Legislative Update

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Reporter Ben Giles from the Arizona Capitol Times will brief us on the latest from the state legislature in our weekly Legislative Update.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Each week we get an update of the latest goings-on at the state legislature. Tonight we welcome Ben Giles of the "Arizona Capitol Times." Good to see you again. It sounds like there is a possibility of a quick session this time. Is that -- is that accurate?

Ben Giles: It could be. That's the hot rumor at the capitol this week is that there is -- there seems to have been a slow trickle of bills coming in so far. The deadline for bills to be introduced in the Senate, Monday, February 2nd. Deadline in the house, February 9th. And perhaps maybe just by the collective will of the legislator -- excuse me, they want to get out of there pretty quickly.

Ted Simons: It sounds as though, you can want to get out of there. If you have speed bumps to that budget, you are not going anywhere. And the speed bumps don't look like they're showing up.

Ben Giles: Everybody seems to be, at least the republican majority, along with the governor's office, working literally hand-in-hand trying to get the budget done. Since the governor introduced his budget, he had a press conference with the speaker and Senate president to announce how everyone was on the same page and has the same goals. I have heard this repeatedly from Biggs since the governor's budget was introduced, that we do have the same goal. We want to balance the budget this year without any tax increases and we want a structurally balanced budget by fiscal 2017. Maybe they have different ideas for how to get there. But I think at the very least, it is almost a relief for Biggs to be working with the governor that he sees eye to eye with.

Ted Simons: I was going to say compare to what we saw with governor Brewer in past sessions.

Ben Giles: It's -- Biggs just told me this afternoon, it is a different atmosphere. A different environment when he goes in to meet with the house and meet with the governor's staff and talk about ways we can shape the budget this year. He almost looks giddy about it, and the new speaker, he was in the majority leadership last year in the house, so I imagine he probably has a different view on how the relationship with the governor has changed this year.

Ted Simons: As far as the budget is concerned, education -- the lawsuit we will talk about in a second, sounds like talks have begun -- that is still out there. Doesn't seem to be a contingency. All fine and dandy right now but you still have that hanging over your head.

Ben Giles: People have been hesitant to talk about that now that negotiations have opened up. There is a gag order on the negotiations. But I think the one thing people have to remember is you really -- you can have a contingency plan, but also for this year, crafting a fiscal '16 budget, you also have to just live in the reality of the moment. And that is right now that here is -- there are these decisions forth coming, but we don't know how much the judge is going to order the state cough up for this K-12 funding. So, it is -- it is in some ways fair for the governor's budget to not consider all of the endless realm of possibilities that that might entail and just deal with what is happening right now. What do we know we're going to have to spend? And let's just focus on that as we have this gaping $500 million budget deficit.

Ted Simons: Courts have already said you owe $330 million this year. Let's get to the talks. These are mediated talks, and they're voluntary talks. And we don't know anything about the talks. But they're talking.

Ted Simons: And we won't know anything about the talks because, as I just said, there is a pretty restrictive gag order and we were trying to discuss this with lawmakers at the capitol. They're pretty adamant that I would rather not spend the weekend in jail, I would much rather be at home and watch the big game. I guess the positive here, as you said, that the mediation is voluntary. So, maybe it is a positive sign that everybody is at least willing to sit down at a table and talk about it. But it is hard to say what's going to come of this. And as we were just saying, how it is going to impact Arizona's budget going forward.

Ted Simons: Any sense of a time table involved?

Ben Giles: No idea.

Ted Simons: As far as the legislature, quick session, you are saying not too many bills are being dropped. Do you think the Super Bowl, all of the attention, Phoenix open, Tiger Woods, the whole nine yards, is kind of dampening some of the enthusiasm for bills at the capitol?

Ben Giles: That is the rumor that seems to have taken on a life of its own at the capitol this week and ever since the first day of session. A part of what fuelled that, I think, was the governor and his inaugural address, and his speech to the business community at a chamber luncheon, trying to get them to focus on the budget and reminding them that the spotlight is going to be on Arizona with the Super Bowl in town, with the Phoenix Open in town. Reminding them that maybe -- maybe the implication there, what wasn't said was that it might not be the best idea to introduce some controversial bills like the SB 1062 of last year that drew all of this national media attention anyway. When the media is already here, maybe we shouldn't be bringing up that type of legislation. But what we have also heard and maybe this is just a coalescing of a number of reasons for why this is happening, but it might not be the Super Bowl. It might just be a quick session because there is fatigue. The last two years were knock down, drag-out fights about either antigay legislation or religious freedom legislation, depending on how you call it, or Medicaid expansion in 2013. There is a fatigue from all of that and all of those fights and it is just an election year and people are tired after that. Maybe they really do want to get through the budget and get the heck out of Phoenix as fast as they can.

Ted Simons: Before you get the heck out of here, house republicans have gone ahead and decided to hold secret caucus meetings but only under special circumstances. Am I getting this right?

Ben Giles: Under a split vote to change the rules of the house, they now are allowed to close caucuses. They're not going to do it all of the time they say. But under as you said special circumstances, which they didn't give any examples of what that might be, but I think basically what they're thinking ahead to is sensitive topics that may be they feel like they could talk more openly about, without lobbyists, the public, the media there listening to them. But it is an unprecedented rule change and it is something that only happened in the house and something that democrats were terribly unhappy about. And I have been told it is not something that the Senate plans to replicate.

Ted Simons: All right. Good stuff, Ben. Good to have you here.

Ben Giles: Thank you.

Ben Giles:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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