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, the fight between Diane Douglas and the state board of education continue.

And did the governor warn business leaders against voter initiatives to fund public education? The Journalist's 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 us tonight: Bob Christie of The Associated Press. Howard Fischer of Capitol MediaServices. And Luige Del Puerto of "The Arizona Capitol Times."

New developments in the ever-developing feud between superintendent of public instruction Diane Douglas and the state board of education. We've now hit the courts?

BOB CHRISTIE: We are now in court. This started in early February when Diane Douglas tried to fire the executive staff of the board of education. Doug Ducey interceded, they made peace, they tried to change it in the legislature, and it never got out because some conservatives in the house blocked it. And then about two weeks ago, the board of education staff packed up lock stock and barrel from the board of education building, went to the executive towers, new offices and Diane Douglas says this won't stand and sued. Now, we are actually at the lawsuit phase where the whole point of contention is going tube decided by a judge. Who actually controls the staff of the board of education?

HOWARD FISCHER: This is a fascinating question because look, the laws are horrible in this area. The board of education's created constitutionally. It sets policy. By extension, if it sets the policy, then its staff carries out the policy. Diane Douglas, elect on campaign of trying to get rid of common core said well wait a second, these staffers are undermining my plan to get rid of common core. You can't report to two bosses like that. The statutes themselves are confusing the statutes say that she is the administrator of the board employees because the board is not a full-time job. And I think the judge is going to have a hard time parsing out exactly how this fits. Truthfully I think the law is more on her side than it is on the board's.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: Right and some people have completely dismissed Diane Douglas's position on this particular issue but there is a legitimate dispute as to what exactly the law means and how they're going to be interpreted. Of course, this hasn't come up in the past because we haven't had these kinds of firings in the past. But what the law says is that the superintendent is the executive officer of the state board of education and that she shall direct the work of all employees of the board who shall be employees of the department of education. That's what the law says.

TED SIMONS: That's what the law says and the legislature, I thought there was a deal, I thought there was an agreement on this and it goes away.

BOB CHRISTIE: There was a deal. Diane Douglas testified in favor of the deal. She said this will clear it up. It made the board of education's executive staff report directly to the board of education, took her out of it. She backed it, the governor backed it, the Senate passed it with two no votes. It got to the house and a group of conservatives in the house says this is just like what happened in Wyoming a couple of years ago where the governor tried to take away the power from the secretary of education, the Arizona state senator was hired by their governor to run anew education department and the Supreme Court said you can't do that. So those folks in the house looked at that and said they're trying to take the power away from the elected superintendent of public education, we won't let it happen.

HOWARD FISCHER: These are the same lawmakers who say damn activist judges telling us what it means. You had a chance to fix it and you did not. Now, some activist judge, Patricia starr, will, in fact, give a ruling, there's a hearing on June 26th, at least on the preliminary issue of should they have to go back to their old offices? Larger hearing down the road probably on the questions of the ultimate control that Luige is talking about and it will end up at the Court of Appeals and eventually the Supreme Court.

TED SIMONS: Now, the board is at the moment trying to investigate bad teachers. From what I understand, they're allowed into the department of education building to do this but they can't go back to the executive towers and do it remotely because Diane Douglas says we're not going to let you?

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: Right and it goes back to the very same issue. Who exactly is the boss? Diane Douglas is the boss. Her employees can't take off and go to another office and work there and so in this particular case they're working at another office and so from Diane Douglas's viewpoint, since they are her employees, if they want to work, they work in her building. And not just remotely work from some office and report to essentially another agency. There's another issue of sharing data. From their viewpoint, from the department of education's viewpoint, if there is supposed to be -- if the board of education is going to be separate agency, essentially from the ade, then therefore they can't just share data.

But that's --[ Overlapping Speakers ]

That's their position.

HOWARD FISCHER: That's not even a good position because it is the board that ultimately determines when to suspend, when to revoke a license and that is statutory. So clearly, the board's investigators need access to that.

TED SIMONS: They need access but they can only get access if they go marching over to Diane Douglas's building and say can we please get access?

HOWARD FISCHER: We asked the superintendent and she said they have access any time they want at their workstations which are in my building.

Nothing to add on that one?

BOB CHRISTIE: It's a power struggle. It's obviously a power struggle. What we just saw in the last board of education meeting, there was a half-dozen teachers who were going to have their licenses revoked for various crimes. That's what the board of education does, it issues and revokes the licenses and they have to have access to the data. So, you know, why Diane Douglas doesn't want to allow them to roam in like their staff in Tucson does to the department of education, it's clear.

TED SIMONS: So with this in mind, we've got a pretty important function being done here, getting rid of bad teachers or at least investigating them. You've got a whole education system that is just up, down and sideways and yet these are the headlines. This is what people are talking about.What a waste of resources.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: Well, you know, what they say about democracy, serve the leaders that you elect. This is the leaders that weave. There's a legitimate dispute as to who is the boss, and now, the courts will weigh in. In the meantime, you have all these problems that in theory the state is supposed to be focused on: Standards, getting teachers. Arizona has a difficult, terribly difficult time trying to get teachers. Making sure -- improving the test performance of our students. You know, there's a whole issue about inflation funding, those things are supposed to be the things that we focus on but obviously, we're not.

BOB CHRISTIE: The real reason that Diane Douglas wants to have control of the executive staff of the board of education; the executive staff is who puts together the plans for common core, who puts together the plans for A.Z. merits and makes the recommendations to the board. They provide all the background material and so Diane Douglas, of course, wants to be able to craft those independently and with someone that she can control.

HOWARD FISCHER: She said back in February, she called Christine Thompson, who's the executive director, quote, two liberals who were trying to thwart my efforts to get rid of common core. Well, no, they administer the board's policy. The board says we're going to have common core. Christine, Sabrina, staff, carry that out. And that comes back to the two-masters problem.

TED SIMONS: We'll find out who eventually gets control over the board of education. It should be interesting, hearings next month? June?


TED SIMONS: Help me here, Bob. Did the governor speak in front of business groups and basically warn these groups that if you support a sales tax initiative to help fund education, I'm going to fight you, the state will fight you?

BOB CHRISTIE: Well, his spokesman will say that's not exactly what he said. The folks who were there quoted in the press as saying that's what we heard. It wouldn't surprise me if the governor is very nuanced in the way he presents himself. It doesn't surprise me that height say that. He opposed tax increases in the past. He wants to reform the education agenda the way he wants to reform it. There is a large group of folks out there who are very upset about school funding in thestate, both at the universitylevel and at the K-12 level andthey are getting ready to run --there's strong consideration ofinitiatives that would raisetaxes to fund schools better.

HOWARD FISCHER: I don't even think it was that nuanced. The people I talked to and I also talked to the governor about it today, it was very simple. I'm happy to work with anybody with a good idea. However, if you have a bad idea, I will work against you. And taxes are a bad idea. I will never support higher taxes, never mind that we're spending less per student now than we did in '08, we're going to reform the system. And -- is it a threat to say you're going to work against somebody? It's not like me threatened them, if you do this I'm going to kill your taxes. He said I will work against any bad ideas.

TED SIMONS: When he says he will work against any bad ideas, we've seen what happens when someone crosses this particular governor, Mesa school superintendent found that out, all of a sudden, dark money popup out of the blue and here we go.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: Some of the folks that were in the meeting are fearful that when the governor says if you don't work with me, I'll work against you, if you're going to push a tax cut, if that is the message that he was sending, there would be dark money flooding in to support the governor's agenda but I think --I mean, it's a legitimate concern in the sense that the governor in the past has been effective in opposing a tax increase. With prop 204, he led that fight, he got what he wanted.

HOWARD FISCHER: And this is the thing, I think that unless Ducey comes around, we're not going to see ballot measure. I'll give you a perfect reason why. I was talking to a business leader who said we've had four of these things on the ballot. Two of them passed. In 2000, it was an incumbent Republican governor who supported it, Jane hull. In 2010, we passed the temporary tax to try to preserve education because an incumbent Republican governor supported tithe two that failed, 2012, Doug Ducey already saying I think I might like to be governor, campaigned against it and it failed. Without the support of a Republican governor, it will not pass and the business community is not going to spend three or $4 million just to do that.

TED SIMONS: And that is the threat. The threat is all that money you're raising, all that time and effort you're putting into this is going to be a waste boss he may not be saying this but there's dark money growing entrees out there in the wilderness.

BOB CHRISTIE: There sure is. And as we saw with the Mesa incident, that dark money floods in if the governor is upset about something. We can't put two and two together other than it equals four.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: Even without dark money coming and in flooding the airwaves in support of whatever the governor's position would be on some theoretical tax increase, the governor by himself carries pretty huge stick. He has the biggest bully pulpit in the state and he can advance or oppose an agenda. And the fact that he's been effective in the past, there was money raised also to oppose the sales tax increase. And I'm presuming that if the governor were to oppose a sales tax increase, for example, if that were to be offered in 2016, I can see the governor raising a lot of money to oppose that, as well.

TED SIMONS: But is education and the previous votes that you talked about, those that passed, those that failed, was education cuts much than as-- then as big an issue as now?

HOWARD FISCHER: The 2010 measure, we have a$3 billion shortfall, do you want to see another billion cutout of education? So it was the threat of the cuts, then. Look, fact is, we are spending now about $4,300 in state money per student. In 2008 we're spending $5,000per student and that doesn't count for inflation. Business folks are concerned. You know we're at the point where we've taken all these tax cuts, we've been told its going to stimulate the economy. If it doesn't stimulate the economy, maybe it's time to look at the whole situation.

TED SIMONS: Maybe it's time to look at Arizona's jobless rate and the economy in general. The jobless rate fell down --it's still above the national average, and it's nice that it ‘sat 6%, it's better than 7%, but300 private sector jobs created last month?

BOB CHRISTIE: The job growth is anemic at best. The state is not growing its way out of this recession that we've been in. We're not adding the amount of jobs. We've hit this big bump last month where there was only a few jobs added. The economist doesn't really know what's going on. Why Arizona is not, you know --doesn't have a skip in its step like other states do.

HOWARD FISCHER: The bigger problem for Arizona is that the jobs we're creating are lower paying jobs. We've talked around this table about the fact we used to be35th in per capita, perfect example. Governor had a big announcement; we've got 1125 jobs for Comcast at a call center. And bob and I did the math and figured out the average salary is $12 an hour. That's average. That means it includes the folks making the $80,000 and a bunch of $10 an hour jobs for which the state is paying $9,000 per job and if you do that sort of math, these are people who would also qualify for access, we're not only paying for the job, we're providing health insurance for them and yet the same month that we are adding that, we lost in Pima county alone 300aerospace jobs, the high-paying manufacturing jobs. So we are in this downward shift, and as long as we're not education, the message is come to Arizona, we've got cheap labor versus an ad I heard for Iowa which was come to Iowa, weave a highly trained workforce in bioscience and manufacturing.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: And, you know, the fact is --and here's an interesting thing. I was going to say. The latest revenue collections in April show that the state is going to get about $443 million more than we had budgeted for in this last budget go-around and if you sift through the numbers, the boost that we're seeing in revenue comes from the joint legislative budget committee things, from individual gains, income tax gains.

HOWARD FISCHER: Capital gains.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: Capital gains, rather and that means it's a volatile revenue source. Here's the key part. The sales tax, which is our most stable and our biggest revenue source, is pretty much -- it grew by about 4%.So it's pretty modest. It's not really growing. We're not seeing the kind of growth that we want to see.

TED SIMONS: Why are we not seeing? We lost mostly retail and I understand that's volatile, as well. A lot of government jobs but those are seasonal positions that come and go.

BOB CHRISTIE: I think a lot of it goes back to the heart of what Arizona's economy has been the home construction industry. We are seeing new construction but not at the rate that we used to see when we were fibbing 4%and 5% and 6%.

TED SIMONS: Added 1,300 construction jobs. That was the bright spot out of the whole thing.

HOWARD FISCHER: It was still only 55% of where we were at the peak, at the recession.

TED SIMONS: So is it a bump in the road or something more here?

HOWARD FISCHER: When we talked to the chief economist over at the department of administration, she said look I'm concerned because when we're starting to lose retail jobs in April, when I'm seeing these weak numbers, she said I'm watching this real closely.

TED SIMONS: And some folks are watching as well the ramifications to the welfare limits that the legislature put through last session. We kind of got those numbers in; benefits will be cut off after12 months. A lot of families, a lot of kids.

BOB CHRISTIE: 1,700 families, 2,700 kids will be thrown off the program after one year of eligibility. Now, of course, the governor said this week now is clear this doesn't start until July of 2016but it's a tiny amount of money, its $4 million. It was originally projected at nine but once they pass it and they massage it a little bit it's $4 million. In the meantime, they've given away 30 or $40 million in tax cuts to the wealthy. The governor we talked to this weekend, he said not only don't worry about it, it's not for year, that will give them time but I want to grow the economy and therefore, they'll have jobs. But the problem is as was debated on the floor of the house and in the Senate, as well, the people who are getting this $250 a month check are either unemployable, or are moms buying rice and beans and trying to just scrape by with a small amount of money.

HOWARD FISCHER: This is only a piece of what they did. They also voted to ask the federal government to allow new limits on the Medicaid programing terms of lifetime limits, in terms of copays, in terms of surcharges and everything else. And work requirements and the federal government and Bob are also talked to the folks at Medicaid services why would we do that? This is inconsistent with the program. What's interesting about this is the politics. We have the shortest welfare of any state in the nation. Most of it paid by the federa lgovernment. And yet Kelly ward is out there advertising if you want this kind of leadership from Washington, vote for mesa politics.

TED SIMONS: Any chance of these limits, any chance at all of this being extended?

BOB CHRISTIE: I think the governor made clear that he believes that first off you're giving them plenty of time to transition, year is long enough and we're going to grow the economy so that these folks can get into the economy and make money. There's not a lot of --

HOWARD FISCHER: But we're not growing the economy, that's the problem, that's the same thing I said. We were told we have cut hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate income taxes and research and development credits because this was going to growth economy. The laugher curve. Well, we're sitting here; we've got 300 jobs last month.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: But you mentioned that some argue that we're going to growth economy if we do all these cuts but I think what's really happening is this is philosophical -- this is product of a philosophical debate at the state capitol and the fact is that the cuts we're seeing to welfare is the result of the belief that those folks really should be on their feet, they should be finding work. Whether work appears or not. I mean, and that's the thing. That's what we're seeing. This is not a novel thing. They've been trying this, the copayments to Medicaid, for example, something they had kicked around for a couple of years. They want to do this because they believe, there's this belief, that if you did it, it would somehow improve their situation.

BOB CHRISTIE: It's a crutch. The conservative agenda, the conservative thought on the social programs is that yes, we want to help these folks but we don't want to enable them to continue to be on the government dole. You remember in the early '90s when welfare reform nationally, bill Clinton and the Republicans got together, put a five-year hard cap on welfare across the country. And with work requirements and work requirements that eventually worked their way into the system. Well, five years is now three years in some states is now two years, is now one year. It's a pretty short time to get on your feet if you're a young parent.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: And just to reaffirm, if you look at, for example, one welfare program that many from both sides of the aisle say yeah, it probably is a good thing, you look at childcare, for example, what the state has done with its childcare money. Right now, we used to fund -- we used to appropriate $80 million from our general fund for childcare. It was during the good times. Now, we're appropriating 0.All the money that comes, that goes to childcare comes from the federal government or from first things first. And if you look at the arguments for childcare, for example, if you have a single parent that needs childcare and if that single parent gets childcare, that single parent gets to work. And those -- the folks are saying that this is an economicengine. This is an economic thing. You fund childcare; people will be able to go to work.

TED SIMONS: You can't buy anything if you don't have any money to buy it.

BOB CHRISTIE: One of the arguments against such a short welfare period is that if you don't give these folks some basic level of support, which in Arizona is among the smallest of all the states, it's $260 a month in general, they're going to end up in emergency rooms, at homeless shelters, they're going to end up using a lot of other services.

TED SIMONS: Which will have to be paid for?

Only a couple of minutes. I want to get to the pinnacle west shareholder meeting? We saw protests outside, an attempt to get some transparency going. Didn't sound like it went too far.

HOWARD FISCHER: You have to remember that the number of shares that the protesters control is about the number of people they had, I think it was 30.Look, these are shares controlled by major corporations, by trusts, by retirement funds, and they tend to vote pretty much the way the board wants and they don't see it in their interest to disclose publicly hey, we just spent, you know, $3 million to elect candidate to the corporation commission. And so they're within their rights, legally, to say no, we do what we need to do to protect our political interests.

TED SIMONS: Indeed and it was an attempt to try to get shareholders to --obviously, it wasn't going to pass but did the protest -- are people starting to pay attention to this?

BOB CHRISTIE: I think this keeps it in the news.I think every time someone writes a check to APS, they ‘rethinking are they paying the regulators off to allow them to raise rates? That's the seed that gets planted in people's minds.

HOWARD FISCHER: I'll tell you what's been more in people's minds, these disclosures that Bob Stump, he has a love affair with his texting and he did a lot of texting to the free enterprise club, and then a lot of separate texting to the two separate Republicans from the corporate commission and a lot of texting to someone from APS that they were trying to fund, and now, we're into some interesting areas at what point are you helping to coordinate quote/unquote independent campaign and the clean elections director is going to start looking into that.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO: The bigger issue is what is the impact to the credibility of the clean elections commission rather the Arizona corporation commission? And that's an issue because some people may think well if this arbiter of energy policy is not impartial, maybe we should change it.

TED SIMONS: We've got to stop it right there. That one is a story that will continue. Good to have you all here. 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.

Bob Christie of The Associated Press. Howard Fischer of Capitol MediaServices. And Luige Del Puerto of "The Arizona Capitol Times."

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