Education funding needs to be addressed “now more than ever”


TED SIMONS: COMING UP NEXT ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," REPUBLICAN LEADERS AT THE CAPITOL TALK ABOUT THEIR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE CURRENT LEGISLATIVE SESSION. AND WE'LL LOOK AT THE IMPACT OF CONGRESS-WOMAN MARTHA MCSALLY'S U.S. SENATE BID. THOSE STORIES NEXT, ON "ARIZONA HORIZON."

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TED SIMONS: GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO "ARIZONA HORIZON." I'M TED SIMONS. ARIZONA SENATOR JEFF FLAKE GAVE A SCATHING SPEECH TODAY AIMED AT PRESIDENT TRUMP'S REPEATED ATTACKS ON THE MEDIA. THE SPEECH COINCIDED WITH THE PRESIDENT'S SCHEDULED RELEASE OF SO-CALLED FAKE NEWS AWARDS.

JEFF FLAKE: We are told by Twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice quote for the most corrupt and dishonest media awards. If beggars believe that an American president would engage in such a spectacle, but here we are.

TED SIMONS: FLAKE MADE SPECIAL NOTE OF PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DESCRIPTION OF THE MEDIA AS THE, QUOTE, "ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE."

JEFF FLAKE: It is the testament to the condition of our democracy that are own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase "enemy of the people" that even Nikitia Khrushchev forbade choose telling the Soviet Communist party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose to quote, to annihilate such individuals, on quote, who disagreed with the supreme leader. This alone should be the source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party, for they are shameful and repulsive statements. No longer can we compound the attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a death-ear on assaults on our institutions. And Mr. President, an American president that can't take criticism who must constantly deflect, distort and distract who must find someone else to blame is charting a very dangerous path. A congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.

TED SIMONS: The White House dismissed today’s SPEECH BY FLAKE AS A PLOY FOR ATTENTION. WE'RE OVER A WEEK INTO THE 2018 LEGISLATIVE SESSION. WE'VE HAD THE GOVERNOR AS A GUEST AND WE'VE ALSO HEARD FROM DEMOCRATIC LEADERS AT THE CAPITOL. TONIGHT, REPUBLICAN LEGISLATIVE LEADERS TALK ABOUT THEIR PRIORITIES FOR THE SESSION JOINING US NOW IS SENATE PRESIDENT STEVE YARBROUGH AND HOUSE SPEAKER J.D. MESNARD. Good to have you both here.

STEVE YARBROUGH: Good to be here.

TED SIMONS: Top priority for the republic caucus. What is the big deal for you guys?

STEVE YARBROUGH: Increased K-12 public education funding.

TED SIMONS: Seems to be a big deal for the past few years, past few sessions.

STEVE YARBROUGH: More so now than ever. I think we are working our way out of the great recession and it's time to do everything possible to improve funding.

TED SIMONS: How much can be done? How much can be restored?

STEVE YARBROUGH: Well apparently quite a bit, even more than I anticipated. I didn't realize that the governor would be as effective as he hopes to be by finding agency efficiencies to help increase the restoration efforts.

TED SIMONS: Governor says cuts to agency efficiency and just general growth. Good enough for now. Good enough for now?

J.D. MESNARD: Certainly, he's mapped out over the next five years a way to restore all the additional funding that was cut during the recession. I have been advocating for that and I think it’s a great step forward. It really just sets the course. Education has been a priority over the last few years. We’ve been able to restore areas where we have scaled back. This is the last big piece that needs to be fixed.

TED SIMONS: You have $1.1 billion shortchanged over the last ten years. How do you get more of that money back where many argue, it belongs?

J.D. MESNARD: One step at a time. Whether it was Prop one, two, three, additional resources we funded in the budget last year, the plan over the next five years -- there's always going to be a desire to do more. We also have to balance it out with maintaining a structurally balanced budget. 80% of the additional revenue spending items proposed in this budget are going to K-12. I think that’ll be a priority shared with a republican legislature.

TED SIMONS: How do you get that money back? That’s a lot of money, $1.1 billion shortchanged over ten years. What do you do?

STEVE YARBROUGH: I think the key thing at this point is hopefully the economy continues to grow and perhaps pick up the pace. That's going to be the key to that. If in a year or two or three we fall into another recession, then we really have a pickle.

TED SIMONS: Prop 301, it's coming up for expiration end of 2020. You have a chance to get that on to the ballot. Governor sounds like he supports an extension. Sounds like he supports that. Maybe not necessarily now, but he supports it. What are your thoughts on prop 301? Should it be extended? Should it be increased that sales tax?

STEVE YARBROUGH: I think the consensus is likely to be that it should be extended. I think the challenge will be to try to do something more than the .6 of a cent as it is currently. I cautioned my friends who are desirous to do it that they need to be really careful and not over play their hand and not try to go do something substantially more. I think the key is to get the .6 accomplished and then if they want to do more, go for it.

TED SIMONS: Do you want to do more?

STEVE YARBROUGH: I’m not going to prejudge that call. I don't know what more is. I'm on record of supporting the extension although I would like to look at the pots and see if after 20 years we might be wiser with a few of those distribution points.

TED SIMONS: What do you think about prop 301? Extending. Increasing.

J.D. MESNARD: I share the same view. I think it will be extended. I don’t think it will be in 2018. It’s going to be a long conversation as to what an extension looks like, especially if you’re making it permanent. If we can get to where additional assistance been restored where we can get back to where we were before the great recession, then I don't know if an expansion is necessary. If it is, one wonders why prop 301 back in the day, which was sold as this is the solution apparently wasn't the solution. If we can get there using other source of money and people talk about renegotiating gaming compacts and other avenues we should explore before we get a tax increase.

TED SIMONS: I think back in the day prop 301 was considered a solution because it was a solution until lawmakers started cutting and taking out some of that money. Obviously, we are moving the goal posts here. We don't know what the future will bring. But, you got two chances opposed to one to get this on the ballot for the people to vote on it. Why wait until the last minute?

J.D. MESNARD: I actually think 2020 in terms of who shows up to vote, it's a presidential election, is better for its chances. Even though you would like to think you have two chances, but if the first one fails, that’s actually really harmful to an extension. I think there is enough agreement on an extension that there isn't the same kind of danger that you might see as a high stakes game waiting to 2020. My fear would be if you push it prematurely, you actually create damage for an extension.

TED SIMONS: Some business leaders have come out and said there simply is no sustainable education revenue without an increase in this tax without additional revenue period. Do they have a point?

STEVE YARBROUGH: I suppose there's a point there. There’s always more revenue is always desirable and there is always more we can do, but I think that we just have to be really thoughtful and really careful here that we don’t end up throwing the baby out with the bath water and end up with no extension at all. I think we need to move the extension probably in 2020 and then there is always the opportunity to come back for more then.

TED SIMONS: If business leaders and others somehow get something along the lines of an increase of prop 301 on the ballot, how would you respond? Would you support such a move? Would you support just keeping it extending it as it is makes it to the ballot?

STEVE YARBROUGH: If it went to the ballot and it was just extending, I would be fine with it although I think we could do better with how the distribution might work.

TED SIMONS: How would you feel if outside the legislature, this gets on the ballot?

J.D. MESNARD: I support an extension. Whether it happens in 2018 or 2020, I'm less concerned about it other than what I said before, which is the risk if it goes before it’s ready because I do think you’re going to have folks who are going to be supportive of an extension, but do want to address the pots of money or some elements that were in prop 301 that we would improve or reform moving forward. There’s talk about even being broader tax policy conversations, searching for a grand bargain. If you push prematurely, my concern would be you get nothing. I support an extension and I think the best timing is 2020.

TED SIMONS: An extension, but what about an increase?

J.D. MESNARD: I would be resistant to an increase until we have explored all other options. I'm in agreement that we need additional revenue but I'm not convinced a tax increase is the best way to get that additional revenue, whether it would be economic growth, whether it would be efficiencies as we found within state government as well as the gaming compacts that folks are putting out there as a possibility for some serious dollars.

TED SIMONS: Serious as to the tune of $1.1 billion?

J.D. MESNARD: Maybe not to the point of $1.1 billion. You can't really go backwards in funding. So it’s moving forward.

TED SIMONS: Well it's restoration of what was lost so are you saying growth could cover all of that?

J.D. MESNARD: I'm not saying growth will cover $1.1 billion, but again that’s from the past. What I am saying is that moving forward, we can restore where we were before the recession hit and might be able to find additional revenue sources not coming from a tax increase.

TED SIMONS: I want to move on here. Water. I’m keep hearing water is going to be a big issue at the capitol. The governor's state of the state address, I thought his conversation regarding water was vague at best. I don’t know what exactly he’s looking. Do you know what the governor wants regarding water issues?

STEVE YARBROUGH: I have some idea Ted that some of the things that are likely to be included. Basically I have deputized senator Griffin to carry the water for the senate and the speaker similarly with representative bowers. My anticipation is that there will indeed be an Accord between the two of them in the governor's office and we'll see some healthy progress. I don't know that we're going to completely redefine state water policy in this next session, but I think we'll see some progress.

TED SIMONS: Arizona groundwater laws, do they need to be reconsidered?

STEVE YARBROUGH: We need to do some things to try to solve the issue about lake Meade water levels. The homebuilders have some legitimate concerns about ground water storage issues and how that's going advanced.

TED SIMONS: Are we going to hear about the hundred year guarantee? Is that going to come back? The Governor has already vetoed that once.

STEVE YARBROUGH: You mean reducing the one hundred year guarantee. I would be surprised if that happens.

TED SIMONS: Would you be surprised as well?

J.D. MESNARD: I would be surprised but I think that makes the point that's why he wants to engage on the water issue. You don't want the narrative spreading that Arizona is out of water. If you hear a county like Pinal, whether or not it actually has a 100 years worth of water is called into question, you have serious concerns from a development standpoint and an economic growth standpoint. I do applaud the governor of taking a step in the right direction. You don't want to realize you have a water problem all of a sudden. At that point it's too late.

TED SIMONS: There are reports that there’s a problem between the state water department and the Central Arizona Project board regarding lake Meade levels specifically a drought contingency plan. What happens is if and when, and scientists will tell you when, water drops hits and all of the sudden we have all sorts of contingencies put into place. Is there a problem between these two agencies?

J.D. MESNARD: I don't think it's any secret that there's drama there. When you have different jurisdictions that were trying to manage an issue that’s a common issue, it can be a challenge. Same thing exists with state and federal government or a state and city government. I think part of the discussion, part of the purpose of the governor's effort is to get the discussion going. As the president said, I suspect we’ll find that common denominator in water policy. After the session, I don't think it ends. I think it becomes a longer conversation into the future.

TED SIMONS: Some critics are saying that this all sounds very interesting, especially the fight between the state and the CAP board and all that sort of business, but a lot of lawmakers have no idea what is going on regarding water in Arizona.

STEVE YARBROUGH: Well I'll confess, Ted, that's substantially accurate. I think I took one water law class in law school. I don't think it made me an expert at all. But we do have some people that are knowledgeable. I think we'll look to those folks to serve as our leaders.

TED SIMONS: And you are confident in them?

STEVE YARBROUGH: I am.

TED SIMONS: Are you confident things are getting done the way things should be done with this sexual harassment investigation hanging over everything?

J.D. MESNARD: We are making progress. We hope within two weeks have a report out the findings of an investigation that began a couple of months ago. We have been working as quickly as possible. With the session full speed ahead, we have to juggle both of those things. I'm hoping the larger conversation is happening here and across the country leads to positive social change and greater awareness of what should or shouldn't be said or done in the workplace. With the treatment of women in particular, my opening remarks during the opening session were to that end. We'll pick the pieces up to the extent things got broken and move forward.

TED SIMONS: When again is this?

J.D. MESNARD: If I put out there an exact timeline, things change. I'm guessing in the next couple of weeks we have resolution.

TED SIMONS: So then in the next couple of weeks we’ll figure it out then you take it from there. Once they release the report, it doesn't just end right there.

J.D. MESNARD: I suppose it could, but probably not. Right now, we are on a fact-finding mission. This is an impartial attorney interviewing a lot of people, probably going to be hundreds of pages of reports. Based on that finding, we'll respond appropriately.

TED SIMONS: Are you finding the dynamics in the Senate off than in previous years because of this?

STEVE YARBROUGH: No, not really. Other than a couple of member vacancies, the senate has the same comfortable feeling to have last few years.

TED SIMONS: Alright. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it. COMING UP ON ARIZONA HORIZON, WE'LL LEARN MORE ABOUT CONGRESSWOMAN MARTHA MCSALLY'S U.S. SENATE CANDICACY.

While Gov. Doug Ducey decided to focus on the opioid crisis and prison recidivism in his state of the state address, education funding is the main topic of discussion among state lawmakers.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough says education funding is the issue of the year, now more than ever. According to Yarbrough, with the governor’s support and encouragement, it’s possible that real progress may be seen this year, and if the economy continues to grow and “perhaps pick up the pace,” the state will start to see more funding go towards education.

The discussion on funding can’t be had without mentioning Prop 301. The proposition was passed in 2000, and it raised the sales tax 0.6 percent so the additional revenue could go to K-12 funding. The proposition is set to expire unless it is approved for an extension. Yarbrough is in favor of the extension, saying the only challenge will be the argument to increase sales tax to generate more funding.

Republican House Speaker J. D. Mesnard believes if we can get funding back to what it was before the great recession, then an extension won’t be necessary. Mesnard says he can see an extension taking place but not this year.

Ducey was on Arizona Horizon last week to discuss some of the issues addressed in the State of the State including education funding.

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In this segment:

Sen. Steve Yarbrough: Republican Senate President
Rep. J. D. Mesnard: Republican House Speaker

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