Capitol Update

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Get the latest in what’s happening at the state capitol from state senate president pro tem Debbie Lesko and house speaker pro tem T.J. Shope.

TED SIMONS: TONIGHT: A NEW FEATURE ON ARIZONA HORIZON. WE PUT A SPOTLIGHT ON THE STATE CAPITOL WITH WEEKLY UPDATES FROM LEGISLATIVE LEADERSHIP. TONIGHT, WE START WITH REPUBLICANS, AND WE WILL ROTATE WEEKLY WITH "DEMOCRATIC" LEADERS GETTING THEIR TURN NEXT WEEK. JOINING US NOW IS SENATE PRESIDENT PRO-TEM DEBBIE LESKO AND HOUSE-SPEAKER PRO-TEM T.J. SHOPE. GOOD TO HAVE YOU BOTH HERE. THANKS FOR JOINING US. LET'S GET STARTED WITH SENATE SIDE HERE WITH YOUR IDEA REGARDING THE AUTOMATIC LEVEE OF PROPERTY TAX DESEGREGATION FUNDING. GIVE US AN IDEA WHAT THIS IS ABOUT AND WHY YOU WANT A CHANGE?

LESKO: THERE ARE 18 SCHOOL DISTRICTS OUT OF 240 IN THE STATE THAT GET EXTRA MONEY FOR WHAT'S CALLED DESEGREGATION OR OFFICE OF CIVIL RIGHTS. IT DATES BACK TO 30 TO 40 YEARS AGO SOME TIME OF COMPLAINTS FILED ON CIVIL RIGHTS OR SEGREGATION, BUT THESE TAXPAYERS CONTINUE TO PAY FOR SOMETHING THAT COULD -- THAT REACHES INTO THE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS, AND WHAT I'M DOING IS SAYING, LET THE VOTERS DECIDE IF THEY WANT TO CONTINUE FUNDING THIS DECADE OLD ISSUE NOT THATS SUPPORTED BY A COURT ORDER.

TED SIMONS: JEOPARDIZING $200 MILLION IN DESEGREGATION FUNDS, CORRECT?

LESKO: ALL OF THE PEOPLE THAT CAME TO TESTIFY ABOUT THIS BILL IN MY COMMITTEE SAID THE VOTERS WOULD SUPPORT IT. THAT'S WHAT MY BILL DOES. IT ALLOWS TO VOTERS TO DECIDE AFTER THE SCHOOL DISTRICT STATES THEIR CASE OF WHY THEY NEED THIS MONEY. THE VOTERS AND WHO ARE TAXPAYERS FOOTING THE BILL GET TO DECIDE. IF THE VOTERS DECIDE TO KEEP THE FUNDING, THEY GET TO KEEP IT. IF NOT, IT PHASES OUT OVER FIVE YEARS WHICH I THINK IS FAIR BECAUSE THE OTHER 200 SCHOOL DISTRICTS DON'T GET THIS FUNDING.

TED SIMONS: WANT TO GET YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS AS WELL, BECAUSE THE IDEA, NOT NECESSARILY, CRITICS WILL SAY THIS IS NOT THE BEST TIME TO BE JEOPARDIZING ANY EDUCATION FUNDING, LET ALONE $200 MILLION WORTH.

SHOPE: OBVIOUSLY, I HAVE A VERY INTERESTING VIEWPOINT ON THIS AS A SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER AND A SCHOOL DISTRICT FOR 8 YEARS. THIS IS A DIFFERENT BILL, A LOT OF FOLKS DON'T UNDERSTAND A LOT OF THE NUANCES. THIS IS PUTTING IT BACK TO THE VOTERS TO MAKE THE DECISION, MUCH LIKE AN OVERRIDE, MUCH LIKE A BOND ELECTION AT A SCHOOL DISTRICT, I AGREE WITH SENATOR LESKO HAS SAID HERE, IF YOU ASK THE FOLKS THAT CAME TO THE COMMITTEE, AND I WATCHED TODAY, I THINK THEY WOULD SAY WE'LL SUPPORT THIS IF THE DISTRICT CAN SAY THIS IS WHAT WE ARE DOING WITH THE MONEY. THE REALLY IMPORTANT THING TO KEEP IN MIND HERE IS THAT THESE ARE ADDITIONAL TAXES THAT HAVE BEEN LEVEED ON FOLKS WITHOUT INPUT FROM THE VOTING PUBLIC.

TED SIMONS: A LOT OF FOLKS CAME DOWN TO TESTIFY SAYING THIS IS THE WRONG TIME TO JEOPARDIZE EDUCATION FUNDS. HOW DO YOU RESPOND?

LESKO: TO THE OPPONENTS, THERE IS NEVER A GOOD TIME BECAUSE RIGHT NOW THEY GET ALL OF THIS MONEY. FOR EXAMPLE, PHOENIX UNION DISTRICT, WHICH IS NOT UNDER A COURT ORDER GETS $2,100 PER STUDENT PER YEAR EXTRA OVER AND ABOVE A NEIGHBORING SCHOOL DISTRICT WITH THE SAME DEMOGRAPHICS AND SAME PROBLEMS. I WOULD SAY THERE IS NEVER A GOOD TIME MAYBE ACCORDING TO THE OPPONENTS TO BROACH THIS ISSUE, BUT WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THIS. WE HAVE TO GIVE THE TAXPAYERS AND THE VOTERS THE RIGHT TO DECIDE IF THEY WANT TO CONTINUE PAYING THIS.

TED SIMONS: IS THERE EVER S GOOD TIME TO TALK ABOUT EXPANDING SCHOOL VOUCHER?

LESKO: ITS ALWAYS A GOOD TIME TO TALK ABOUT THIS.

TED SIMONS: TO EXPAND THIS TO INCLUDE EVERY KID IN THE STATE, THIS IS A SPECIALIZED FOCUSED PROGRAM TO ALLOW FUNDS TO GO TO FAMILIES OF CERTAIN CHILDREN. DO YOU WANT EVERY KID IN THIS STATE, EVERY FAMILY TO USE PUBLIC FUNDS FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS?

LESKO: I WANT EVERY STUDENT IN THIS STATE, EVERY CHILD TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO CHOOSE THE BEST EDUCATIONAL OPTION FOR THEIR CHILD. WHAT MY BILL DOES, I BELIEVE IS A WIN/WIN. IT NOT ONLY GIVES PARENTS ANOTHER CHOICE OF WHERE TO SEND THEIR CHILD, BUT IT SAVES TAXPAYERS, $4,300 PER YEAR PER STUDENT. THE WAY I CAME UP WITH THAT AMOUNT OF MONEY, RIGHT NOW WE SPEND ABOUT $9,500 PER STUDENT PER YEAR ON PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS THAT INCLUDES TOTAL FUNDING. AVERAGE ESA SCHOLARSHIP IS $5,200 ON A NON-SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD. SO WE'RE SAVING MONEY PLUS WE'RE GIVING PARENTS AN OPTION.

TED SIMONS: HOW MUCH IS THE STATE SPENDING HOW MUCH, $9500 FIGURE, ARE WE TALKING FEDERAL FUNDS ARE WE TALKING BONDS? HOW DO YOU FACTOR THAT IN THERE? YOUR CRITICS SAY THIS IS NOT APPLES TO APPLES HERE WHEN YOU THROW THOSE NUMBERS AROUND.

LESKO: I DISAGREE WITH THEM. $9,500 IS THE TOTAL AMOUNT ON AVERAGE WE SPEND PER STUDENT. SO THAT INCLUDES WHAT COMES FROM THE STATE GENERAL FUND, WHAT COMES FROM PROP 301 SALES FUNDS, WHAT COMES FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, LOCAL BONDS AND OVERRIDES. THE TAXPAYERS ARE PAYING FOR THIS. THEY ARE PAYING 9500. ON THE ESA PROGRAM WE HAVE ADDED AN ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THIS PROGRAM. I WOULD SAY THAT THE OPPONENTS ARE WRONG WHEN THEY SAY IT TAKES MONEY FROM PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO PRIVATE SCHOOLS. WE ARE DOING THE SAME THING THAT HAPPENS NOW WHEN A DISTRICT SCHOOL STUDENT MOVES FROM A DISTRICT SCHOOL TO A CHARTER SCHOOL. THE MONEY MOVES WITH THE STUDENT. SAME WILL HAPPEN WITH THE S.A.'S.

TED SIMONS: AVERAGE VOUCHER IS $5,000. YOU WANT TO SEND YOUR KID TO A PRIVATE SCHOOL THAT CHARGES $10,000. WHAT GOOD IS THIS EMPOWERMENT ACCOUNTS? OPPONENTS SAY IT'S FOR RICH FAMILIES. THEY SAY THE BETTER PERFORMING SCHOOLS AND RICHER FAMILIES TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS, NOT THE POOR ONES.

SHOPE: TED, MY PHILOSOPHY IS THAT PARENTS HAVE A RIGHT TO CHOOSE. I THINK THAT MANY OF THEM, AND WE FORGET, I HAVE MADE THE EFFORT AS MUCH AS I CAN, THE PUBLIC DISTRICT SCHOOL IS THE CHOICE FOR THE PARENT. OFTEN TIMES THE PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL IS THE CHOICE FOR THE PARENT. ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I THINK IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO KEEP IN MIND ON THIS ISSUE, WE DO CURRENTLY HAVE A CAP ON THE AMOUNT OF STUDENTS THAT CAN GO AND WE HAVE NEVER REACHED THE CAP. CURRENTLY WE HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO THIS.

TED SIMONS: BUT I BELIEVE SENATOR LESKO'S BILL RATCHETS UP THE CAP UNTIL IT'S NO LONGER IN EFFECT WHEN THE CAP EXPIRES.

LESKO: THE CAP EXPIRES 2020, BUT I'M CERTAINTLY WILLING TO EXTEND THE CAP IF IT'S PART OF THE NEGOTIATING PROCESS. THE THING I WANT TO DISPEL IS THAT THIS IS JUST FOR RICH KIDS. THAT'S NOT TRUE. I ASKED AND FOUND OUT THAT THE MEDIAN PRICE FOR A PRIVATE SCHOOL ELEMENTARY TUITION IS $5,500. IF AN ESA IS $5,200, THAT'S $300. WE ALSO HAVE PARENTS THAT WILL TESTIFY ON MY BILL FROM SOUTH PHOENIX IN A LOW-INCOME AREA. THEY ARE USING ESA'S NOW.

TED SIMONS: WE HAVE TO KEEP IT MOVING HERE. NOW IN THE HOUSE THERE ARE INITIATIVES TO TOUGHEN IT UP, MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT OR TIGHTEN THE PROGRAM. WHAT IS GOING ON OVER THERE?

SHOPE: THERE ARE SEVERAL PROPOSES, SOME OFFERED BY THE REPUBLICAN CAUCUS AND OTHERS BY THE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS. THEY RANGE AS YOU DESCRIBE. MANY OF THEM THAT MAKE IT THROUGH THE PROCESS TO GET OVER TO SENATOR LESCO'S CHAMBER WOULD GO IN THE AREA OF TIGHTENING UP RESTRICTIONS ON PAID CIRCULATORS. ARIZONA HAS JUST TURNED INTO A FREE FOR ALL WHERE WE ARE FOR SALE, IN MY OPINION. WHEREAS -- THE ARGUMENT IS BEING MADE WHAT WE ARE TRYING TO DO IS CURTAIL FREEDOM OF CHOICE AND THINGS LIKE THAT. WE HAVE CIRCULATORS THAT ARE OUT THERE GETTING PAID FOR SIGNATURES TO GO OUT AND GET THINGS ON THE BALLOT. I DON'T REALLY BELIEVE THAT'S WHAT THE CONSTITUTIONAL FRAMERS OF THIS STATE HAD IN MIND WHENEVER THEY CREATED THE PROCESS AND FOUGHT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TOOTH AND NAIL TO MAKE SURE THE PROCESS STAYED INTACT.

TED SIMONS: CRITICS OF THE BILLS, THEY'RE SAY IT'S DIFFICULT ENOUGH TO GET ON THE BALLOT. WHY MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT?

SHOPE: I DON'T KNOW THAT IT'S DIFFICULT ENOUGH TO GET ON THE BALLOT. I HEAR THAT ARGUMENT. IS IT DIFFICULT ENOUGH? MAYBE FOR SOME THEY FEEL THERE ISN'T A TRUE GROUND SWELL OF SUPPORT FOR AN IDEA THAT THEY HAVE TO SPEND A COUPLE OF HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS TO PAY PEOPLE TO GO AND VERY AGGRESSIVELY GET FOLKS TO SIGN ON. I'M TELLING YOU, I THINK THAT'S ONLY ON THE GOOD SIDE OF THINGS. WE HAVE HEARD MANY THINGS IN COMMITTEE AND TESTIMONY WHERE THINGS ARE MORE NEFARIOUS THAN THAT. WHAT WE'RE TRYING TO GO IS MAKE SURE THAT LOOK WE WANT TO PROTECT THE PROCESS FOR TRUE GROUND SWELLS OF SUPPORT ON DIFFERENT ISSUES.

TED SIMONS: LAST POINT ON THIS, AREN'T LAWMAKERS SAYING WE KNOW BETTER THAN YOU, VOTER?

LOSKE: WE NEED TO START TALKING ABOUT IT THAT THE INITIATIVE PROCESS AS IT STANDS TODAY IS NOT MEANT FOR WHAT IT WAS INTENDED TO BE. IT WAS INTENDED TO BE FOR GRASSROOTS PEOPLE THAT ARE IN ARIZONA TO PUT SOMETHING ON THE BALLOT. IT'S TURNED INTO A WHOLE ISSUE WHERE OUT OF STATE MONEY, MILLIONS OF DOLLARS FROM COMING OUT OF STATE INTERESTS TO TRY TO CHANGE THE LAWS HERE IN ARIZONA. LETS TAKE FOR EXAMPLE PROP 206. THAT PASSED, BUT AFTER THE FACT NOW WE SEE NEWS ARTICLE UPON NEWS ARTICLE ABOUT BUSINESSES THAT ARE BEING HURT, ABOUT HEALTH PROVIDERS BEING HURT, THE UNIVERSITIES ARE BEING HURT, SCHOOLS ARE BEING HURT. THESE OUT OF STATE UNIONS THAT PUSH THIS, THEY DIDN'T TELL OUR ARIZONA RESIDENTS ALL THE BAD AFFECTS OF ALL THAT.

TED SIMONS: ISN'T THIS THE SAME PERSON THAT SAID CITIZENS AND VOTERS SHOULD DECIDE WHETHRE OR NOT TO BE TAXED REGARDING DESEGREGATION FUNDS, NOW WE CAN'T DECIDE INITIATIVES?

LESKO: I TOTALLY THINK VOTERS SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO THINGS, BUT I THINK THE INITIATIVE PROCESS HAS BEEN TURNED ON ITS HEAD. ON MY BILL, I'M NOT GOING TO HAVE OUT OF STATE SPECIAL INTERESTS COME OUT OF STAE AND TRY TO INFLUENCE ARIZONA VOTERS.

SHOPE: THE INITIATIVE PROCESS STANDS TODAY. THE REASON WE'RE TRYING TO REFORM IT IS IT'S TRULY UP FOR SALE IT IS UP FOR SALE IN THE SIGNATURE PROCESS AND THAT'S NOT THE WAY IT WAS INTENDED TO BE.
TED SIMONS: GOOD TO HAVE YOU BOTH HERE THANK YOU FOR JOINING US. THIS IS "ARIZONA HORIZON." COMING UP, HEAR FROM YUMA'S MAYOR ON WHAT HE THINKS OF THE PRESIDENT'S PLANS TO BUILD A BORDER WALL.

State Senate President Pro Tem: Debbie Lesko
House Speaker pro tem: T.J. Shope

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