Journalists’ Roundtable: Education sales tax, teacher protest, school safety plan

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Local journalists discuss Arizona’s latest news including the extension of the education sales tax, the effect of the teacher protest and Governor Doug Ducey’s school safety plan.

Education Sales Tax

Prop 301, which is a 0.6 percent sales tax increase that is use to fund education, was extended for another 20 years by the legislature. The passing occurs after teachers march at the capitol. Ducey wants to be known as the “education governor” so there was already pressure for him to stop talking and start acting.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services says this move makes the most sense for lawmakers. If they had brought this issue to the ballot, it would have become voter protected and they wouldn’t be able to tinker with it in the future.

The fight for teacher pay doesn’t end here. Extending the sales tax only helps to maintain the status quo. Arizona is still dead last when it comes to teacher salary. Fischer says it’s good to take the win, but now it’s time we go back and make the argument that we’re still not paying teachers enough.

Teachers Protest Low Pay

Around 300 teachers showed up to the capitol last Wednesday to protest low pay. It resulted in nine school having to be closed.

Fischer believes the students had a huge hand in making sure something gets done. It includes students who are advocating for all different kinds of issues.

“Students are becoming radicalized in a way I haven’t seen since the 1960s,” Fischer says. “Students have realized that we have power.”

Governor’s School Safety Plan

Ducey laid out some of his ideas for a school safety plan. The governor is doing his best to walk down the middle, but by doing that he isn’t receiving full support from either side.

“The left isn’t satisfied because they don’t think it goes far enough,” Luigi Del Puerto with Arizona Capitol Times says. “What they want to see is a universal background check and a ban on bump stocks. We have a very aggressive gun rights group in Arizona, and they’re saying this is a dumb idea. You have these two extremes attacking the governor’s plan.”

While it’s difficult to do so, there is already a precedent in place that takes away the right to own a firearm if someone has a history of dangerous mental health issues, Fischer says. The question now is, who has the right to label someone as being so mentally unfit that they are unable to own a gun? Judges currently have that power, but the matter is being argued.

Voucher Expansion Vote

Del Puerto says he wouldn’t be surprised if by next week there’s a bill that repeals and replaces the voucher expansion law.

Fishcer says that this could have a negative affect for Republicans if it goes to the ballot. Those who don’t want to spend money to send children to private schools will look at the people who did, including the governor, and that could be a deciding factor at election time.

Energy Initiative

The current energy initiative being looked at contains a $100 penalty for corporations who don’t meet the new energy standards. Many say that the penalty is merely a slap on the wrist and are calling for it to be taken out of the initiative and be replaced.

“We are nervous in some way that this will be voter approved,” Dianna Nañez of the Arizona Republic says. “What will voters do? Will they want us to be energy efficient? The problem here is the $100, and everybody seems to agree. Everyone thinks it’s laughable. If we can run it and get it in, there’s no teeth anymore.”

Fischer points out that for some companies it may even be cheaper to pay a daily $100 fine compared to the cost of trying to comply with new energy regulations.

“The corporation commission staffers believe this striker that the governor just signed today is unconstitutional,” Del Puerto says. “It’s unconstitutional because it limits the commissioner’s ability to levy fines and go after the public service corporations that they regulate.”

TED SIMONS-COMING UP NEXT ON ARIZONA HORIZON'S JOURNALISTS' ROUNDTABLE, LAWMAKERS PASS A 20-YEAR EXTENSTION TO THE STATE'S EDUCATION SALES TAX. THIS AS TEACHERS AGAIN GATHER AT THE CAPITOL TO PROTEST AGAINST LOW PAY. THOSE STORIES AND MORE, NEXT, ON THE JOURNALISTS' ROUNDTABLE.

Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions of the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS- GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO ARIZONA HORIZON'S JOURNALISTS' ROUNDTABLE. I'M TED SIMONS. JOINING US TONIGHT, DIANNA NANEZ OF THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC, HOWARD FISCHER OF CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES. AND LUIGE DEL PUERTO OF THE ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES. LAWMAKERS YESTERDAY PASSED A 20-YEAR EXTENSION TO THE STATE'S EDUCATION SALES TAX, IT WAS A MOVE THAT SEEMED DEAD IN THE WATER EARLIER IN THE SESSION, BUT SAILED THROUGH THIS WEEK AND IS EXPECTED TO BE SIGNED BY THE GOVERNOR. What the heck happened?

DIANNA NANEZ- I think teachers happened. The public happened. A governor that runs on education happened. It was a TRIFECTA of issues at the same time and a governor saying this is the time. It was a timing thing.

TED SIMONS- School districts happened too.

HOWARD FISCHER- The school districts came out in favor of the governor's plan for capital. I think it came down to what Diana is saying. Not only this, but the gun issue. You have a rising from the bottom. Coupled with that, you have the two nicest and most moderate republicans in the house, polling folks together, not twisting arms, doing what they do and focused on keep it simple, do this, and they finally got folks together to say this makes the most sense. If it's approved at the ballot, then there's voter protection and you can't maneuver the way the money is handled.

TED SIMONS- It seemed as though it popped out of nowhere.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- Leaders from both Chambers have been talking about this for a month. They started the conversation and decided that this is the best course of action. Politically, this is the right course of action for -- first of all, it's the right policy move. This removes a fiscal cliff the schools would have faced in 2021. It provides schools certainty. Policy wise, this is the right course of action. Politically speaking, it's the right course of action for the governor and Republicans. Here's why, if this didn't happen this year, it's likely to see an initiative or effort to see this put on the ballot on the ballot this year which means that the governor is going to be running for reelection at the time there is a ballot proposal saying, let's pass the tax or extend this tax and provide our teachers the funding they need.

HOWARD FISCHER- And it's important because if there is one thing the governor is vulnerable on, it's education. For all of his talk about how much we put in, we are still on a per-student basis below where we were a decade ago. 80% of the budget is going for this, but we keep enacting tax cuts saying we can't rescind those. If there is a vulnerability issue with students out there, this is it.

DIANNA NANEZ- And the vulnerability issue with the public. It's an election year. That's all that matters, the voters and the public. The issue is, you have teachers making a case locally and nationally applying the pressure. When he comes in and has an argument that you are supposed to be the education governor but what have you done for us lately, this is something he can say. That said, immediately though you have the call in moment, In tears, I'm a retired teacher, teacher shortage is a real thing. This gives us a chance to talk. This maintains the status quo. Is 49 and 50 okay?

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- That's precisely the point. If this is not done legislate ily, if the Republican controlled legislature doesn't manage the issue, who knows what you will see on the ballot this year. There was a poll that asked voters if they would be supportive about the referral. It couldn't be just a sales extension. You might see an expansion of the tax .6 of a cent to a full cent or more. There is a property tax thrown in there somewhere. This allows the legislature to manage this issue, and Yarborough is correct, that allows him to tinker with it going forward.

TED SIMONS-Interesting word.

HOWARD FISCHER- When the president was explaining his vote he said perhaps this isn't the most brilliant word but he has a valid point. I was here in 2000 when they put the original measure on the ballot. What do we need to get the vote? Character education bought votes. There is like $73 million for the universities. There is money for school safety, for the community colleges. If in fact, the state's highest priority is teacher pay, $667 million coming in now, and 386,000,000 to teacher salaries. Maybe we should take it away, even from the universities. There is a legitimate argument to be made if this is our highest priority, let's make it that.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- This contains a provision for debt funding that was passed. It's expiring in 2021, the tax is supposed to expire. Now it's shifting the money into teacher pay.

TED SIMONS-Which means the 1% raise now becomes 2%.

HOWARD FISCHER- Or 3%. You could have an 18-dollar a week raise for teachers in 2021.

TED SIMONS-You referred to this earlier, democrats saying this extends the status quo. I'm imagining if there is a lot of concern along the lines, yet still, 2/3 vote needed, got it, democrats voted for it. Was there pushing and shoving and rambling going on?

DIANNA NANEZ- No, because at the end of the day, its' a step in the direction everybody wants, and that's a rare thing, so you ride the moment.

HOWARD FISCHER- Also part of it, the school districts have been telling lawmakers, look, if we have to cut funding 2020, we have to cutback now. The democrats said, the proverbial bird in the hand kind of thing. Take what you can get now and then you can go back to make the argument that you are still 49th and 50th.

TED SIMONS- Get what you can now and worry about it later.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- For democrats, it's a case of I am not satisfied with the bill, but I vote yes. They have to vote yes. They have to vote yes because as chuck told a reporter, you can put this on the ballot. Who knows what happens at the time this is on the ballot. It could be the public is not as amiable.

HOWARD FISCHER- Which is the same reason they settled the lawsuit, taking prop 123 money. You never know what voters do what will court will do.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- It provided the schools the certainty they need right now.

DIANNA NANEZ- Let's stick on the idea about democrats and where were they and what were they thinking? This is a win/win. This is Arizona saying we have breathing room. Now we still lobby on the 49 and 50. That hasn't gone away. For them, that was the bottom line. That's where we saw the case immediately made. Now here is the other part of that. What if they had not voted for it? Are you sympathetic to the public that said I just thought you wanted an increase?

TED SIMONS-Before we get off this, did the antitax governor approve the tax?

HOWARD FISCHER- On a legal sense, yes, to the extent that the original tax was going to go away, this is a new levee. There are colleagues that made the argument that he violated the antitax pledge. First of all, he's always said he would favor extension, though he's used terms like revenue stream or something like that. The other piece of it, in 2000, there was 20 years, but never sold as it's going to go away. The tax Doug Ducey made his name with as a treasurer was sold as a three-year temporary tax and then it would go away. What was brought up he campaigned with was not an extension of that.

TED SIMONS-That is the 20-year cap, Luigi.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO-Yes, it is good for another 20 years. There is a legitimate debate in my mind if this is a tax. On the one hand, the governor and allies would say people are not paying extra or more taxes. They are maintaining what they are paying now. There are those. I'm in this camp of tax increase. It is supposed to expire in 2021. You are bringing it back up. Now, the fact that there is a 2/3 vote requirement in this bill tells you this is a tax increase. If it's not a tax increase, there would not be a 2/3 vote increase. In terms of increase, prop 204 sold this as a tax increase. How we pointed out earlier, who remembers a 20-year tax among the public? Maybe not a lot. It's a political context but also in my mind, a legitimate debate as to whether this should be a tax increase or not. It's a 2/3 vote so in my mind it's a tax increase.

DIANNA NANEZ- You have a typical of a tax increase, but this is what a Governor of our state, a conservative state like Arizona knew, education is the one issue that nationally you can go ahead and say, is this a priority or not, and will we fund it?

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- Americans for prosperity fiercely opposed to tax increases pretty much gave legislators an out. They told lawmakers, your scorecard you put out every year, you can recover if you do certain things our way on other bills.

TED SIMONS-Teachers protested against low pay, 300 teachers, west valley schools closed because of this. Did that factor into the fast tracking of the education tax?

HOWARD FISCHER- It's a rounding error. I think they recognized next Wednesday there is another plan for a teach in and to the extent that this continues to bleed, it's a piece of it. I believe it was more of the students, the students on the gun issue, but also specifically on this issue saying, you are affecting our lives. Students have become radicalized in a way I have not seen since 1960s. Please, no jokes about my age at the moment. Students have realized, we have power. We may have started with the guns in parkland, but they realize, this affects us, and we are going to make a difference.

TED SIMONS-I thought it was interesting it was on the same day a tax cut is considered.

DIANNA NANEZ- You have a Ying and yang. The students are seen this Saturday at the capitol. The reality is that you have teachers that went out there and nine schools closed.

HOWARD FISCHER- And the teacher who put her pay stub on the internet, for all of the talk of teachers are well paid. Wait a second. Here's what I'm getting paid. That made a difference.

TED SIMONS-You made a comment on the governor's school safety plan. The March tomorrow. The reaction, it seems as though a lot of folks are not excited about his plan.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- Which is typically what you see happen on a controversial issue. The governor proposes something, and you have liberals and then conservatives or rather liberals when it comes to gun rights, conservative ones, ones that want to restrict gun rights a little bit, they look at the proposals, and they are not satisfied with it. The left is not satisfied. They don't think it's far enough. They want to see a universal background check. A ban on bump stocks, and the gun right lobbying, we have an aggressive gun rights group in Arizona saying this is a dumb idea. You have two extremes attacking the governor's proposal which is trying to straddle -- walk the fine line if you will.

HOWARD FISCHER- The weak point to me is the question of background checks. The governor made a big stink including this week about a database 2/3 populated. When a Federally licensed gun dealer required to run it through there doesn't see a problem, gun gets sold. The flaw, we spend $600,000 a year for three years to fix the database but allowing a prohibited possessor, including a stop order judges can issue, can go around the corner to a Tucson gun show and pick up a gun.

TED SIMONS- Unlicensed dealers.

HOWARD FISCHER- That's the point.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- The governor has made several concessions to groups that want some type of action to try to prevent mass shootings at schools. The proposal he has put forward is substantive in terms of funding for mental health, the stop order how mentioned, gaping holes you can exploit. The fact of the matter is, if you look at the mass shootings we have had at schools, the guns were bought legally at Federally licensed dealerships or gun stores, and the shooting in Florida, for example, the guy had called out the FBI, they complained about him, and the stop order, if this were in place, a lot of people think this could work.

HOWARD FISCHER- Even in terms of Jarred Loughner, the guy that shot Gabriel Gifford’s. A stopgap order allows the court to temporary stop the order.

TED SIMONS- Who says you are not of sound mind to have second amendment rights.

DIANNA NANEZ- We saw those in Florida say we tried to help. How often have we seen, I never knew this kid had this issue?

HOWARD FISCHER- Let me come back to the issue here. There are procedures in state mental health code. If I can find out -- Ted's crazy. I can have you locked up and evaluated. You lose the second amendment right forever.

DIANNA NANEZ- But it's very difficult to do.

TED SIMONS-Considered by judge and police and others.

HOWARD FISCHER- The judge becomes, it's the same thing on the mental health thing. It's a judge who decides this. There is due process. There are temporary orders of protection. It would be a judge who makes the ultimate decision.
DIANNA NANEZ- A judge makes the decision. Fine. The governor comes out and says, look, I'm trying to find a compromise, move forward. We have a judge who will decide these things, however, at the end of the day, there will be a huge national March on Saturday. When you put those people out there and they say, but this is what they need. You have faces of the students and what is the proposal going to look like after Saturday?

TED SIMONS- We have to move on. Quickly, how much of what the Governor wants will get through the legislature?

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- I think substantive parts will.

TED SIMONS- I want to move on. Voucher expansion, referendum on the ballot, 6-0 vote. Folks don't want the expansion the legislature passed. It's now there. It's there as it stands. Is it going to stay there, or will the legislature say, we are changing a couple of commas, moving a couple of words and you have to start over.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- I would not be surprised if we see a bill next week that repeals and replaces the voucher expansion law. I cannot imagine Republicans and their consultants and strategists allowing this to go to the ballot and allowing the people to vote on this particular issue.

HOWARD FISCHER- It's not just voting on this issue. Let's assume you don't want more dollars going to help kids in private and parochial schools. You go to the ballot and say I'm here to vote no. Who are the people that voted for this? Who is the governor that signed it? Let's vote against him to. House speaker J.D. Meznard is speaking about "improvements" to the bill.

TED SIMONS-Repeal you think. Repeal and replace?

HOWARD FISCHER- Not just repeal.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- He's not amenable to just a repeal. Perhaps early as next week a proposal to repeal and replace it. The thing about this is, there is an ongoing debate whether a referendum is made and is successful against the law. The question is, the ongoing debate, is it voter protected? Can you make any law surrounding the particular issue?

TED SIMONS-This is headed for court, is it not?

HOWARD FISCHER- Maybe. Rejecting something the legislator did I don't think is voter protected. If this is referred to the voters, and the voters were to uphold this that becomes voter protected. That's where it becomes ugly.

TED SIMONS-Something else that could go to a court is the energy initiative. The house provides a bill to protect utilities. You have to have a certain amount of electricity portfolio by 2030, 50% by 2030. That will likely be on the ballot, correct?

HOWARD FISCHER- You have to have 225,000.

TED SIMONS-It's likely on the ballot. The legislature says fine, if you get caught doing the wrong thing, a hundred bucks or something?

DIANNA NANEZ- They are trying to do what we are talking about. We see this on the horizon. We are nervous this will be voter approved. We are looking at the signatures. Little by little and nervous of the voter ballot initiatives. What will they do? They want energy efficiency. It's the hundred dollars. Everybody seems to agree. Everybody thinks it's laughable. It's not even looked at as a slap on the wrist. If we can end run it, there are no teeth marks.

HOWARD FISCHER- APS, state run utilities, put this together, unisource, Grand Canyon co-op -- they want to say, you require us to do this. It's cheaper for us to pay fines, even $100 a day than comply with this. It becomes a way of ignoring it.

TED SIMONS-Your question, is it headed for the court?

HOWARD FISCHER- It's headed for the courts. Of course, it's headed to the courts. They are putting this into the Constitution you have to have a mandate. Can the legislature statutorily say if you violent the Constitution, it doesn't matter?

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- Here's the thing, corporation commission staffers believe that this striker that the governor signed today is unconstitutional. It's unconstitutional because it limits the commissioner's ability to levee fines and go after the public service corporations that they regulate. So Bob Burns suggested this idea. He said, well, you know what? We are going to go fine the companies. We'll let them sue and see what happens. It might be that you have an action made by the corporation commission against APS.

TED SIMONS- Is the corporation commission going to do that, Luigi?

HOWARD FISCHER- Now we are down to Bob burns v. the other four.

DIANNA NANEZ- Which has been a long time now and where has that gone?

HOWARD FISCHER- Every governor, when they were legislators said we'll impose limbs on power. Then they protect their power. They are protective of the power of the office.

LUIGE DEL PUERTO- Not only protective. They have won politically and in court when their authority over rate making has been challenged. You have -- maybe Bob burns v. four other commissioners, you might see that. I think the commissioners would be protective of authority and say it's up to us to regulate entities.

HOWARD FISCHER- There is one other thing, the argument made at the legislature yesterday, people will be confused. They are too stupid to fully understand. I don't question that a $12 million campaign can do a lot of razzle-dazzle. Not that APS won't do it on the other side.

DIANNA NANEZ- When the message is you are too stupid to understand this will raise your rates, that's a real slap.

My message is, we have to stop. Good to have you all here. MONDAY ON ARIZONA HORIZON, A CONGRESSIONAL DEBATE BETWEEN REPUBLICAN DEBBIE LESKO AND DEMOCRAT DR. HIRAL TIPIRNENI IN THE RACE FOR CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 8. CATCH THE CANDIDATE DEBATE, MONDAY AT 5:30 AND 10:00, HERE ON "ARIZONA HORIZON." TUESDAY, WE'LL DISCUSS A NEW BILL THAT WOULD PUT LIMITS ON THE STATE'S CLEAN ELECTIONS COMMISSION. WEDNESDAY, PULITZER PRIZE WINNER GILBERT KING TALKS ABOUT HIS NEW BOOK ON THE HISTORY OF CIVIL RIGHTS. THURSDAY, CONGRESSMAN RAUL GRIJALVA WILL JOIN US IN STUDIO. AND FRIDAY, IT'S ANOTHER EDITION OF THE JOURNALISTS' ROUNDTABLE. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend. ¶ ¶

Dianna Nañez: Arizona Republic
Howard Fischer: Capitol Media Services
Luige Del Puerto: Arizona Capitol Times

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