeah, there will be plenty of disagreements. I don't see any kind of bomb shells exploding among these folks. More year after Medicaid year.

Ted Simons: Honeymoon should last longer than maybe most?

Jeremy Duda: Maybe. It will last longer than it did for Jan Brewer.

Ted Simons: Longer than Brewer's?

Bob Christie: No doubt. No doubt. The conservative Republicans like Doug Ducey right now. And he is going to -- If he can keep them on board, this may work.

Ted Simons: Agree?

Mary Jo Pitzel: Probably. Let's give it until Statehood Day. That's Valentine's Day. I think a lot will hinge on what happens with this K-12 lawsuit and will Ducey push lawmakers to settle something that they don't want? As president Biggs said today, President Biggs is still arguing, some of the fundamentals of the case which were already dismissed by the state Supreme Court.

Ted Simons: All right. We will see what happens come Monday. Good to have you all here. Thanks for joining us. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," Governor Ducey delivers his first State of the State address. We will have the speech in its entirety followed by analysis from political consultants. A special hour long edition of "Arizona Horizon" on Monday. Tuesday we are preempted for a special statewide broadcast ton heroin. Wednesday state legislative leaders talk about the new session. Thursday an update with the Capitol Times and Friday it's another edition of the Journalists' Roundtable. That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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

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

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