Legislative Update

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A reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times will give us a mid-week update on the state legislature.

Ted Simons: Pension reform and some strong words from education chief Diane Douglas topped the legislative update. Joining us now is Jim Small of the Arizona Capitol Times. Good to see you, thanks for coming in. Diane Douglas, boy, strongly worded message against a bill in the legislature. What does this bill do?

Jim Small: So this bill -- last year there was obviously the fight between Diane Douglas and the state board of education and there was a brokered compromise bill that would have defined some of the roles, what the state board can do, what the superintendent can do. Bill had has the support of the governor's office, of Diane Douglas, it died in the legislature. In that rush at the end there was opposition and it never got a vote. So this year there's a bill coming back where they have said we're done playing nice. This bill didn't work last year. We have become mired in lawsuits against each other. We're just going to put forth legislation that will essentially take a lot of the power explicitly give it to the state board of education and essentially task Diane Douglas and the department of education with carrying out the decisions of the board. The bill's going to be heard in committee tomorrow morning in the Senate. That statement you are referring to, she put out a statement against the bill sponsor, Senator Jeff Dial from the Chandler, Ahwatukee area, she essentially called him a good for nothing liberal who supports common core and does not like -- essentially someone who lied to voters said he was against common core when he ran for office, now that he's in office he supports it and wants to allow the state board of education to overturn what she called victory over -- [audio not understandable]

Ted Simons: Those are among the nicer things she said. She was repulsed, shocked, this is anti-voter, anti-democracy, anti-children, one of the worst bills I have ever seen. Diane Douglas is no shrinking Violet. We don't expect her to sit back and say, okay, but that's still pretty strongly worded stuff. Jeff Dial is a Republican. I'm not sure how much you can hang the liberal tag on him.

Jim Small: She's certainly not the first to hang the liberal tag on her. He sided with Governor Brewer on a number of issues including expansion of Medicaid. She's not the first to fire that kind of a shot at him but this was definitely the kind of statement you don't see often in politics.

Ted Simons: Right.

Jim Small: that being said for Diane Douglas we saw a year ago when governor Ducey intervened in the firing of the state board of education employees she put out a statement about him that frankly makes this one look a little bit timid.

Ted Simons: Pocket of charter school people, that sort of thing. The future of this bill?

Jim Small: It remains to be seen, looks like it will probably get heard. It's on the agenda to be considered tomorrow morning. We won't know for sure whether it gets that hearing until it starts and the chairwoman Sylvia Allen says yay or nay. She told one of my colleagues she thinks it probably will get heard.

Ted Simons: OK, pension reform from the state regarding first responders. We did a story on this yesterday. Senator Lesko has an idea, she was surrounded sounds like by every single person in the Senate is for this. What's going on in the House?

Jim Small: The House -- it's unclear what's going on in the house. About three hours before this press conference to announce this landmark negotiated deal with public safety unions and the governor's office and everyone else to try to fix this pension system and right the ship, get it going in a good direction the house held an emergency stakeholders meeting where they invited most of the stakeholders to the table to hear presentation about what they didn't like about the bill, the problems, shortfalls they thought it had and potentially I think give window into what maybe sort of changes if there's a competing bill that is going to come forward. Indications are there probably will be, what that bill would look like.

Ted Simons: The bill in the Senate is splits the cost between the employee and the city, caps pensions at $110,000 a year and increases time on the job before retirement. It sounds like someone may have a problem with one of these things and they're nosing around the House to see if they can get it fixed?

Jim Small: A little bit, I think to be clear all those changes are for new employees. Employees hired of a July 2017. I think that's one of the concerns is that there are not changes necessarily to the existing employees. There's a constitutional issue with doing that, the legislature tried and the courts rejected it. But one of the main components of this plan is that for these new employees they have the option of kicking in for either a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k), where you get -- you and the state put in a certain amount and you invest it, or a hybrid plan between that sort of a model and traditional pension where you get a defined benefit where every month you know you'll get X number of dollars. There's some concern that maybe in that plan not enough people are going to choose the 401(k) style option which is where the savings are realized from the state end. If those savings are not realized then this whole proposal, the math just stops working. So I think that's one of the things we may see addressed by the house.

Ted Simons: But pension reform will happen?

Jim Small: We don't know. The issue is a year long negotiation to get to this Lesko package of bills. This was not just taken upon lightly. This was months and months of meeting, lots of back and forth, lots of times it looked like nothing would get done. The fact that you were able to get the firefighters union, Andy Biggs, the governor's office, the reason foundation, a libertarian think tank that has gone after public pensions. If you can get them to agree on something is astounding in a lot of ways. So the idea is-- Debbie said yesterday she's open to changes to the plan but only if every one of other players agree to it. She's not going to kill this deal to mollify a couple of people in the house. If a couple of those people are now leadership that presents a problem how you get it from the Senate to the house to the governor's office.

Ted Simons: Interesting. So much going on here. We'll probably talk about it on roundtable Friday. Good stuff. Good to have you hear, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

Jim Smalls: You bet.

Jim Small: reporter for Capitol Times

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