Journalists’ Roundtable

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Join us as three local journalists bring you up to date on the news of the week.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon" -- journalists' roundtable. The governor signs legislation that could withhold shared revenues from cities and towns. And we'll discuss a legislative effort to hold charities liable for refugee crimes.. "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. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon"'s "Journalists' Roundtable". I'm Ted Simons. Joining us Rachel Leingang of the Arizona Capitol Times, Howard Fischer of Capitol Media services and Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix business journal. Governor Ducey signs a bill that threatens to withhold state-shared revenue from municipalities -- we're talking cities, towns. Why are we talking -- what's going on?

Rachel Leingang: This is a point in his state of the state address that there was a patchwork of laws and he wanted to make sure when businesses wanted to move here though would know what they are getting into. They wouldn't be able to have different laws in different places that did not make sense to everyone.

Ted Simons: We're basically saying you do this but -- under certain circumstances.

Rachel Leingang: Right. Any legislator can ask the Attorney General to look at any policy, ordinance at a city and say if it's against state law. If it is then there's a penalty. They can take away state shared revenues if the policy doesn't change.

Howard Fischer: This is the fascinating part of this. We have had these legal fights before. For example, the city of Tucson had its own election dates. The state said you can't, the Supreme Court sided with the cities. We don't like that process any more. We like the idea of any lawmaker going to the A.G., the A.G. saying, you are doing it wrong and we take the money and essentially there doesn't seem to be a real due process. In fact when the mayors of Tempe and Chandler and Havasu city sent the letter to the governor they suggested you do this to us under this lack of due process, we're going to have you in court.

Mike Sunnucks: This is about politics, partisanship and ideology. Republicans in the legislature looking at a couple of cities they view as progressive, liberal, Democrat, whatever you want to call them. Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, Tempe, Sedona. They don't like some of the policies ordinances that they pass. This is another one of these fights between conservatives at the legislature and some of their business allies who don't want regulations and folks that are maybe more moderate at the city level passing various things that businesses in particular and the conservatives don't like.

Howard Fischer: The tricky part is there are certain things that are of statewide concern that the constitution says are left up to the state. You don't have dry counties and wet counties here, for example. But you've got another factor at work. One, there were cities before there was a state constitution. Many of the cities go back to the 1800s. Number two there's a provision in the constitution if you form your own charter you get to legislate on matters of strictly local concern.

Ted Simons: That the Supreme Court talked about that, did they not?

Howard Fischer: They have. That was the issue for example with the Tucson voting. Now, the question becomes the things that the governor doesn't like. Plastic bag ordinance that we'll be talking about. The fact is this Bisbee said, we have a problem with garbage, plastic bags flying all over the place. We want to limit them so we're going to have a program where if you want a plastic bag you have to charge for it. Recycling program, the whole routine. Legislature said, no, Bisbee said we're a charter city, what part of local do you not understand?

Ted Simons: This whole idea of threatening the use of shared revenue, first of all, talk to us about shared revenue. Has this ever been used before as a stick before?

Rachel Leingang: Not that I know of and it's certainly a big deal. 40% of the budget for cities comes from this. This is a huge amount for all the services that we get and for everything that the cities do. They are obviously very scared about it. We pay our certain taxes, sales tax, income tax to the state then the state gives 15% back to the cities. The state really has control of putting it back there. But this isn't the end of it. I would anticipate lawsuits from cities, groups representing cities.

Mike Sunnucks: Absolutely, it's the power of the purse thing. This goes through, the cities obviously will sue. But if they don't win, if though lose this, they will have all this money hanging over them. Are they going to pass a certain ordinance that will annoy or irk a legislator that will go to the Republican legislatures and get them to take money from them? That will be a cost benefit analysis cities and towns have to weigh.

Ted Simons: Again if the idea is you share revenue with the state so cities don't have their own income or sales taxes that are out of bounds, especially the income, if you do that to keep that from happening what's to keep the cities from saying we're just going to do what we gotta do.

Howard Fischer: Exactly. That was the tradeoff. For State shared revenues. The idea was do you want Phoenix having an income tax and Tucson having an income tax. There are some small cities, if you're a bedroom community if the income tax is where it's earned you get nothing. The idea was we'll pool it. Socialistic fashion, heaven help us saying that, and then we'll redistribute it based on population and things like that. If the cities are denied shared revenues, particularly a place like Phoenix, which has the jobs, they will say, fine, we're going to do a 2% income tax and all you people living in Gilbert who work here you will pay the city's income tax and you'll enjoy it.

Ted Simons: Seems like you're talk ago patchwork in one respect but you have that happen you've got a real patchwork.

Mike Sunnucks: If you took this idea to voters who they want to pay their taxes to, their local city, Phoenix, Tempe or Scottsdale, they see fire, roads, sewers, and water and those types of things versus a legislature that has a reputation for going off the reservation and being ideological, a lot of folks would side with the localities.

Howard Fischer: There's tricky bills that we already know in the crosshairs. Tucson for example has an ordinance that says if your gun is stolen you report it to the police. They see that as a public safety measure. The state sees this as a gun regulation. Only the state controls guns. In fact there is already ruling by the prior Attorney General Tom Horne who said that Tucson's ordinance is illegal. Tucson gave them a two-word response. The second word of which is you and the first was not thank.

Mike Sunnucks: Howie's right. This is about some of the wedge issues at some level, guns, immigration, where cities like Phoenix, Tempe, and Tucson have much more moderate to liberal approaches to immigration. You see the meat eaters go after him on this.

Ted Simons: The plastic bag bill that spurs a lot of this on in some respects, that is likely headed for the court because of that whole charter city issue, correct?

Rachel Leingang: Bag ban ban. Last year the legislature passed a bill that would have banned bag bans and also had a ban on energy audits. This year they split those up and passed the bag ban, which was signed into law. The charter city issue is still on the table. Tempe is still really upset about this, particularly Lauren Kube on the city council there. Bisbee has I think just chosen to ignore it, they are continuing with their bag ban. It's still -- the lawsuit didn't go away.

Ted Simons: To be clear these bills are because last year there was concern there were two items on a single --

Howard Fischer: There was essentially a challenge to it by Lauren Kube, from Tempe, and one of the issues that the judge said is you have a constitutional requirement for a single subject rule. We have seen omnibus bills through here. Rather than risk losing that they said, we'll split them up. But as Rachel points out you still have the issue of 18 cities that have a constitutional right to legislate on things of strictly local control. Now, how do you argue that whether the city of Bisbee charges a nickel on a bag is a matter of statewide concern?

Ted Simons: Or Tempe.

Mike Sunnucks: But again it's an ideological thing. The decision to have plastic bag bans in Austin, Texas, Santa Monica, California. You have business interests go down in conservative legislatures and they love to pick on these cities. It's kind of ironic that we have a state that looked to Colorado City what went on with the polygamy sect and didn't do much but they are worried about whether Tempe imposes a ban on plastic bags.

Ted Simons: One more aspect. We have a theme there, a running theme here, Sheriff Arpaio, Bill Montgomery, Clint Hickman all get together, going to lawmakers or making phone calls at least saying give us our money back.

Mike Sunnucks: We got a surplus now. The County took some hits with the budget crisis. They agreed to take on some costs. This is the same thing that you see from the universities, Diane Douglas. We have this big surplus now, well fork some of the money over guys, you got to share some of it. These are all Republicans doing this. Some of them are in better standing than maybe Michael crow or Douglas in asking for this. Interesting to see how the Republicans at the legislature and the governor act with this. These are more their friends than foes.

Ted Simons: Mandatory $4 million to helped the department of revenue. Got to pay, no questions asked. it. 7.2 million to run the department of juvenile corrections. Got to pay it. No questions asked. These guys say we don't even have a say over these departments.

Howard Fischer: The tricky part is the counties. This comes back to the state constitution. Counties are political subdivisions of the state literally created by the state unlike the cities that formed themselves. So while they may be morally correct in terms of saying you shouldn't shove that down to us, they don't have the leg to stand on that cities might.

Ted Simons: But do you think by people like Arpaio and Hickman and Montgomery going to Republican lawmakers and saying, we got the rainy day fund, we got the revenues. Help us.

They have a shot but they are three of many who say we took a big cut and we want them back. The universities are asking for $23 million of the 99 million they lost. Certainly there are tons of people with their hands out now saying we got lean. We did well. Now we have money and we're owed some of it back.

Howard Fischer: One thing to put a cap on this, that's part of the reason we're sitting in the middle of march and do not have a budget. You have a lot of folks saying, we shove one out early last year because we are a billion dollars in debt. We had to sweep everyone else's money. We ended with 325 million surplus. We're about 300 million ahead this year. They are saying what are we going to restore, then Andy Biggs says this isn't real money, and by the way, I need to run for Congress.

Ted Simons: One of the is bills that's raising some eyebrows involves charities and refugees and how charities -- if you help bring a refugee in from certain countries, certain areas, I don't think anyone from Finland is going to be a problem.

Mike Sunnucks: I think they are worried about Muslim countries.

Ted Simons: You think so? Within five years if they commit a crime you're on the hook for it.

Mike Sunnucks: Howie wrote a great story on this. $25 million in insurance if they don't do that they face fines. If one of the refugees commit a crime, Catholic charities, placement services that help refugees get jobs and places to live, they could be liable for this. This is in response to the fight with the Obama administration from Republicans on whether we should accept these refugees from Iraq and Syria.

Howard Fischer: That's the key. Remember last fall our governor along with other republican governors sent a letter to the administration saying please don't send any more refugees. Doug Ducey did not say I'm going to stand by the border like this, but essentially the message was you have to consult with us. There is no legal way to block the Obama administration putting people where they want to put people. Unable to block them we have this series of little bills, an audit of refugee agencies, one about how much the state is paying. This is really bizarre in the sense that not only A, these agencies like Catholic community services, they help for about six months, the other four and a half years you don't even see these people. B, there is no such insurance available. You can't call your state farm agent, say, I would like $25 million in refugee insurance. C, it's generally contrary to public policy to ensure for someone's criminal acts. So it may not even be a question. This is just another --

Ted Simons: We're not only against public policy, I don't think that's even legal, is it?

Howard Fischer: Can you hold someone liable for somebody else? You can't necessarily hold them liable. Can you require them to purchase the insurance? The way they get this is they say for every day you don't have the insurance we'll fine you $1,000 per day per refugee. Let's say we're -- [speaking simultaneously]

Mike Sunnucks: These are charities. These are nonprofits with little budgets.

Mike Sunnucks: This is red meat for Republican bases. You see exit polls about Republican voters and how they feel about Donald Trump's call on a temporary ban on any Muslim coming into the country. There's a lot of support for that. So when they're at the base level, there's support for things like this.

Ted Simons: Is there support for things like this?

Rachel Leingang: Not from the charities. That's for sure. They are absolutely not equipped for this sort of thing. $25 million insurance. Their budgets are not -- they are not allowing for that. No way that they can. We haven't heard much from the public. I would imagine because it's going after charities who haven't really done anything wrong in this whole respect, it wouldn't go over well.

Howard Fischer: Here's the other reason you haven't heard much from the public. The charities found out about this the day before it was introduced. This is something that despite the fact we have been here since January introducing bills, this was just a little surprise.

Ted Simons: One more point. You wrote the story. It's got everyone's attention here. This is for only refugees from high risk countries. Defined high risk countries.

Howard Fischer: I think Mike did that. The term Muslim is about -- there's two categories. Countries that are sponsors of terrorism. That's a specific list including Syria, Iraq, Somalia is on that list. But other high risk countries could be anyone homeland security says might be a problem. You're talking middle east countries. I don't think Finland is going to be on the list. If you want to relocate those Finnish --

Ted Simons: You have to watch out for those fins.

Howard Fischer: I know, they're going to slap you with --

Ted Simons: They'll wait four and a half years; they'll pull something on you there.

Ted Simons: Let's move on here. Veteran pollster Bruce Merrill, friend of the program, a consummate professional, has got a Merrill poll out regarding Doug Ducey's approval ratings. If we could look at some of the numbers here, Rachel, these are relatively high numbers for the governor.

Rachel Leingang: Definitely a solid showing. 52% approve of him or strongly approve of him. 14% had not decided. The rest didn't approve. So that's a good showing. More than half of people are generally okay with what he's doing.

Ted Simons: Howie, have we seen governors look this good this early?

Howard Fischer: I think there have been some periods in there I think that Jan Brewer after signing 1070 picked up a lot. I think going back to the Bruce Babbitt, who had a lot of bipartisan support, you saw this. A lot of this is you have a very active P.R. staff by our current governor to say the least. I can't -- pick up my email without an in case you missed this, planting stories and a lot of happy news sort of stuff. The fact is the economy is on the upswing. Is that because of the Ducey policies or could that be a certain president from Kenya, if you will, and his policies. So we get into the issue, obviously Ducey is taking credit.

Mike Sunnucks: He has throughout the campaign he's done a good job of bridging the wings of the Republican Party. We're seeing these blown apart at the national level. But he's been conservative enough to keep the social conservatives concerned about guns and those types of things happy, and the business community likes him because of his experience at Cold Stone Creamery, his talk about economic development, and his talks to them about the image of the state trying to avoid some of these past controversies. We talk about some of these bills causing a stir here but we haven't had the 1070 or 1062 things that brought us into the national spotlight. That's a big issue for the business folks. He's bridged both wings of the GOP.

Howard Fischer: And he is the advertiser in chief. The old marketer from cold stone creamery comes out. He's around talking about things. Heck, the state of the state, look how much better we are than California. Never mind that California has those high wage jobs and everything else and that the jobs we're landing here are call centers and things like that, he's very good at selling. If not the steak at least the sizzle.

Ted Simons: Speed of business Howie.

Howard Fischer: Exactly.

Mike Sunnucks: The education thing, a lot of moderate voters, business folks, really worried about education spending, cuts to schools and the cuts to colleges. He comes back with prop 123, they seem to be on board with that. I think you have a lot of folks that are more moderate see him as the best we can do in terms of the environment here in terms of how conservative we are.

You guys at the Capitol Times caused something here with speaker Gowan's travel curiosities. And now it sounds like Democrats are calling for a full-blown ethics investigation of the speaker of the house. Will they get it?

Rachel Leingang: Probably not. The ethics committee isn't that active in the first place so this would be a big leap to go after the speaker. Plus he already asked the Attorney General to investigate him so I would bet they would wait to see what happens from that before doing anything.

Howard Fischer: There's another factor at work. I talked to David Stevens who heads the ethics committee. He said generally thinking if something is a criminal matter they defer. When Bob Robinson was accused of stealing a campaign sign, there was an ethics complaint. He said, no, no, no, leave that to the County attorney, the city attorney. What you've got here are potential criminal violations in terms of misuses of public funds. The other interesting thing which is going to be fascinating when Gowan asked for his own investigation, which didn't cover the other people the Democrats want, it had to do with vehicle use. There's another little subset which has to do with the fact that he's running for Congress. He went up to Flagstaff one day last August, said he was there on state business yet tweeting out photos of him running for CD1. He keeps saying I'm the speaker of the whole state which seems to be mainly in CD1. And that's going to be an interesting one. Now you have interesting election law violations.

Ted Simons: I think the Democrats are also asking to look at the fact that he's tasking his staff with his congressional duties.

Rachel Leingang: They had the staff attorney ask the A.G. for this opinion in part, should he be doing that. Is that part of what someone who works for the state is staffed with -- this is more of a personal matter if he's using money -- using money for a campaign to use these cars to go around the state. It doesn't apply to state business is what they're saying.

Ted Simons: So unlikely we will see anything. Okay. Before we get out of here, you're chomping at the bit. Don't know where you're going to see Cruz tonight.

Mike Sunnucks: Cruz and Glenn Beck.

Ted Simons: The Clintons will be here probably Monday.

Mike Sunnucks: Bernie Sanders again. Feelin' the burn.

Ted Simons: You've got a busy weekend.

Absolutely. Wouldn't think we got this much attention but with Rubio out of the race, this is a chance to see if a Cruz versus trump somewhat one on one race because Kasich isn't here whether that changes the dynamic. Cruz can close the gap on trump because the pre-election polls have shown trump with a lead. Bernie Sanders, who is probably done in terms of nomination, putting a lot of resources here. He's had a number of stops. He's still got money coming in so he's going to stay in the race, see if he can change the dynamic and get some of the ASU and U of A kids to turn out for him.

Howard Fischer: And it's important because even assuming Hillary Clinton walks into the convention with the number of delegates that she need, he would have a role. A prime speaking engagement. He could have a role in terms of choosing the vice president. The role in terms of of the platform. He's obviously trying to push the party further to left even as Hillary is going, wait a second here.

Ted Simons: It will be interesting to see how many voted early put votes in for Rubio and Bush and all sorts of folks.

Howard Fischer: This always becomes a problem with early voting. We have very liberal early voting laws. By the time you go to the polls you say, wait, I didn't want to do that.

Ted Simons: Alright, good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. That's 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.

Mike Sunnucks: Phoenix Business Journal; Howard Fischer: Capitol Media Services; Rachel Leingang: Arizona Capitol Times

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