Journalists’ Roundtable

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Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. What to expect as the legislature returns to work next week, the new session kicking off with the governor's state of the state address. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight, Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic. Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Alia Beard Rau, from The Arizona Republic.

Ted Simons: Don't look now, but the state legislature is set to return to action Monday. So what are we going to see there? What's going to happen?

Mary Jo Pitzl: The big event Monday is Governor Ducey will come over to the House of Representatives and deliver his state of the state address, laying out his priorities for the coming year. And we'll be able to judge by the applause lines you know, how many of these ideas might have traction with them, with the legislature.

Ted Simons: And indeed, as far as the legislature, are we going to see another speedy session, another speedy budget like last year? Last year, they worked very fast.

Howard Fischer: Oh, I think there's no way they can do it in the number of days they did it last year, partially because you have some folks now saying wait a second not only we didn't get a look at it but we found out that billion dollars deficit you told us about ended up being a $325 million surplus, you told us you need to cut education, $99 million from the universities, maybe that wasn't all necessary. And they would like to see the latest budget figures.

Ted Simons: Do you think that as well, there will be a little slower in getting things done? They seem proud of the fact that the budget was done so quickly last year.

Alia Rau: They do, but the governor this week we talked to him and he promised us we would see more hearings, more transparency, more hearings which I would think means a little more time for people to digest what they're putting out there.
Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, that said, though, we have this thing in mid-May called proposition 123, the education funding ballot measure and, as you know, in Arizona we can start voting about a month in advance which backs you up to mid-April, and I think there's going to be a desire to get the legislature out of town and put some space between what they do or don't do on education funding between them and this ballot measure.

Howard Fischer: And that's critical because there are really two issues, one that Mary jo mentioned is are they going to put anything more into K-12 education? Everyone including the governor saying this is a first step, meaning one, two, three as he likes to call it. The other part of it is governor's promised he's going to keep his campaign promise, going to do another tax cut, and even if they're being asked to take money out of an education tax fund, who gets a tax cut, how much of a tax cut? And what do voters think about that when they're asked to go to the polls and take money out of a trust fund?

Ted Simons: I find it very curious this vote again is in May and you've got a month prior, we're mid-April. Between next week and mid-April, I mean is everything clouded by this? I mean, how does this work?

Alia Rau: I think it is. It is the number one priority it seems like for the governor. I don't think they're going to let anything get in the way. We're hearing tax cuts, the governor himself said incremental. I don't think we're going to see anything so controversial that it will distract from encouraging support for prop 123.

Ted Simons: Because you have to be careful about what you're doing, if you send the wrong message to voters they're going to say wait a second.

Mary Jo Pitzl: If the state is sitting on a $325 million more or less surplus or carry forward balance and if the state opts to not spend that money somewhat for education but some of it goes to offset the cost of a tax cut, that doesn't look too good when you're going to take money out of a trust fund.

Ted Simons: Conversely if they say $99 million cut from universities last session. Let's restore some of that, let's show our interest and our dedication to education.

Howard Fischer: It's important. I would be willing to bet you that we will see a reverse in the trend line for universities. I don't know if it will be the $99 that they lost last year but I'm pretty sure the governor is going to propose restoring that. K-12 is a different beast. Community colleges are a different beast. At the same time, you have a bunch of other needs out there, the department of child safety continues to have problems with back logs. You have the governor who wants his little border strike force which the sheriffs say why not send the money to us? You have questions at the department of corrections are we going to contract for more prisons? There's a lot of needs out there, you can see how we divide up that pie.

Ted Simons: Career and technical education, the jteds, obviously were hammered last go around, already we're hearing a lot of folks saying you've got to get the schools up and going because business needs these folks. Is that message being heard?

Alia Rau: There's been a bill introduced already that would restore that money and be retroactive to kind of protect them. There's a couple of folks at the legislature with some concerns about that, some concerns about how the jteds are spending their money but there's a pretty large groundswell of bipartisan support for giving them that money back.

Howard Fischer: What's going to be interesting politically is Andy biggs has been at the forefront of attacking the jteds. Even made a mention at the chamber speech that you hosted earlier this week that well they're spending money on courses that are regular courses and you've got the satellite funding and everything else. Members of his own caucus are going to fight him on that. The question is does he pull rank, does he hold up other things because Sylvia allen says why are we taking $30 million out of this?

Ted Simons: The head of the education committee, Andy biggs the Senate of the president.

Howard Fischer: It's good to be the president.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, it is.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And the argument with the schools because they provide the vocational training, which is important to the message for job growth in Arizona, they can prepare kids for these manufacturing jobs, more technical jobs, and we've heard from a couple of these schools saying look if we don't get some of this money restored we're shutting down.

Howard Fischer: There's another side. Some of the schools have abused this and all of a sudden, we're seeing JTED programs in journalism and photography and it's not like you graduate from a JTED program and I'm going to work for the Arizona republic.

Ted Simons: That goes back to what they said at the luncheon where there were some courses, avenues of instruction that were already supposed to be handled in regular schools. Correct?

Alia Rau: Right, right. There seems to be a need for some audit. I think that's one of the things that may be recommended, is there some way to take a look at these and audit them and see how the money is being spent, kind of overhaul the system a little bit?

Ted Simons: Howie mentioned the department of child safety, dcs. It's still a mess. The governor seems to think it's still a miss, as well. What are we going to see there?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, I think the big key thing is that the agency is asking for another $100 million in its budget which would bring it real close to about $1 billion budget. That's a big, big chunk of the state when you consider we have a $9 billion budget. There's a lot of skepticism from certain lawmakers in influential appropriations places about the ability of the agency to spend that money wisely. The governor has suggested that there might be -- what I'm hearing is that there's going to be a proposal to tie the money to achieving certain benchmarks.

Howard Fischer: And that's critical.

Ted Simons: Will reform be before this money is sent over?

Howard Fischer: It almost has to go hand in hand. Part of what happened is that greg McKay sort of hurt himself. He went to a joint legislative budget committee and they asked him what happened to that money they gave you and he said it wasn't spent wisely. Let me tell you how much lawmakers love hearing that. So I think what president biggs would like to see is something that says if you accomplish this we'll give you this. It's going to have to be a dual-track system.

Ted Simons: The director of the department of child safety, does he keep his job this year do you think? Is there a push on that?

Alia Rau: It's a long year. [ Laughter ] There is a push among some folks. The governor so far has continued to kind of back him and be supportive of him, and it's obviously entirely up to the governor as to whether he keeps his job or not but it's a long year. The numbers are definitely going in the wrong direction, I think it depends on do you give him more time and how much more time do you give him?

Howard Fischer: And one of the issues I think is going to be -- who has been a defender, who is a Republican who knows probably more about that agency than any other legislature and Kate is still willing to give him a little time but at the point that Kate finally says huh-uh, he's smoke.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, and as evidence of why all this concern aside from the money, we now have more than 19,000 children who are living in out of home care. These numbers just keep going up. They haven't gone down and if everybody recalls about a year and a half ago, our legislature met and created this new agency and this was the fix. They had people that came in and worked on, you know, streamlining processes. Well, the governor when asked about this, his emphasis is he's really banking on his lean transformation effort to help get dcs back on track. You know, I thought that happened as the agency was created but it has taken yet. I agree that it's a long year and there's also the issue of who would take the job? And who can you find to do that job?

Ted Simons: And do the job well or do the job in whatever way that these folks think that it needs to get done. There's a lot of folks saying no one's going to do that job well enough as long as social services are underfunded or don't exist. Kids care. There could be a return to kids care. First of all, what is kids care and is there a possibility that we could see this what was once frozen I guess, it's an insurance for low-income families?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right. This is for kids from families that earn more than enough that they cannot qualify for the state's access or Medicaid program but they're still the effectively working poor. Congress renewed this children's health insurance program in its budget in October. And for two years, basically the way their metrics work, Arizona would get 100% coverage. So it would be free, you know. There would not be a state obligation to put money in and it would provide coverage to people that fall into this gap. There's some hesitancy about going there. Mostly like what if federal money doesn't materialize?

Ted Simons: But a Republican apparently is going to be -- from Kingman, I forget the name, is going to be pushing this, which helps I would imagine.

Howard Fischer: It helps to a point. Look, the fact as Mary jo mentioned there's not a price tag on it right now. How do you say to thousands of kids we have the worst rate of uninsured children in the nation. How do you say to say children well you should just join the health exchange which, of course, is falling apart and requires copays and doesn't have the same coverage but it's free. But as Mary jo mentioned, what happens in 2017 when the federal money runs out? Now, it becomes a 90%, 10% or 80%-20%.

Ted Simons: It's extended, the program is extended.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, that's the hope.

Howard Fischer: That's the hope.

Howard Fischer: That's the hope. But the state needs to come up with the dollar match, whether it's even just 10%. I mean, if you're talking, you know, $400,000 a year to keep, you know, kids care alive, when you've got everyone else fighting over every other nickel, including K-12, including the universities, that becomes an issue.

Ted Simons: Impact of speaker Gowan running for Congress? How will that play into the dynamic, provided, of course, he's not driving around the state in a state car doing what the capitol times reported today.

Alia Rau: Or having congressional fundraisers.

Ted Simons: Curiosities there. But in terms of his candidacy, does that affect things down there?

Alia Rau: Some say it could be a serious distraction to run for that kind of office, you need to spend significant time campaigning. Can he do that and still do this job? Tobin did it. [ Laughter ]

Alia Rau: But he didn't win. Do you put more time into it? And his influence has kind of come and gone. There's question about how influential he's going to be this session and that's going to play a big role, too.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I would look to the majority leader taking a bigger role in some of the operations and the direction of the house but if you're the speaker and you're running in a district that isn't up here in the capital, you've got to travel and perhaps that would make an argument for ending the session quickly or having a short work day.

Howard Fischer: He doesn't even live in the district where he wants to be the member of Congress but there's another factor that I think we'll all be watching: How does the fact that he needs to influence and pick up rural votes, even though he's from Cochise county, how does that affect decisions he makes, assigning bills to committee, putting bills in the bottom drawer and there's always going to be an issue there.

Ted Simons: That's kind of what I was asking as well, not only in terms of getting things done, but what the message might be.

Howard Fischer: This comes back to your point about hank Stevenson's excellent article about somebody driving around the state. If, in fact, Gowan decides he's going to get even and say to the capitol times or even to the media we're not going to allow you on the floor there have been reporters on the floor since 1982 when I started out there. If he tries to pull that, he's going to blow up any chance he has of being a member of Congress because every paper in the state is going to go ahead.

Ted Simons: Is there any indication he's going to do that?

Howard Fischer: I talked to some folks at the capitol times and they think he's hinting around that and so you know, talk about how this could affect his candidacy and how it affects the legislature coverage, we'll be watching on Monday.

Ted Simons: All right, hank Stevenson perhaps has opened up a whole different avenue of conversation. However, as you mentioned early on, and we talked about earlier as well, the governor will give the state of the state address to kick things off. What are we expecting there?

Mary Jo Pitzl: This is a governor starting his second term. He's got his sea legs under him. We'll see a tax cut proposal, probably quite modest because of what we discussed earlier about the upcoming ballot proposition. Funding for the state water department, you know. There's been a plea coming out from the Morrison institute, the Kyle center for water policy that said look we need some money to buck up the state budget. I think that's a very powerful voice, and I think John kyl headed up a committee, the governor has promised that we'll see some work on department of child safety, the other night at an event, he also said that there would be some attention to the state prison and hospital, he'll save some incarceration costs and take a different path because of the behavioral health problems.

Ted Simons: Would that be sentencing reform or something else?

Howard Fischer: It's hard to know because there's two issues on this. A. is the sentencing reform. Every Republican has touched it, and all of a sudden, you've got the Republicans go scurrying for cover. But there are ways of doing it in terms of diversions for people with substance abuse problems and the people who get the technical violation. I think that we will see some action there. He's looking at some numbers. I did some numbers today, the population between a decade ago and now has gone up 10%. Prison population is up 22%. That is not sustainable. And the governor recognized that as a business person.

Ted Simons: Well, he may recognize that as a business person. Does the legislature recognize that and when the governor gives his state of the state address afterwards, are they all simpatico down there, the governor says I want, the legislature says how much?

Alia Rau: Last session they seem to be a little bit more so. I think this session we're going to see a little bit more of a split. I think there's disagreement about how much of the surplus money you spend. I think the governor has some projects that may not float quite as well with some of the more conservative Republicans. There's not a, you know, hatred down there yet but I think there's not quite the kumbaya we saw.

Howard Fischer: Yet is the operative word? Here's what gets interesting. We talk about how nice things were. He did 20 vetoes last year.

Ted Simons: Some of those things, ceremonial bills sent up for a ceremonial veto.

Howard Fischer: Some of them were to send a message to somebody but he's got that veto pen and if he doesn't get his way on certain things I think he knows how to send the message.

Ted Simons: Will this speech be largely celebratory about the first year and all the things accomplished? Will there be more celebration than there is policy do you think?

Mary Jo Pitzl: No, I don't think so. But might be a 50-50 balance but certainly you want to talk about your accomplishments, you know, in your first year in office. And he wants to remind everybody of that because that is the foundation from which you keep going forward. This is a four-year term paper, a four-year project and he wants to talk about year one accomplishments and then how year two builds on that.

Ted Simons: So between the celebration and proposition 123, which I'm sure is going to get a healthy dose during the state of the state. Is this going to be mostly stuff that is not necessarily forward thinking or what are we looking at here?

Alia Rau: There's a lot of that. We're hearing that there's a lot of stuff coming down. I mean, the prison stuff and the mental health stuff, that's something we hadn't even heard anything about until this week and he's kind of given hints about. You add that to the stuff that we assume he's going to talk about, the university stuff and some of the other funding. There seems to be quite a bit in there.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And don't forget Governor Ducey also ran on a pledge of shrinking government. I'm looking for more agency consolidations. I think he's going through the whole org chart of state government and figuring out they put gaming and racing together and they dismantled weights and measures.

Ted Simons: What's he going to do that Andy tobin is on the commission?

Howard Fischer: He's the typhoid Mary of agencies, he goes in there and they die. The consolidation is truly important. He's not only looking at can you combine racing and gaming but he's looking at the fact you've got 200 some agencies and do we really need to regulate everything we do? I mean, you know, sure you don't want doctors out there practicing. Do you really need to regulate barbers in the state?

Ted Simons: Are you asking me? Is it a rhetorical question? Looking at at you, the answer is yes. [ Laughter ] But strike that from the record. We're running out of time. I do want to get to the new Supreme Court justice appointed. Was it a surprise that Goldwater institute litigator with no judicial experience at all is a new state Supreme Court justice?

Howard Fischer: It was. The betting was on sam therma, a Court of Appeals judge and it's not unprecedented. Scott bails came from private practice. Bolick has a very clear idea of what are the limits on government and he fits in very nicely I think with Doug Ducey's philosophy of government is only supposed to be doing certain things. Now, how does that affect the court? This is a court that's been known for unanimous decisions and from the far right to the far left, they seem to be able to get together. If we start seeing a lot of 4-1 decisions we'll know that Clint is not having the effect that the governor thinks he's going to have on the other justices.

Ted Simons: Reaction you had or heard from folks regarding Clint bolick?

Alia Rau: There was surprise. He's written a book about activist judges and the important role you can play. As one of five there's a question about how activist are you really once you actually get into that seat? There's a lot to do, and it's an important job and do you really have time to be, you know, too activist kind of with stuff. But yeah, I think there was a lot of surprise from folks.
Mary Jo Pitzl: One of the interesting things I saw was that a lot of the reaction to him to this appointment came from national figures. We had jeb bush took a little pause on the campaign trail to comment on this. But I'm not -- I didn't hear anything from lawmakers, state lawmakers, or people who are actually going to have to live with the decisions that the Arizona Supreme Court hands up. So there's a big legacy appointment and a national statement that the governor is making with this appointment.

Ted Simons: What do you think that statement is?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I'm willing to think outside of the box, I'm shaking things up, I'm going with this known conservative justice who sees a very limited role for government.

Alia Rau: It gives the governor some national kudos. There are all kinds of pie in the sky theories about is there a vice presidential nomination on the plate, what could he get from this, what sort of traction nationally does this get him with the conservative folks.

Howard Fischer: I'll tell you one other thing, in the history of the court and the U.S. Supreme Court, it's been presidents, governors appoint justices saying I know how he'll rule. All of a sudden, they get on the bench and even though they go for retain, reject, this is a lifetime appointment and all of a sudden, they're not so cooperative with what they --

Ted Simons: The responsibility changes when you put on the robe.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It will be interesting. For example, at the Goldwater institute where he came from, they led the charge against the state's public campaign finance system clean elections. So I don't know if he can touch any clean elections issues if there's any that were to come before the court. And then it raises the broader question of where will he be on election issues in general?

Howard Fischer: Look, dark money, issues of Medicaid expansion, Goldwater institution was involved there.

Ted Simons: His experience in education, his experience with charter schools.

Howard Fischer: Vouchers and all the rest of that and so he clearly has a vision. But my feeling is and I'm going to get personal, I've known Clint long enough where he will look at the words of the Constitution, he will look at the issues of what are the questions of how far the state can fund private education, you can give money to parents, and I think he looks at it and says what was the intent here? He calls himself a texturallist and that's important because he said the words mean something in the Constitution and the words mean something in the statutes.

Ted Simons: Very quickly. Around the horn here. Yes, or no. Will we leave Monday's state of the state address saying I didn't see that coming?

Alia Rau: No.

Ted Simons: What do you think Mary?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes.

Ted Simons: You think there's going to be something there that's out of blue?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes.

Howard Fischer: I don't think so. The only out of the blue is what's going to happen on prison reform and healthcare --

Mary Jo Pitzl: Are you hedging your answer?

Ted Simons: We'll let the record show that neither yes, nor no.

Howard Fischer: I don't think there will be anything major that we haven't discussed around the table tonight.

Ted Simons: All right, sounds good, good to have you all here, thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll run the governor's state of the state address in its entirety, and then follow with reaction from lawmakers and analysis from political consultants. It's an hour-long special, the governor's state of the state address at 5:00 p.m. and again at 10:00, on "Arizona Horizon."

Ted Simons: Tuesday, newly appointed state supreme court justice Clint Bolick joins us in studio. Wednesday, our legislative update with the Arizona capitol times returns. Thursday, DPS director Frank Milstead joins us to discuss a variety of public safety issues. And Friday, it's another edition of Journalists' Roundtable. 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 Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic. Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Alia Beard Rau, from The Arizona Republic.

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