Legislative Update

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Join us for the latest news from the state capitol in our weekly legislative update with a reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll take a closer look at the budget passed overnight by state lawmakers. And we'll hear from the author of a new book on the Granite Mountain hotshots who lost their lives in the Yarnell Hill fire. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "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," I'm Ted Simons. Attorney general mark Brnovich today issued a formal legal opinion saying that regulators at the state Corporation Commission can question company executives about donations to political campaigns. The opinion means regulators have a legal right to ask APS if the utility secretly funneled money to candidates running for the commission. The question was asked by Commissioner Bob Burns who initially requested and then demanded the books be opened.

Ted Simons: And Arizona Wildlife officials are taking heat for euthanizing a bear. It was asked why the bear couldn't have been relocated. The state's policy dates back to 10 years ago when a Tucson girl was killed by a bear that had been relocated. The policy calls for adult black bear males to be euthanized if they are exhibiting unacceptable behavior.

Ted Simons: Here with the budget details is Jim Small of the "Arizona Capitol Times." Good to see you again.

Jim Small: Thanks for coming in after what had to have been a late night for everyone involved.

Jim Small: Definitely it was.

Ted Simons: All right. When last we talked the budget was kind of hung up on this education impasse. Sounds like something happened. What happened?

Jim Small: Basically what happened was these issues had to deal with policies enacted that were going to result in effective cuts to K-12 funding. What happened was they inserted language to basically hold these schools harmless. They added some money in to try to make it up. One of the cuts was a change in how they fund student enrollment. There is a one-year lag or are you using it based on the current school year. There were some schools that were going lose money. They estimated it would be about $30 million. They added $30 million into the budget. There was also a concern there may be a much larger impact on schools. In order to prevent there still being schools that got hurt, they put in language saying the intent is for us to hold all these schools harmless. If additional losses are suffered we will pull money out of this fund and we'll be able to pay for that to make sure schools aren't out any money.

Ted Simons: It sounds like the deal pretty much delays the current year numbers for another year. Sounds like this is a punt.

Jim Small: It's kind of it. The policy still technically goes into effect. The schools get to throw it into effect but they don't get to -- they don't have to take that financial hit this year. It does pump back down the road at least one more year.

Ted Simons: The thing was passed last year, it's got to take effect sometimes, right?

Jim Small: Theoretically, yes. I think it's probably going to be an argument for next year for this particular issue. I think the other one was small charter schools, they get a little bit of a bonus for being small schools. It's to help defray some of the costs that might be solved by economies of scale. Another similar issue where they basically let the policy go into effect but backfill the money to make sure the schools aren't hurt this year.

Ted Simons: Last year a little fussing and fighting toward the end, the Senate said we're done, hang around if you'd like, we're going home. It was awfully odd at the end of last year. Anything similar this year?

Jim Small: So far, no. They are going to push hard for sine die and try to get done this week. My guess is that's tomorrow. We'll see how late they have to be here again. Probably till 100, 150 bills that need to move from desk to vote to the other desk. There's a lot of pieces that are up in the air right now. We'll see, you know, what happens. I don't anticipate that happening but no one saw that coming last year. It was kind of a historic thing to see one chamber unilaterally decide, okay, session's over. We're done working as the case was last year, or as last year, kind of sitting and waiting around. If you want to do your own thing, do that, we're going home.

Ted Simons: As far as tax dropouts businesses, 8 million this year, 16 million a couple years from now, that went through, correct?

Jim Small: Yeah, that was basically an $8 million pot the Governor pushed for. And then this $16 million pot for bills that everyone agreed on but they are separate pieces of legislation going through today and tomorrow in theory.

Ted Simons: When we say everyone agreed, this is the total party line vote?

Jim Small: Everyone meaning House leadership, Senate leadership and the governor's office.

Ted Simons: I know it was maybe an alternative to cutting state services and such. Was that given any serious consideration at all?

Jim Small: No, not really. There was a deal in place. At the end of the day that's kind of what rules everything. And you know, there were -- there were a couple of points where the Democrats brought something up and Republicans were like, well, that's not a bad idea. We'll look at it later. We won't look right now, we have a budget deal. We're not going change that by ourselves, add this amendment on there that's not agreed to by the other parties. We will advance the budget as it is. But maybe we look at it in the off session and try bring it back next year.

Ted Simons: KidsCare, the health insurance program for low-income families and kids did not make it in the budget.

Ted Simons: Now this passed the House and now all of a sudden it's not good enough for the House anymore. Votes were thought to be there in the Senate. What's going on?

Jim Small: Essentially, once again, this gets back to what is a part of the budget deal and what is not. The KidsCare provision was not in the budget deal. We did believe yesterday there were going to be a couple of amendments offered by Republicans to try to put this into the budget, one in the Senate and one in the House. Representative Regina Cobb from Mohave County was going to offer it in the house. We found out in the afternoon she wasn't going to. I talked to the governor's office and they explained the pros and cons and the fact that this was a budget deal. She'd heard from the governor's office and from members of her own caucus this could blow up the entire deal, do you want to be responsible for that by putting it up. If they had put it up for a vote and it came from a Republican and there was a concerted effort behind it, there's a decent chance it would get on the budget.

Ted Simons: I kept reading and hearing this would blow up the budget. It would not cost the state any money. How it would blow up the budget?

Jim Small: There would have been a number of other Republicans who would have fallen off the budget theoretically. We've heard there were a half dozen or so House Republicans that would have jumped off and not voted for. That could have been problematic.

Ted Simons: They were so against this principal program that cost the state nothing, they were willing to sacrifice everything to say no?

Jim Small: That was certainly the argument put forward and one that won over Representative Regina Cobb and Jeff Dial, he opted not to offer.

Ted Simons: And the Supreme Court will be expanded, it looks like?

Jim Small: Yeah, the bill is on the governor's desk to do that. To increase the number of justices from five to seven. And there's a lot of negotiations during the session about doing that issue. You know, about the Supreme Court didn't like it, they didn't think it was necessary but they said if you guys are going to push this kind of a bill through, we want to make sure we get some things in return for basically signing off and not opposing something we don't like. They were fighting for pay raises and restoring some funding that was cut and new funding for I.T. services to replace some of that aging infrastructure. They got some of what they asked for. The pay raises for judges were about half of what they were seeking. They did get some money for probation services and for some juvenile cases. But they got about half what they were seeking.

Ted Simons: And the money would not have been available had not they agreed -- they were caught. It was where blackmail and horsetrading kind of coalesce?

Jim Small: You could look at it that way. That was kind of the -- why the court got involved. Typically the court does not lobby and doesn't do those kinds of deals. But I think in this situation the Chief Justice saw that this was probably going to get passed and thought, well, if it's passed we should make sure we get something on our end for it.

Ted Simons: We'll talk much more about the budget on the "Journalists' Roundtable" Friday. Good to you have here for our legislative update. Thank you.

Jim Small: You bet.

Jim Small

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