Minority Legislative Leadership

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Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs and House Minority Leader Eric Meyer discuss the budget and other legislative issues from the standpoint of Democrats at the Capitol.

Ted Simons: State lawmakers continue work on a variety of bills, this after dealing with a controversial budget that is still raising questions. Here to talk about what's left to be done at the capitol and what they want to see done before lawmakers go home is Senate minority leader Katie Hobbs, and house minority leader Eric Meyer. Good to see you both back here.

Eric Meyer: Thank you for having us.

Ted Simons: Let's start with the budget. Your thoughts.

Katie Hobbs: Well, it is a bad budget. It takes Arizona in the wrong direction. The governor has said it's balanced and it is not balanced when you shift those costs on to municipalities, hospitals, schools, and the poor. That's what this budget does.

Ted Simons: Impact democrats had on this budget, if any.

Katie Hobbs: Well, one democrat voted for the budget.

Ted Simons: Yes. How do you explain that?

Katie Hobbs: He traded for something for his district for it. I don't think it was a very good trade.

Ted Simons: And how does the caucus feel? Is he still with the caucus?

Katie Hobbs: He is still a member of the caucus.

Ted Simons: Okay.

Katie Hobbs: He hasn't participated in caucus activities.

Ted Simons: Interesting. All right. Your thoughts on the budget?

Eric Meyer: You know, we passed a budget in the dead of night that actually none of us had seen. We waived the rules so we could fast -- pass it. Cuts again in higher education, community colleges, hospitals, providers across the state, and actually gave some more tax cuts as well as invested in our prisons. So, in my mind, and I think a lot of voters' minds, they're not happy about it.

Ted Simons: Governor said this is what I ran on and more voters voted for him than the opposition. Couldn't have been much of a surprise.

Eric Meyer: He ran on supporting public education. This budget doesn't reflect that at the university and K-12 levels. He says that these are high levels of spending, but they're not. 2008 levels were higher for both the K-12 system and our universities, and now I think 55,000 more kids in the K-12 system. 23,000 more students in the university system.

Ted Simons: I think the governor also said, if special interests aren't upset, then he is not doing his job with this particular budget. It sounds like a lot of folks, especially regarding education, none too pleased.

Katie Hobbs: Yeah, and what I have heard is not from special interest, but constituents from around the state that are not pleased with the budget. I think if we start referring to the voters of Arizona as special interests, I think there is a problem there. This budget -- I have never seen so much opposition to a budget from every corner -- in every sector in the state.

Ted Simons: As far as suspending the rules, Senate president said this is no different than the Medicaid expansion protocol from a couple of years ago. Got a point?

Katie Hobbs: Sure. You know, this is the way we do budgets at the legislature. It doesn't mean it is the right way we should do a budget. Most important document that passes through the legislature, reflects our values and priorities as a state. When you have to cram it through in a really quick process so that you don't lose votes, without any public input, very little opportunity for public to weigh in on the impacts it will have with major policy decisions, that affect a lot of people, that's -- that's not the way we should be doing it.

Ted Simons: When the Senate president says that this was done Medicaid, would you disagree with that process as well?

Katie Hobbs: I think we worked with the tools we had available to us. I think a big difference there is that Medicaid was something that had been vetted throughout, you know, since the governor announced it in her state of the state address. And had tons of public support behind. So, it was a much more popular policy in terms of enacting it.

Ted Simons: As far as an all-night session, again, Senate president says we went through this with Medicaid. What's the problem?

Eric Meyer: Well, we weren't in charge back then either. We have been in the minority the whole time. We have asked for changes for more openness and transparency. We have asked for the committee hearings like we used to have 15, 20 years ago where things were vetted and the education committee for education, health care committee for health. And we moved through this process that neither Katie nor I have control over. We did support the budget, it was a good budget. Passed the Medicaid expansion. But again, we were not in control of the process.

Ted Simons: As far as budget fixes, any bills out there that need to readdress things?

Eric Meyer: Well, I think there is supposed to be a trailer bill being worked on because this happened so quickly, there were problems. Some of them relate to funding of the supreme court, for instance. It is unclear how that is all going to happen. Again, we haven't seen that bill, but it looks like we're probably going to finish up within the next couple of weeks. So we should probably be hearing about it shortly.

Ted Simons: Are you expecting a trailer out of this?

Katie Hobbs: We haven't seen any -- what it looks like or anything. But, yes, clearly there is mistakes made in the rush to get it out.

Ted Simons: As far as the other bills out there, I notice that there was a bill to create the lieutenant governor position. Democrats voted no. Didn't democrats support this in the past? And if so, what has changed?

Katie Hobbs: You know, I haven't had a chance to really look at the bill. My understanding is that it doesn't -- previous attempts have tried to replace the secretary of state. And this one is creating a new elected office. Over the department of administration, and it went through the house so Eric might have a better answer of why the democrats voted no on it.

Eric Meyer: Put whoever the lieutenant governor was, is, or was elected, in as the director of the department of administration. I think that was the concern this person may be able to run a great campaign along with the governor, but they may not have the experience to do that job.

Ted Simons: Is that enough to offset the concerns regarding lack of continuity with the secretary of state succeeding to the governor's office?

Eric Meyer: Well, it was in this case, for most of my members in the caucus. You know, I don't know that this is better or worse. I think the idea that they would be running one of the large agencies in the state was the issue.

Ted Simons: Back to the budget, I know the governor got $24 million to back loans for privately owned charters. We don't have the details -- what have you been hearing about this?

Katie Hobbs: We were kind of waiting to see a proposal that came out of his office and his office announced today they don't believe they need legislative authority to create their plan. We appropriated $24 million for this, whatever accesses our best public school fund with really no oversight about how that fund is going to be created. They are going to try to create it I guess through executive order without legislative approval is what it sounded like from his announcement today.

Ted Simons: This allows charter to get the lower interest rates by way of the state credit being the backing.

Eric Meyer: Right.

Ted Simons: Thoughts?

Eric Meyer: Well, it could be unconstitutional. There is a gift clause. Not supposed to be giving away state assets to corporations, which this is in my mind. You look at all of the things that we cut and whether it was K-12 education, funding for the neediest kids, child care subsidies. $24 million could go back into the classroom, help to pay down the inflation lawsuit and instead it has been kind of sucked out of the budget, put in a special account that the governor has control over, and in my mind, that's not what the people of Arizona want. They want teachers in their classroom. They want their kids to be safe, they want their kids to have food and he didn't do that with these dollars.

Ted Simons: Last question. Everything we have talked about tonight, obviously democrats are in opposition and not happy with what has gone down at the capitol, yet the governor won rather handily and lawmakers, most lawmakers won rather handily. How do you explain the disconnect, if there is, indeed, a disconnect between voters and the legislature?

Katie Hobbs: Well, I don't -- I think a lot of voters are seeing kind of now what the governor meant when he campaigned on balancing the budget and that it would be painful. I don't know that a lot of voters are really happy with that. A lot of folks on the majority side are really happy with the conservative budget that they were able to vote on as well. You know, I -- I don't -- I think -- I would love to see a poll right now on Ducey's favorability among voters.

Ted Simons: We just got through an election campaign and it wasn't all that close. Governor has had his budget out for weeks he said before, so no one should have been surprised by the end result which was similar to what he originally planned. Is there a disconnect? Because a lot of folks saying, we sent these people in office to do just this.

Eric Meyer: Yeah, I think in a sense, that people need to understand that voting in the primary is important. Most of the districts across the state probably 25 of the 30 districts aren't competitive in the general election. And when they don't vote in the primary, you tend to get -- for both parties, legislators that are -- either lean more to the right or more to the left. It is important to vote in the primary. Secondly, your vote matters. Voter turnout was incredibly low this time and hopefully this will spur people to vote in 2016. There is opportunity to elect people that will vote to support education, our universities, middle class families. You just need to spend time to figure out who that is. So, I -- I -- maybe a disconnect, but I think for me, this now 7th year that I have been down there, engagement level now, the size of the protests, all of those things that are going on is more than I have ever seen it. We'll see. Maybe they gave the governor and the legislature the benefit of the doubt. Now they're questioning whether they were sold a bill of goods during the election cycle.

Ted Simons: We should mention we will have the Senate president and Speaker of the House on Thursday. Tonight we thank you for joining us.

Katie Hobbs: Thank you.

Eric Meyer: Thank you for having us.

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

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