A reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times will give us a mid-week update on the state legislature.
Ted Simons: Public safety, pension reform and tax credits for attending firearms safety classes are among the major issues of the state legislature this week. Here with our weekly legislative update is Hank Stephenson of the "Arizona Capitol Times," good to see you.
Hank Stephenson: Thanks for having me.
Ted Simons: I imagine those are big issues but let's start with another one. The joint educational districts, career in technical education, 30 some odd million dollars cut. What's the latest?
Hank Stephenson: So the legislature seemed poised to restore that cut. It's a late cut, won't go into effect until July, but they really need to reverse those cuts by mid-May in order to give schools time to budget with that money still left in there. You know, there was a whole lot of talk about it since last year and especially since the legislative session kicked off in January. Lawmakers, you know, rank and file lawmakers were ready to do this on day one, restore these cuts. The opposition has been mostly from the top and the House and Senate kind of leadership there, has been somewhat opposed to it. Seemed like last week the dam really broke. There was a whole new bill introduced, tons of cosponsors on the House version. Everyone had this big Kumbayah moment in the House where they unanimously approved this restoration. Today was scheduled for a vote from the full Senate. At the very last minute, Senate President Andy Biggs left the floor and just kind of didn't do it. Everyone was left wondering what's up. From what we heard between that happened and when I left the office this afternoon to come over here, seems like Governor Doug Ducey called Senate President Andy Biggs and said don't send this bill to me before you approve the budget. It's not uncommon for a governor to not want budget bills before the actual budget. But this is one of those issues where this game of chicken could be very interesting. The legislature has more than enough votes to override a veto if they do decide to send it to the Governor and they do veto it.
Ted Simons: He's not necessarily against the legislation, just doesn't want to see any of that legislation before they send a budget. We've seen this before.
Hank Stephenson: It's a pretty standard line for governors. There's a lot of different ways this could shake out. One of the simplest ways would be Ducey would just let it slide and maybe write a letter saying hey, next time don't do this, because the pressure's been there for a long time. Lawmakers are really ready to do this. They have to some degree a timeline.
Ted Simons: If the governor gets his way and the Senate President comes back and says we're going to hold off for a while until X, Y and Z, the budget's taken care of, is there a chance the fire gets low and all of a sudden something wouldn't pass? Or is it so strong -- it could survive, couldn't it?
Hank Stephenson: Yeah, there's no chance really it's going to go from 30 votes and 60 votes in the Senate and House to not be enough to pass. It's unanimous now. So maybe a few people decide we don't need this money or it could be better spent but there's no question of it getting out of the legislature. The real question is this wasn't included in Ducey's see's budget proposal at the beginning of the year. He had an alternate plan to give them $30 million over three years on kind of a grant situation.
Ted Simons: Exactly.
Hank Stephenson: So it'll be interesting to see who blinks first on this one.
Ted Simons: A little bit of drama there, a little drama with this public safety worker pension. The idea was to change the, the city has been clamoring for this. We saw Debbie Lesko come out with a big idea, the entire Senate was happy with it, it goes to the House.
Hank Stephenson: And it's languished.
Ted Simons: What's going on?
Hank Stephenson: There are a couple of competing theories here. House Appropriations Justice Justin Olson has been the most vocal opponent of this piece of legislation, and also the House majority whip has been pretty vocal. Seems like a few people at the top who don't want to see this thing move through, whereas the rank and file members, both the Republican and Democratic caucus are on board with this. If it comes up for a vote it'll pass. The question is when will they put it up for a vote? They need to do it by Monday, February 15th, in order to give election officials enough time to put the constitutional part of this on the May special election ballot. If it's not voted on by then the whole thing is moot at least until November, when voters would have a chance to approve it then. It's not scheduled during the House committee of the whole house votes tomorrow. They don't work on Friday. Unless something changes we're cutting it down to the wire here.
Ted Simons: We've got about a minute left here. Again, what is the opposition to this? Again, the entire Senate is in support, the majority in the House is in support, who's got the problem and what's the problem?
Hank Stephenson: Well, I think the problem is a couple of groups, Goldwater Institute, the Atra, big tax research group, very powerful at the capitol, say essentially it doesn't go far enough. This isn't going solve the problem he and projected savings aren't going come to fruition, things like that. The fact that they have got a deal most everyone agrees is something, if not everything, is amazing. It's such a hot-button issue between union groups and the lawyers and the Goldwater group and all these fighting factions at the capitol. The fact that they were able to come together, at this point the real opposition is politics, petty bargaining and things like that.
Ted Simons: Still, all in all, this is a slam dunk to pass if it ever gets a shot, correct?
Hank Stephenson: Absolutely. The Governor's on board, he will mount a campaign to vote yes on prop 123, a vote yes on this. It's not a question of whether it can be done. There are a few key people that are going keep from it happening.
Ted Simons: Thanks for coming.
Hank Stephenson: Thank you.