Journalists’ Roundtable

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Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," "Journalists' Roundtable." The latest on funding restoration for career and technical education. And we'll discuss the curious battle over public safety pension reform. The "Journalists' Roundtable" is next on "Arizona Horizon."

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Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome Arizona Horizon "Journalists' Roundtable." I'm Ted Simons. Joining us, Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, Christie of the associated press, and Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times. Last year the governor and legislatures approved 30 million in cuts to joint technical education districts which focus on career and technical education but it looks like most of the cuts are not going to take effect. Are they going to take effect? What's going on?

Mary Jo Pitzl: If the legislature has its way, no, the cuts will not take effect because after enacting them and going home to their districts and hearing from the school districts that response your these training programs they realized, this could really, really hurt educational goals. So Senator Shooter ran a bill couple weeks ago with 70 co-sponsors out of 90 showing overwhelming support. It just doesn't have the final vote yet.

Ted Simons: What changed? Was it the outcry that strong? Everyone was talking about this early before the session started, but this was passed by the legislature, signed by the governor, now oops?

Bob Christie: Oops happened almost immediately after the budget was passed last march. Lawmakers went home, came back, oh, my gosh, they started getting hammered. These districts are designed to help high school kids not really on a career path to college. They are not going to college. They get classes for mechanics and nursing assistants and welders and all these other trades that really allow them to come right out of high school, the graduation rate is 90% as opposed to 72%. The lawmakers got an earful and that built up over the last eight months. When they came back into session there was a veto-proof majority to repeal them.

Jeremy Duda: the surprise is how controversial or how many hiccups you can have with a piece of legislation supported by almost every single person at the capitol. Certainly at the legislature, verse introduced in each chamber and the thinking was the big hiccup would be governor Ducey. instead of restoring 28 million as funding he wanted 30 million over three years, competitive grants. There's a lot of thought this was just a bargaining chip. They figured for the budget, legislature seemed like they were going to force the issue on Ducey. Then the two chambers are fighting over this. it seems like it's devolved into an issue of who gets the credit.

Ted Simons: What's the fight over?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think a lot of it is who gets the credit. We have Senator Shooter, who is the appropriations chairman over the Senate, the community that started the ball rolling a year ago on budget cuts. In the house we have his seat mate, majority leader Montenegro, who is looking to move over to the Senate. We have a speaker who is looking to run for -- planning to run for Congress. So it's a question of whose name gets on the bill.

Ted Simons: Everyone is rushing to be the first to say we screwed up?

Bob Christie: They don't want to cast it that -- they want to say we're the ones who restored it. Democrats will say, we stood up and screamed and said don't make these cuts, it's going to kill technical education, and Eric Meyer, the minority leader in the house, came to me the other day, says, they lit the school house on fire. You can't come in a year later with a bucket, put out the fire and call yourself a hero when you're the one who started it.

Ted Simons: This bill has bone held up twice this week.

Bob Christie: it was due for a vote in the Senate. We were all ready for it to go up on the board and suddenly the governor's office called the president of the Senate and said we need to talk. There was all this talk, maybe there was a veto threat involved, maybe a threat from the governor to not sign it unless he got what he wanted out of the budget. The Senate president denies that but they went up to the governor's office with the speaker and Senate president. They came down and all was well. It went to the house, and the house was angry because they had made a small change in the Senate and so it stuck over there now because of the fight over who gets credit.

Jeremy Duda: the argument over this one change that the Senator Shooter said was needed to ensure high school seniors, 18-year-olds won't get cut off immediately. The fight is the play-by-play has been fun. The folks in the house said we offered to put this on the bill in the first place and the folks in the Senate said it's not necessary. All of a sudden they say it's necessary and we're going to swap it out and send it back to the house. The house hasn't scheduled this for a vote because they have to revote on it. The Senate could pass the original house version. The house said that amendment wasn't necessary in the first place. Neither side is budging but some of them have to eventually.

Ted Simons: as we clear the weeds which are now over our heads, the bottom line is everyone wants this. Everyone thinks it's going to pass. Everyone expects the governor to sign it. Yet it sits?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It does. It sits. That shows you how some of the internal dynamics of the legislature work. This is one of the things that reinforces it's a lot like high school down there. Can we keep our eye on the bigger picture, which is getting this money to the schools so that there's some predictability in their plans going forward, but no, no, no, we don't worry so much on that higher level, it's all about who gets their name on the bill.

Bob Christie: there are some cuts. 30 million dollar cut. This bill after some negotiation back and forth the cut is --

Ted Simons: 28.

Bob Christie: They cut 30, they are restoring 28. A two million dollar cut. They are going to cut off high school graduates who have already graduated who are still in the programs. They are going to put in some accountability. Some were thinking the school was gaming the system. Over all they get most of their money back.

Ted Simons: that drama, stay tuned for the conclusion there.

Ted Simons: Public safety pension reform. Drama there too. I thought everyone thought this was a great idea, now what's happening there?

Bob Christie: well, this has been negotiated for several years. The pension fund is in a world of hurt. Police and firefighters. They have 12.5 billion in liabilities. That's how much they owe retirees and people now working and they only have $6.5 bill nonin assets. They have been having to pay huge amounts of money to be fund that. If you have a $100,000 police lieutenant you have to pay 50 on top of that for his pension. They have been trying to come up with a plan. Debbie Lesko negotiated with the cities, counties and firefighters, came up with a great plan, it got to the house and the conservatives said, wait a minute, you're not saving us money. We're worried that if your numbers are wrongs it's going to cost more and why didn't you get more out of the police and firefighters?

Mary Jo Pitzl: You can argue the house is doing what it should do. You withdrawn to do due diligence. You don't want to pass things blindly, but given -- this also crossed paths with the technical and career funding yesterday and one was being held hostage to the other. The urgency with pension reform is that to make these changes if the legislature so wants those they need to send it to the ballot for voter approval. The desire is to get it on the May 17 ballot with the education lawsuit settlement and the deadline for getting the whole mechanism moving on that election is really Monday, but that's a holiday so they think they have until Tuesday to get pension reform, which is -- to get that ready. It's a real mess.

Ted Simons: The house leadership is basically saying the numbers don't work out? Did they check on that?

Jeremy Duda: People have checked on this over and over and over again. They feel it's not going to work the way it's supposed to, it's not going to work soon enough. It's long term 20-year plan but the big difference here between the technical education stuff is that the opposition probably is not enough to sink this. I think pretty much the same thing is expected to happen in the Senate. They made minor tweaks to placate only of the opponents. Didn't really happen but all the stakeholders, law enforcement and firefighter unions, Senator Lesko, is on board. It looks like this should get through without much more trouble.

Bob Christie: it's essentially through the Senate, passed unanimously. The house made a couple of minor changes to placate their more conservative members. They voted last night. 49-10. Goes back to the Senate for a final vote, which is 30-0. On to the governor.

Ted Simons: Unbelievable.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Do we expect that vote Monday?

Bob Christie: I would think so. Absolutely.

Mary Jo Pitzl: there's also a political dimension to this as well. As everyone has said this was widely perceived, yes, this is a pretty good idea, it's the best deal we can get, but you put that on the ballot along with proposition 123, now the flan will be we're going to fix two big problems in Arizona by the same time by going to the polls. The supporters of the lawsuit settlement proposition 123 will benefit from having all those firefighters who have a lot of times because of their schedules, proven history of pounding the pavement, knocking on doors and bringing out the vote.

Bob Christie: classroom teachers, firefighters and police on a single special election. They will get the vote out.

Jeremy Duda: Never expect -- expected both to pass, sail through. All the education groups, governor Ducey's office, none of them would be giving they're blessing if they thought there was even a hint of a problem.

Bob Christie: I believe that's the case.

Ted Simons: Jeremy, the idea of a dollar for dollar tax credit in order to take a firearms safety class seems to be gaining momentum.

Jeremy Duda: Yes. This is a new one even for Arizona, which has been a Trailblazer in gun laws. It's run by representative Montenegro. He and other advocates believe this will promote gun safety. People will get the concealed carry permit, most will go through training and they feel this is just going to promote responsible gun usage and more people carrying.

Ted Simons: do we know how much it will cost?

Bob Christie: It could cost up to $2 million. $80 times 3 million adult Arizonans could be a lot of money. The problem is that every time you do one you have to somehow account for it in the budget. Mr. Montenegro says, no, it won't be that much. Not many people will take advantage of it, but if we remember the fields crisis from a decade ago you should be careful with these tax credits.

Mary Jo Pitzl: could this be the tax cut we have been waiting for?

Bob Christie: No. In fact on Monday there are ten tax cut bills, tiny ones, and the big, giant one is still to emerge.

Ted Simons: There is one still waiting in the wings.

Bob Christie: there's a big one. Nobody knows what it is. Very hush-hush. It's being negotiated. Weil see what it is.

Jeremy Duda: governor Ducey has pledged he's going to cut taxes every single year. He's adamant he will do it this year but we're hearing chatter it may not be in the actual budget, had may wait until afterwards to take care of that.

Ted Simons: As far as the tax corrode for firearms instruction, any fight against this?

Jeremy Duda: Democrats feel like Arizona is too awash in guns to begin with. They don't want to promote of all things the idea that people should start engaging in firefights in public. Conservative mantra on second amendment, a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. A lot of Democrats are concerned that every guy carrying a gun is now going to see himself as the good guy with the gun. Someone else pulls a gun, they open fire, who knows who gets hit in the crossfire.

Ted Simons: concealed carry permit. How does that work?

Bob Christie: You don't need a concealed carry permit in Arizona if you're legally able to own a gun. You can carry a gun concealed almost anywhere. You can't go into bars or most public buildings, you can't go into University of Phoenix stadium or the legislature or your school. But this is important for people who travel out of state. There is about two-thirds of the state accept Arizona's concealed weapons permit. If you are going to Utah you want your permit with you. You can't go to California because they don't think our background checks are tough enough.

Ted Simons: the governor made a statement to that effect.

Bob Christie: he may have.

Mary Jo Pitzl: To echo what Jeremy said earlier, the rationale for this from the sponsor is that, hey, better to get people educated so they don't carry a weapon because they can, but you may as well get some schooling.

Ted Simons: Background check to get the permit, 21 and over.

Bob Christie: the question is should the state be paying for it.

Ted Simons: The former lottery director is being investigated. Tony Bouie. It sounds -- is the governor's office cooperating? Could there be a little bit of a -- what's going on?

Jeremy Duda: seems like they are cooperating through their -- the lottery, through their interim director, Kevin, whom Ducey appointed to replace him. They are looking into issues with former director Bouie. What's probably out there is back in December an anonymous person purporting to be an employee set a letter to the Attorney General's office, state lawmakers, media outlets claiming a lot of improprieties by Bouie like using state vehicles for personal use, taking his kids in the car with him, firing people to make way for buddies. Could be the most serious is improprieties with contracts. The A.G.'s office won't say exactly what allegations they are investigating here, only that the lottery is cooperating, handing over documents, but there's issues with the contracts that can be the big one.

Ted Simons: the accusations originally published in new times, this investigation, sounds like the governor's office is working relatively closely. There doesn't seem to be any dividing line.

Bob Christie: you would think not. They asked him to resign. They don't -- this is the first big scandal of the Ducey administration. I think they want to sends a message that they won't allow this on their watch. Mr. Bouie for his part has denied that he did anything wrong. He says there's a lot more to the story. That's all we have heard from him. It's being investigated.

Ted Simons: All right, department of child safety, backlog exists. Never goes away. Now there's an idea of measuring it differently. Maybe have new metrics involved.

Mary Jo Pitzl: well, that's coming from the agency itself. Their argument is that instead of focusing on I think now 13,000 plus cases that have not been looked at, they have been idle for at least two months, instead of focusing on that we should pay attention to closed reports. Every time someone calls a child abuse hotline that creates a rot. Their argument is if we close and often several reports will comprise one case, so their argument is if we start knocking off these reports and closing those eventually we'll close cases. It makes sense. We haven't seen that happen yet, but they have been doing this. They have been touting I think nine of the last 12 months they closed more reports that have come in through the hotline. I'm not sure what that says. Are people not calling as much or are they working really, really fast? But they are closing a fair number of reports. But we haven't seen that result yet. Probably the most important measurement of success, do we have fewer kids in state care. That number hasn't come down.

Bob Christie: one thing they asked the legislature to do this week is ask for a change in the law that would -- that would give them a little ease on whether they actually create a report. They get about 135,000 hotline reports a year. Of those about 55,000 turn into reports. Those have to be fully investigated.

Ted Simons: It sounds as though the two basic issues here if the incident is three years old or more prior to the call or if the call doesn't involve any allegation of current misconduct or current neglect, then, what --

Ted Simons: They don't want to say not investigate it but --

Jeremy Duda: Allow them to use discretion to shuffle that off to the side. If you're getting all these calls that some are three years old, no criminal conduct alleged, no allegation the child is in danger currently. They want the freedom to not add on to this giant backlog of reports and cases that makes it impossible for them to pair down.

it's a prioritization issue. To make that happen they need a change of the law. They got a vote in favor for the first --

Bob Christie: 7-1 but Rebecca Rios, a Democrat, said, you know what? We need to fix the problem of how you can't handle the cases. Let's not do it by changing how many cases go in -- something is going to slip through.

Ted Simons: I just made a sarcastic reference. But that's what got this whole thing started, the idea some of these were off into the distance. Is there a difference now?

Bob Christie: This is the same theme that was used two years ago when the current director blew the whistle on this N.I. thing and it seems like he's just asking to change the rules. Critics could say he's trying to change the rules so the numbers look better. He was brought in to fix the problem in the first place with what you got going.

Mary Jo Pitzl: not exactly the same thing. The director says, look, the NI scandal of a couple of years ago, those reports came in they not we got to do something on these but they were a lower priority. It's very similar but -- his point is that those earlier reports had been -- somebody had taken a look, said we can get you --

Bob Christie: They get 135,000 calls a year, 55,000 make reports. They are trying to take that same number of calls and maybe only make 40,000 reports. What happens to the 10 or 15,000 you've decided don't meet report standards.

Mary Jo Pitzl: that's a big question. At the same time backlog is just this -- thing hanging around the agency's neck when it was created they said we'll get it down to zero. That was supposed have happened last July. Did not happen. Lawmakers are just up to here so they are running legislation that would require the agency to hire a private company to help them march through all these backlog cases. But in the process they are also changing the definition of what is backlog, and that's also we're hearing opposition and push-back from the Democrats.

Ted Simons: Getting a new field goal kicker and moving the goal posts at the same time. Jeremy, overhaul of the Arizona commerce authority. What's this about? What is that?

Jeremy Duda: the Arizona commerce authority is basically the old Department of Commerce but revitalized understand Governor Brewer to this public-private agency in vogue across the country. Now governor Ducey wants to overhaul it, put his own fingerprints on it. He would be taking a number of functions from different agencies and combining them into what he would call the governor's economic opportunity office. With the GEO, Arizona on geek squad as the governor's chief of staff put it, compile a lot of metrics to show how competitive Arizona is and how competitive cities in Arizona are on tax structure, regulatory regime, that kinds of thing. This would one give businesses an idea how much it will cost them to open up a business or relocate. The other thing is this is going to provide a template for the governor to say, well, we need to cut this tax. We need to get rid of this regulation. Both are big priorities of governor Ducey. This will give them some official rationale to say compared to Texas or South Dakota or wherever we're not very competitive on this. We need to get rid of it.

Ted Simons: you have the geek squad but you another faction for marketing purposes.

Bob Christie: Correct. The commerce authority and department of tourism right now combined get about $50 billion in state funding. Not all that is direct. But that's what they spends. But they don't have all the tools they need to do that marketing. They don't work together very well. They want to collocate those two groups along with Arizona-Mexico commission which does cross-border marketing. In-house, which is -- not sure what they do. They want to combine all those things and all of them pull from this governor's economic office for metrics so they can make better use of the marketing that the state does.

Ted Simons: So there still will be an Arizona office of tourism, still a DES, still a DOA, still Arizona-Mexico commission, just a little bit of everyone will company less into this thing.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Into this happy place where they can sort of work collaboratively to make sure they are sending out a unified message and covering base.

Ted Simons: And it will be a happy place, Jeremy? Discouraging words will not be heard I imagine.

Jeremy Duda: presumably not. Everyone is supposed to be happy, holding hands, most importantly coordinating their marketing and sales strategies.

Ted Simons: is this something that has to be approved by the legislature?

Bob Christie: there's a big overhaul bill for the Commerce Department. There's this new industrial development authority which is supposed to basically help businesses get lower income loans without the state putting cash in the game. Some cities and counties use this to help draw folks. So that will be part of it. They are going to draw from the labor department and from the economic security department some of their numbers crunchers to provide the support to the big -- it's very complex.

Ted Simons: It's almost going to have to be higher to figure out what the heck is going on.

Bob Christie: Sandra Watson will be running this operation.

Ted Simons: last question before we go, Is there a thought down there, this goes back to -- do the House and Senate get along down there? Are there different tracks?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes.

Bob Christie: There are. There was great drama we talked about with technical education school districts and with the pension this week. It just shows that you have 90 people in the legislature, 30 on one side of the courtyard, 60 on the other. They all have their own agendas and sometimes they don't play well together.

Mary Jo Pitzl: you often hear the upper chamber being the Senate, the lower chamber being the house. There's a lot of ego. The house does extend to be more raucous than the very sedate Senate. The Senate looks down on the house as Junior high.

Ted Simons: All right, well, I guess I'll let you go back to school here. Thanks for being here. We appreciate it. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll take a look at how the local commercial real estate market is shaping up for this year and we'll learn about a an art restoration project at the herd museum. That's Monday on "Arizona Horizon." that's it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thanks for joining us. 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 - Arizona Republic Capitol Reporter, Bob Christie - Associated Press, Jeremy Duda - Arizona Capitol Times

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