Minority Leadership

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Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs and House Minority Leader Eric Meyer will give us the perspective of Democrats’ goals and vision for the new legislative session.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon we'll hear from minority leadership at the state legislature. Also tonight, we'll have a legislative update from the Arizona Capitol Times. And we'll find out if the Super Bowl means an increase in human trafficking and domestic violence, those stories next on Arizona Horizon.

Video: Arizona Horizon is made possible by the 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. Each month we hear from state legislative leaders on their impressions of the current session. Last week we heard from the President of the Senate and the speaker of the house, and tonight we welcome Senate Minority Leader, Katie Hobbs, and representative Eric Meyer, the house Minority Leader. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us. Let's start with the Governor's budget release. Ideas out there. People talking and thinking. What are you talking. What are you thinking?

Katie Hobbs: I think it's a budget that doesn't invest in the right areas. It cuts from public schools, universities, hospitals, and economic development opportunities, so it's not a budget that invests in bringing Arizona forward.

Ted Simons: Thoughts on the budget.

Eric Meyer: Same thing, when Governor Ducey ran for office, he talked about classrooms first, well, this budget leaves classrooms last. I mean, he makes, again, cuts to our K-12 system. Our universities are severely impacted with a 75 million cut, our community colleges are cut 50%. And, you know, this is coming off of the largest education cuts in the history of the state over the past four years. We have cut 4 billion in funding.

Ted Simons: Regarding K-12 education, his budget calls for cuts to administration, but moving that money along with the 10 million or some odd more over to classrooms. Is that not a good idea?

Katie Hobbs: Sure. But, really, it's a lot of shuffling, and there is not really we did the math and came up with negative 13.5 million, investment in schools. Compared to what there is right now.

Ted Simons: The idea of getting more money to classrooms, that was the goal. It seems like it's the goal of a lot of folks. It looks like it is at least talked about here. There is a plan.

Katie Hobbs: Right, but we're not cutting fat out of the administration. We're cutting into bone. There is they are cutting vital services outside of the classroom, and that's, you know, it's important as in the classroom.

Ted Simons: Do you think that school consolidation will likely be rearing its head yet again considering this cut to administration?

Eric Meyer: Consolidation, there is a consolidation bill at the capitol, whether it will make it through the system, who knows. But a lot of our districts are unified, so when you talk about administrative cuts, it's important to know that those are librarians, counselors, so what it means, since we have had such severe cuts, we'll have to get rid of the librarians and counselors and principals on the campus, and so, we'll be left it leaves the teachers more and more isolated. We have lost social workers and with the large class sizes that we now have in the state, it makes it very hard for the teachers and the kids to be successful.

Ted Simons: For the budget overall, it sounds as though there is 190 some odd million cut for next fiscal year, and the idea would be to return it back to the budget in fy-17, so that basically, what amounts to is a two-year-free spending freeze, overall, and maybe a one-year spending freeze for education. Considering a deficit, the state is in, are those bad ideas?

Katie Hobbs: Well, I mean, obviously, we're facing a deficit, and we have to do something. There are, I think, places that you can find more revenue. We have put ideas on the table, but I didn't get the impression that there was an intent to put money back in, in a couple of years. I think that they are balancing the budget, and that's the directive.

Ted Simons: I think the idea is in a couple of years, the economy will pick back up and things will be moving forward. Those are the expectations and the projections. You say

Eric Meyer: Well, the projections for our revenue growth over the next three years are flat. So, you know, we'll pick up a couple maybe 100 million a year in the next two years, but just student growth within the school systems will eat into that funding, so if you look at per pupil funding over time, an inflation adjusted basis, it has gone down year over year, we were at 4600 per student when Jan Brewer came into office. Down to about 3,600, and this, again, dugs the hole deeper. You talked about earlier the inflation funding. That inflation funding in the lawsuit isn't there. That's supposed to be 330 million, and he gave a bit of inflation funding, the Governor did, but he takes it away later, so there is no net increase. I think the other thing is just the choices that are in the budget. He's choosing to incarcerate, rather than educate. He has 100 million in his budget to build 3,000 new prison cells. If our caucus were making the budget, we would not be spending our tax dollars that way.

Ted Simons: The argument on the other side is that the prison beds are needed, and even if something like sentence reform were considered, even past, it would take time, and right now, according to some, those prison beds there is overcrowding. They need the beds now.

Katie Hobbs: The proposal to build 3,000 new beds builds in a guaranteed vacancy rate. So, I think when you are looking at the situation we're in right now, prisons are not where we should be investing those few dollars that we have to spend.

Ted Simons: As far as getting more revenue in, what can obviously, the legislature you needed a supermajority there. That simply is not going to happen. How do you get more revenue in? Republicans say, lighten regulation. Allow business to flourish and the revenue will follow.

Katie Hobbs: So, there is, you know, the tax cuts that started to be implemented this year, I think we should be talking about a delay in those tax cuts, and the implementation of them. I mean, number one, that should be on the table. That's not a tax increase, just a delay of a tax cut. We've been cutting corporate taxes for the last two decades. So, where are the jobs?

Ted Simons: As far as the corporate tax cuts, we had the speaker and the President, both said that I asked, I asked that question, why is it that we have had these everything is, you know, pro business, and yet we're not seeing the results as we are, even neighboring states. They said if you had have put these things in when you passed them instead of waiting, we would have seen the foundation, the blossoms of a revived economy. Are they wrong?

Eric Meyer: Well, there is no evidence of that. Our economy isn't growing at the same rate as the rest. We have not recovered the jobs. There are a handful of states that haven't recovered the jobs that we lost in the recession. And we also haven't seen incomes rise in our state, as well. So, they have been in place. And at this point, we haven't gotten a return on our investment.

Ted Simons: But again, the critics on the other side say, are you suggesting that we tax our way to prosperity?

Eric Meyer: Absolutely not. We would just make different choices in our budgets, so you asked Katie earlier, what are some of those choices, and she mentioned some, but you talked about sentencing reform. There is a bunch of tax credits we don't know that we're getting the bang for the buck, so the public and private school tax credits, for instance, we could fund the department of revenue so we could collect the taxes owed, so there is a number of different things that we're willing to look at, that just haven't been looked at in this budget.

Ted Simons: Some other ideas, as representative Meyer was talking about, are there other things out there? The Governor wants to get some more of those tax recollections going, and put that into his budget. What else is out there?

Katie Hobbs: I think that that's a great idea. We've been proposing that for several years. And we have talked about loopholes in the code. There is dozens of special interests, tax exemptions in that code that we should at least look at to see if those exemptions are giving taxpayers a return on their investment for what they are taking out of the general fund.

Ted Simons: As far as a democratic agenda, is there such a thing, a, and b, how does such a thing get traction when you are in the minority in every single situation?

Katie Hobbs: I think that, you know, Democrats, at the legislature, have the same agenda assess the Republicans. We want to grow the economy. We want to create jobs. We want to have quality education. I think we have different ideas about how we get there. And so, that's, I think, where we are.

Ted Simons: How do Democrats make themselves relevant, a force, even, down there when the numbers are not on your side?

Eric Meyer: We have done it the past two years. It's about building relationships and finding Patterson solutions that are the right thing for our state. So, we did that two years ago with the Medicaid expansion, and with the governor, and we worked very closely in a bipartisan way to develop a budget that was good for Arizona. And brought jobs to our state, brought health care to the citizens of our state. Same thing last year. The house, we had our bipartisan coalition. We have gotten additional funding for education in the budget. The same thing is true with bills. We work with our colleagues, develop relationships, and if we have good ideas, we'll get a hearing and move through the system.

Ted Simons: It has to be frustrating at times, doesn't did?

Katie Hobbs: Yes. I mean, when you have a bill that you introduce over and over again, and it doesn't get hurt it's frustrating, but that's how things work right now.

Eric Meyer: It's absolutely frustrating. I served on a school board at the same time I served at the legislature, and I would be down there arguing against the cuts to education, and, you know, I knew first hand when those cuts passed, I had to go implement those cuts down in the district and ended up, you know, laying off administrators and teachers. Many of who I have known for years, and that's definitely frustrating.

Ted Simons: Before we let you go quickly, will you be closing your caucus?

Katie Hobbs: What?

Eric Meyer: Closing the caucus. Absolutely not, you know. They are discussing down at the capitol, closing caucus and our is open. We want to be open and transparent, the best way for the voters to know how we think.

Ted Simons: Republicans in the house are considering this

Katie Hobbs: Not on the agenda for us.

Ted Simons: We'll hear more about that with Hank Stephenson. Right now, thank you both for joining us.

Eric Meyer: Absolutely, thank you.

Katie Hobbs:Senate Minority Leader; Eric Meyer:House Minority Leader;

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