Journalists’ Roundtable

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

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon" "Journalists' Roundtable," the governor and legislative leaders agree on a proposed budget. And we'l discuss Arizona's redistricting case heard this week by the U.S. supreme court. "Journalists' Roundtable" is next on "Arizona Horizon."

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

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon" "Journalists' Roundtable." I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight, Mary Jo Pitzl of the "Arizona republic." Jeremy Duda of the "Arizona Capitol Times." And Jim Small of the "Arizona Capitol Times". The legislature is working on a budget agreement between leadership and governor Ducey. But the budget itself and the apparent rush to pass the proposal are raising concerns. All right. Mary Jo, what exactly is going on down there? Why the rush? And what is the reaction to the rush and the plan?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, the rush is because at least earlier in the week, the GOP legislative leaders and governor Ducey apparently felt they had enough votes to make this happen. Let's get it out there and let's have it done by the weekend. And the weekend is not over. It hasn't really begun yet. There is a possibility. But once people started to see the details, things started to fall apart. And these are details that a lot of members didn't see coming. There is -- some only had one prior budget briefing before this was sprung on them.

Ted Simons: The fact that so much of this was done with leadership and the governor behind closed doors, that is not necessarily unusual, is it?

Jeremy Duda: No, that is kind of the way it has been going. I think there are a lot of changes to this budget that we saw, governor Ducey unveil back in January. Perhaps they thought a lot of folks felt pretty good about that one and drop a bunch of changes, and a lot of the lawmakers they are not so pleased with this. You saw this giant increase in university cuts from $75 million to $104 million. That's really -- you know, at least so far costing them some votes. Handful of other things.

Jim Small: Yeah, I mean, a lot of the consternation on this I think is really indicative of a lack of communication from leadership back to members as the thing was going through the process. As they were meeting with the governor's office, and governor staff and they were coordinating and trying to negotiate this stuff. It was -- it was apparent there wasn't a lot of -- none of that information was making its way downhill and coming back to the members in the caucus. So, when the deal got basically unveiled on Tuesday night, that was the first time a lot of people had seen anything. So, you know, they did walk in there and it went from okay, we know what the governor proposed in January. We know nebulously what we talked about doing six weeks earlier, but to see what the talks turned into, it -- in terms of an actual product, and what they were able to negotiate with the governor, I think really caught a lot of people off guard and had people going wait a second. I didn't want this part. Or I didn't think it was going to look like this at the end of the day.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think another reason for the rush -- this is the first week of March. Governor said this morning, what are we waiting for? I have had my budget plan out there since mid January. This is 99% of what I wanted -- more on that later -- but I think there is some bragging points that were being sought here. We got this budget out early. In recent history, there has not been a budget that has come out this early. What, the 55th day of the legislative session. In the '90s, when Killiam was speaker, a budget or two out by the 55th day. There is sense that maybe there is a rush to get this done. This whole process started off with the Speaker of the House, president of the Senate, right before he unveiled the budget in mid-January showing unity, we have not seen that for awhile.

Ted Simons: One thing to show unity and you got it done in - whatever days it was - it is obvious, the votes aren't there. Did they not count beforehand?

Jeremy Duda: They certainly miscounted maybe in the rush to get things out and get those bragging points that Mary Jo is returning to, may have overlooked the fact that some members who didn't know it was coming would oppose that. You always hear it is a Marathon and not a sprint, it seems like they are making it into a sprint for the sake of saying look how well we're getting along, starting with Ducey and Gowan and Biggs all standing together. A lot of things holding it up right now.

Ted Simons: What is the relationship between leadership and the rank and file down there? For leadership to think that we are going to show it to you Tuesday night, we want it done by Friday.

Jim Small: I think there was certainly some assumption that A, rank and file would largely follow leadership. And, B, rank and file I think would follow the governor. You know, and that's something that we have heard. Things have been talked about in these meetings, as they're trying to -- people into supporting the budget, look, someone described it to me as the honeymoon speech. We need to not stand up against the governor. We can't have this become a contentious relationship where the legislature is, you know, basically thumbing its nose at the conservative republican governor that we all wanted and hey, remember how much more we liked him better than Jan Brewer out there antagonist and fighting us. That is an argument that will work with some people. There will be some republicans that will be swayed by that. There is a lot that it won't work for because they have serious policy issues and concerns with this budget.

Ted Simons: What are we looking at? If you are counting now, what are you seeing?

Jim Small: Right now, as it stands, it looks like probably four, five republicans in the Senate, probably four solid in the Senate that aren't on unless they get any democratic votes, they could lose no more than one.

Ted Simons: Can they get any democratic votes?

Jim Small: Maybe, we will see. There is rumors there is one democrat vote in the air. We will see. We will know more when the thing goes before at some point. In the house, you know, numbers there, earlier this week, maybe around eight. By this morning, I mean, people were saying this number was well over 10. Probably more like 15 to 20 at various points throughout the day of people who maybe weren't nos, but were definitely not yeses. A portion of those firmly committed and will be no unless major changes are made. Others are either trying to get a pet project funded or they have questions that need to be answered or they want tweaks to the budget.

Ted Simons: Is university funding the big problem here for most?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh, yes, you hear that and the K-12 funding. Because there is even a dispute, I think the safest thing to say is that this budget does not necessarily cut K-12, but the democrats have a different line on that. You know, is there an increase for K-12. Well, their funding inflation, but you're supposed to, enrollment growth, and you're supposed to. Putting $74 million in in recognition of all of the years that the schools weren't getting paid. It comes down to education, higher and lower education, big, broadly contested parts of the budget.

Ted Simons: That $74 million, does not sound exactly like what the judge had suggested.

Jeremy Duda: No, that might turn into hundreds of millions depending on how the negotiations and how the courts rule. K-12, there is also the charter schools now are starting to raise a lot of issues with this, elimination with the small school rates for schools under 600 students. That is not going to sit well with a lot of people. All of these house votes, not one thing that you can do that will bring them all on board. They all have different issues. A lot of them is the universities, some it's K-12, some it's joint technical education districts. One representative wants funding for an internet crimes against children task force. So many different things. If you start changing that, you might start to lose votes on the other end from folks who don't think university cuts go high enough. Wanted more community college cuts and stuff like that. You push one end and you lose -- you gain a vote here and lose one there.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Don't forget community colleges. This budget zeros out any support for community colleges and at least in Maricopa County, that district has made it clear they are not going to raise tuition to compensate for this. So, what does that mean?

Ted Simons: Property taxes? I mean, where do you go? Jim where do you go with that?

Mary Jo Pitzl: You cut.

Ted Simons: You cut or you look --

Jim Small: You either cut services or you look at the property tax base. Certainly Maricopa County, most of the community college district is already funded through the property tax base. And it seems that that -- going forward, if this budget passes, that will be the exclusive source of funding for the community colleges.

Ted Simons: Michael Crowe's letter, not pleases with the initial proposal of $74 million. You don't like this, how do you like this?

Jeremy Duda: Could be. When I saw the new cuts, first thought maybe crow shouldn't have talked so much. On the other hand, folks in the legislature wanted to go to $140 million in university cuts. It is down to $104 now. It may be him talking like that kind of helped blunt the effect of that. That is another area where they are going to have to figure out where to make up that funding and we are hearing talk of tuition increases is probably the way they are going to have to go. Which is ironic considering how much Doug Ducey spent last year during the campaign, beating the opponent - Fred Duval - for raising tuition and the board of regents and a response to budget.

Ted Simons: Is that being discussed down there? We talked about property taxes with community colleges. You might have to do tuition or fees for university students. Those are de facto, and property taxes -- those are taxes. Those are revenue increases.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think if you look at the state budget since the recession, you are seeing increasingly a movement of agencies and state services that are just trying to get off the general fund. Either because the legislature is going to kick them off or they're advocates say look, we're better off not having to go down to the legislature and lobby for our money. We will just find another way to fund ourselves. You heard, you know, Regents president Klein say earlier this year we need to find a new path. It is not cropping up overnight, but I think that is the direction -- DEQ, basically off the general fund, state water agency, although I wonder how long that can stand given the forecast on drought.

Ted Simons: We were mentioning that the house now seems almost more in play than the Senate and for a variety of reasons. Kirk Adams, he has the ear of the governor, and he was a Speaker of the House. He knows how to trade horses. Is speaker Gowan -- was he not aware of these kinds of things?

Jim Small: Well, I don't know. I mean, it's tough, I mean, I still really think at the end of the day it boils down to a lot of lack of communication and lack of involvement from people in terms of the massive confusion and frustration and anger that we have seen in the past 72 hours. You know, but horse trading is an interesting thing, that is typically what ends up happening. Get to this point and you trade horses. Bills, legislator has to move through the process, either threaten to kill the bills or promise to make sure that they get through. Or, you know, changing, making changes to the budget proposal. So far we really haven't seen much in the way of any indication that they're willing to entertain changes to the budget. Heard some of the community college funding might have been restored to pick up a few votes. There is a lot of talk -- leadership is not going to people, we will address that in the budget for you. And we haven't yet got any indication that the governor's office is even considering those options. And if that is the situation you have, really sets you up into a showdown where you are going to have the -- the unstoppable force and immovable object and who is going to hold out longest really and who can hold their breath the longest.

Mary Jo Pitzl: One of the things that helped -- that contributed to these deeper cuts, because this budget does cut more programs than Ducey had proposed in January, they got rid of two proposals that the governor had to increase revenue. One would have been an increase in the car registration fee. And that was sidelined because they didn't have the votes where it would renew the whole debate, is the fee a tax? It goes back to the fight over Medicaid expansion and he also wanted to cap the homeowner rebate on education funding, and those things have gone by the by, which then you have to find some way to make up that money and they're not doing it with new money, but doing it with program cuts.

Jim Small: The other thing they did that changed the dynamics, the revenue they assumed that they would have going forward. Revenue, that figure for the upcoming year, most directly working on, was cut in half essentially.

Ted Simons: Yeah, yeah.

Jim Small: In terms much new revenue. $50 million that got taken out that had to be cut out of the budget.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Which is interesting. Economic indicators are showing that things are ticking up. Is this, perhaps, why there is a rush. Let's get this locked in before we see that the economy is doing better than we forecast and it is bringing in more revenue.

Jeremy Duda: We're still not seeing it. And even after they agreed on lower revenue than they initially thought we're still not seeing an agreement on revenue between the legislature and governor's office which is something that won't really matter for next year. We heard that promise from governor Ducey back in January, we're structurally balanced budget by fiscal year '17, whether or not that happens depends on whether you ask the ninth floor or whether you ask the legislature, so far, if you look at the legislature's forecast, that is not going to be structurally balanced until fiscal year '18. You ask the governor's office, no, it will be fine by '17.

Ted Simons: From what I saw this is not a structurally balanced budget, perhaps on '17 and you move things forward.

Jim Small: Correct. That has to do largely with the revenue assumptions, how they expect the economy to pick up and what that means for tax collections.

Ted Simons: Best guess, are we still talking about this next Monday, Wednesday, Friday? Or is this thing -- is this a weekend on delivery?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, we will certainly be talking about it regardless of what happens --

Ted Simons: You know what I am saying.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Why did it fall apart or why did it pass? Here it is late Friday. They have yet to bring anything to the floor for any kind of debate and a vote. They seem intent on keeping members there as long as it takes. So, through the weekend, but -- it's -- it is not looking good.

Jeremy Duda: Certainly not over the weekend. By mid next week maybe, you know, these things -- they seem so intractable until one day they say hey, we have a deal and everything goes through like that immediately.

Jim Small: Unless the dynamics change and you see some movement, especially on the higher education funding issue, I don't know that I see a real -- a real believable way that they're going to get from point A to point B. It really is going to take that to happen. If that happens tomorrow morning, great, maybe they get movement tomorrow. Barring that happening, I think we're stuck in a holding pattern.

Ted Simons: We had an Arizona case before the supreme court this week as well, which almost gets lost in the fog of the budget talks. This of course basically the issue is what does the legislature mean? That is pretty much what we are talking about.

Jeremy Duda: That is what we thought would be the big story of the week. Arizona legislature and Arizona independent redistricting commission were in the supreme court in Washington on Monday. The legislature sued a couple of years ago arguing that the redistricting commission lacks the authority under the U.S. constitution to draw congressional lines because of the elections clause of the constitution times, places and manners of determining elections for a representative shall be determined by the legislatures of the state. Redistricting commission is not the legislature. Only we have the authority. District court ruled against the legislature, and said if this is the part of the legislative process determined by the voters with legislative powers. After Monday's hearing, I don't know if that will hold up. There is certainly a lot of skepticism of whether or not buyers seek and win this one.

Ted Simons: Indeed, the previous cases, I thought that -- that previous cases show that what the commission did is part of the legislative process, that applies. If it doesn't apply, what happens to the initial process?

Jim Small: It will be interesting. I don't know what the impact will be broadly on the -- even the impact that this will have on redistricting commissions across the country, remains to be seen how broadly or narrowly they tailor this opinion, if it goes in the legislature's favor. The other thing it calls into question, issue raised by the IRC and some of the groups supporting it, look, there is a lot of other election regulation laws that have been done at the ballot box, when Jeremy talks about the elections clause, legislatures regulating the time, manner, and place of elections, this whole issue of the manner of elections, voter I.D. -- did those come in question? Are they subject to basically be rejected as unconstitutional because the legislature didn't do it? Any other voter regulation-type laws that have been passed in recent years by voters, there is an argument to be made that a ruling depending on how it is crafted could wipe out a lot of those.

Ted Simons: And that would be interesting, because a lot of those were pushed by the same side that is pushing to get the responsibility back for drawing these boundaries.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Sure. Your initiatives, in any given year the initiatives might come from people who lean more towards the left or right. What is interesting about this case is that this is the second time that we have had an independent redistricting commission draw the congressional lines. Again, we're only talking about congressional lines here. Legislative map is a separate issue. And after the -- in the last decade, when the commission drew the congressional lines, there were no problems, no complaints. And some people look at that and say well, gee, is that because that last map favored republicans? This map, you know, arguably doesn't really favor democrats, but it creates three swing districts, two safe democratic seats. Three safe republican districts. That gives the democrats a lot more room to play in.

Ted Simons: The questioning, again, as everyone said, it did seem relatively sharp. Kennedy -- everyone is watching Kennedy, seemed like he was going on both sides of this as well. Any indication where the court is leaning?

Jeremy Duda: Kennedy, he asked probing questions of both sides. Legislature lawyer on what does this do on other voter approved laws? It seemed like he had a much sharper statement for the redistricting commission, discussing the legislature issue, whether that applies to the people, can the power be delegated -- go back to the 17th amendment, prior to that only state legislatures could choose U.S. senators. No way for the voters to do that. It needed the 17th amendment to do that. Kennedy was pointing that out to waxman, the IFC's lawyer, saying history works against you here. Veteran court watchers in D.C., seems like they're viewing that as the more definitive statement coming out of justice Kennedy. Chief justice Roberts pretty quiet during the arguments, but asking questions along the same lines. Was the 17th amendment basically irrelevant, was that not needed?

Ted Simons: ALITO and SCALIA both said they couldn't find anything in the constitution with the IRC's meaning. It looks like obviously they are leaning that way. If the court comes back and says back to the legislature - what goes on? Besides the mad stampede of who knows what.

Jim Small: Well I think all of our vacations get cancelled, running back to the capital. I mean, the legislature is going to be tasked with drawing a new map or -- and they will have to do that pretty quickly. Secretary of state's office said realistically they need it done by October 1st. And the counties are going to need time to get stuff going, especially if that is done in precincts. A lot of technical stuff that has nothing to do with creating boundaries, but implementing the boundaries. You are looking a special session, late June, early July, you will have a special session and you will have 90 legislators being tasks with doing something that really they haven't done in 30 years.

Ted Simons: Before we go real quickly, I'm guessing someone in the basement somewhere is drawing up some test maps.

Jeremy Duda: That is what we hear. They deny it over there. So many different ways they can go on drawing the maps. One thing you can be sure of is Kyrsten Sinema and Ann Kirk Patrick are going to have to watch their backs. I think especially Sinema - CD 9, district 9, they're like the central phoenix area.

Ted Simons: We will see where that one goes. Thank you all. Appreciate it very much. That is 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; Jim Small:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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