Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

December 12, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable

  |   Video
  • Local reporters review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Matt Benson - Arizona Republic
Category: Journalists Roundtable

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Ted Simons:
tonight on "Horizon" an update on arizona's economy and when we can expect things to get better. the future of all-day kindergarten is up in the air as the state tackles that and other budget issues. is arizona's preparedness up to snuff? some say "no" that's next on "horizon."

"horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of 8, members of your arizona pbs station. thank you.

Ted Simons :
hello and welcome to "Horizon." i'm ted simons. joining me tonight, matt benson of the "arizona republic", dennis welch of the east valley tribune and mike sunnucks of the business journal. arizona's economy not good. let's get started with that and kind of move on from there. mike, are we seeing any light at any end of any tunnel?

Mike Sunnucks:
no, they're looking at the entire next year not being good. that's the prognostication right now. consumer spending is way down. retail sales are down. car dealerships are struggling. construction and manufacturing continue to struggle. layoffs. it's just not a good environment at all. there was some hope a couple quarters ago that maybe half way through 2009, things would improve. most economists are saying 2009's a wash. it'll be bad. it'll be prolonged. there's continued push for all of the stimulus packages, public works like obama and the governor and phil gordon support, putting money into construction projects to try to roll some money in the economy, create some jobs where the private sector isn't. but they've put $8.5 trillion into the economy, the fed and the treasury department, these folks, rebates, bailouts, buying equity stakes in banks. it's not caught on. consumers are really pulling back.

Ted Simons :
we're seeing cities -- i know phoenix has its major troubles but every city in the valley is seeing some kind of problem?

Dennis Welch:
yeah. take a look at the latest round of phoenix hitting a $250 million budget deficit. even cities like chandler in the east valley for years touted how they budgeted very well and avoided fiscal problems that other cities had experienced for the past couple of years, they announced there's a hiring freeze, potential layoffs. these kinds of things. this is just hitting everybody. hitting everybody pretty hard.

Mike Sunnucks:
phoenix is looking at 1,000 jobs, cutting that. that's if they don't get hit by state share revenue being taken away from them by the state. the mayor is talking about furloughs, voluntary furloughs. we talked about reworking labor deals. they're looking at furloughs, people taking days off to help cut back on the job losses. the one thing he wants to do is keep the construction projects going downtown. at least get money flowing through the economy.

Matt Benson:
as a state, the city stuff -- at the state we're facing short falls, upwards of $1 billion this year. sounds like it may be as much as $2 billion for this fiscal year in fiscal 2010 which starts here this summer we're looking at another two or three additional billion dollars. it's really snowballed and snowballed.

Ted Simons :
are we seeing anything regarding a special session? is that pretty much out of the water now?

Matt Benson:
it's not a 0\% chance but i'd say it's getting pretty low. we're running out of time for one. we're getting into the holidays. sounds like some of the lawmakers don't want to come back the closer we get to christmas. some of them weren't reelected in november so the capitol is not a place they want to be this time of year. you have that issue. you have a governor that's transitioning into homeland security and all of this sort of adds up to -- there's no deal. there's no budget deal!

Dennis Welch:
i was going to say the special session, i mean there may be some mood out there to wait this out until the next governor comes in a lot of republicans feel maybe they can get a better deal out of the next incoming government not that current one.

Matt Benson:
when really this is just a continuation of the inability to come up with a budget deal that we've seen from this set of leaders and this governor over the last several years so this is nothing new.

Mike Sunnucks:
you have to remember, they kind of dreamed well last time. they did all the easy stuff. the raids, the moving money around, the rollovers. that type of thing. They are really running out of options other than maybe going to voters and asking them to raise taxes or roll back some of these proposition protections.

Ted Simons :
let's talk about that and incoming governor jan brewer who spoke a little bit about this on this program. let's go further with this the idea that a tax hike option isn't necessarily off the table. what kind of reverberations do we get down there from that statement?

Matt Benson:
there's been a lot of talks among republicans saying, certainly we hope not. ron gould came out and said, we better not. the republican brand is at stake, he said. we saw some Republican groups that came out this past week saying they don't want a tax increase. i think the free enterprise club put out a statement and the chamber of commerce says this is no time for a tax increase, at the same time, they're facing calamity here, and we are hearing talk that this spring, this could be something that they call a special election for and they put to voters a range of options which could include fees and taxes and just some additional revenue.

Mike Sunnucks:
this shows you how bad it is. jan brewer's a conservative republican and is talking about having to raise taxes. it'll probably be a sales tax increase. republicans tend to go for that more than the business or income tax increase. they wouldn't do it themselves. they would send it to voters and put it to the vote soars they have some sort of out. it is so bad that they're looking at probably maybe a cent. put it towards the budget maybe for a temporary 3-5 years.

Matt Benson:
to that point, it is so bad, we don't know when we're going to hit bottom. you don't want to limit your options. one of the options might be a tax hike. i mean, ask the first george bush about pledging no new taxes or any type of tax increase, we don't know how bad it's going to get so you want to keep all of your options on the table.

Ted Simons :
last point about that option, if a republican legislature led by a republican governor, if they decide to go down that path is it easier for them to achieve than a democrat going through that process?

Matt Benson:
i don't think there's any doubt. If Governor Napolitano was talking about a tax increase, which she has not, she has said this is not a time for a tax increase, but if she were you can imagine the catcalls that we would be hearing. Amond republicans, saying this democratic governor is looking to bail herself out with a tax increase. the fact it's a republican soon to be governor saying it i think makes it a lot more plausible.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think what you'll see is accompaniment with asking the legislature roll back propositions temporarily. the k-12 things that are protected, because they're voter mandated and they can't touch right now. They might do some type of temporary or special session on that to say, look, we can pull these back and try to get that spending in along. the fact they're pushing for a tax increase shows you the dire situation we're in.

Ted Simons :
full-day kindergarten also aiming at that. lawmakers will look at that?

Dennis Welch:
they'll look at that we're expecting well over $200 million to be spent on that. they're going to look at that as a real easy fix maybe to shore up some holes in this budget out there. i mean, it's a program that the governor had to muscle to get it through. everything is on the chopping block.

Mike Sunnucks
:it's popular with the public. it's popular with the parents. it's a danger for republicans. if that's the first thing they focus on, that starts to look like the real right wing idealogues are at the head of the saloon. if that's the first thing they go after in the budget, something people tend to like and teachers like, i think that's a little danger for them politically.

Ted Simons :
is that ideologically driven, is that the kind of thing that rank and file, the republican out there says, i don't care but there's a legislature out there, a group that wants all-day kindergarten gone?

Matt Benson:
there's a group that certainly never wanted all-day k and it's certainly at the top of their list to get rid of it. i don't think there's a majority of them that are that sort of ideologue. frankly, i think mike's right that the popularity of this program statewide would give some republicans pause about getting rid of it certainly making it one of the first things they get rid of.

Dennis Welch:
one of the things they might look at doing is there are some republican lawmakers concerned about certain districts out there, certain school areas that don't offer half-day kindergarten programs. they may look at laws that change that up saying you have to offer half-day kindergarten programs that could hurt the overall full-day program. those are based on the number of enrollments.

Ted Simons :
matt, arizona readiness for disaster. new study comes out and said arizona was ranked in a tie forlast. yet it also has, i believe, louisiana ranked in a tie for first. some people are raising question marks about that. first of all, who did this study?

Matt Benson:
robert wood johnson foundation have done this six years. they've done this post-september 11th examination of state disaster preparedness. it's "are we ready or not?" that's the name of it. they're saying arizona isn't ready. they ranked us at the bottom of the barrel with these other five states. and the grade was based 10 benchmarks on things like how do we courier lab specimens? how quickly? and antivirals -- how many do we have in case there's an influenza outbreak? a range of things like that of the 10 benchmarks, we got a passing grade on 5. that's not too good. at the same time, arizona officials and folks with the department of health services say, listen, we got a passing grade. we got a great score from the cdc which is the gold standard on disaster preparedness. we're comfortable with where we're at.

Mike Sunnucks:
there's been a lot of questions about post-september 11th responses to these things. the feds spent this money, doled it out and created this whole homeland security department which our governor will go head. they sent money on it. it's slow to make its way to the states and localities. the communication systems they've tried to connect, that really hasn't gone through in a lot of places. it's not just arizona. it's been a problem in what they're trying to do and how fast they're doing it. i think one thing in the state's defense is that we don't have a lot of natural disasters here. we're not california. we're not louisiana. so our budget isn't as big as those states for those types of things because we don't face those types of big, natural disaster-type situations.

Ted Simons :
i understand if things like evacuation was emphasized. it makes you wonder what are you looking at here? where does arizona play into its own disaster prevention?

Matt Benson:
it's such a huge issue. you know, these groups could only cherry pick things here and there and kind of get sort of a snapshot of where a state stands this doesn't include everything. it does include some important things. for example, when it comes to -- true, we don't get hurricanes and things like that but we're certainly every bit as vulnerable as everyone else to a pandemic flu outbreak, bird flu. arizona has 70,000 courses of this antiviral you would receive if we had an outbreak. 70,000. do the math. there are 4 million people in this state. more than 4 million people in this state.

Mike Sunnucks:
the one concern is that we have the biggest nuclear plant in the country. it's 50 miles west of here. that's a big concern. there's been threats against that. there's been threats against the hoover dam up on by vegas. and so those are targets and so we shouldn't just dismiss this. there are concerns here that the fact that maybe we don't have some of the other resources and pathways that other states have taken.

Ted Simons :
not dismiss this. in turn, how much does this hurt what looks to be the new incoming security chief for these kinds of things for the country? does this hurt the governor?

Matt Benson:
i think it's a black eye. i don't know if that's the right term for it i don't think this does anything like sideline her confirmation. she still has a lot of support out there i expect she'll still sail through, but it certainly isn't anything she wanted.
and frankly, the importance of it, they recognized it was a black mark. they came out with a preemptive press release the day before this report came out trying to suggest all the ways they were prepared.

Ted Simons :
if nothing else, explaining to do.

Matt Benson:
i think that's about it.

Mike Sunnucks:
one thing i think in the governor's defense is we don't always get our fair share of federal money. the bush administration, the federal government have cut back in certain areas, certain geographic areas. we've gotten the short end a couple of times as they kind of focus on new york, l.a. and washington. so we don't always get the type of federal resources to help back up some of these things.

Ted Simons :
let's move on here. the don stapley case. there's new information on who is going to judge the thing. dennis, update us, please.

Dennis Welch:
i don't think -- thomas is complaining that judge kenneth field is conflicted out because he was involved in a somer bar complaint against thomas prior. he said kenneth field gave money to his political opponent in the past. he's biased and can't really hear this case, he says. when it comes to thomas, it's kind of -- he uses this tactic quite a bit saying, look, these judges don't like me. there's a lot of tension there it's not surprising he would really come out and say something like this in this case.

Ted Simons :
this also involves the state bar looking into thomas as well. i guess fields was involved with that, sending in a complaint or a request to look into that along those lines?

Dennis Welch:
at some point, he's like, you know, there's a lot of people investigating everybody, so nobody -- so it seems like no one could really investigate anybody anymore because there's so many complaints flying around there. it's almost impossible to keep track of it.

Ted Simons :
as far as the stapley case is concerned, we're still pretty much where we were as far as the indictments, the number of counts and what exactly they're looking at here which is land parcels and whether or not these were reported?

Dennis Welch:
that's really what it comes down to. the important point to remember when it comes down to the stapley case is, yeah, 118 counts but they all come down to a hand full of land deals and failure to disclose this stuff on financial documents that are passed out to elected officials.

Ted Simons :
we talked about this quickly last week. i'm going to touch about it again here. talk about the relationship between the sheriff's department, the county attorney's office and the board of supervisors. are we missing something here? is there another fight going on we weren't aware of?

Dennis Welch:
we spoke earlier about the budgets and the economy and stuff. there may be string we're not seeing because of talk about budgets. we've heard rumors everybody is trying to protect theirs at this point. certainly in the past it seemed like the board has been and the sheriff's department and the county attorney's office had a pretty good relationship. you know, they've not been really hyper critical of this sheriff even though everybody else seems to have been. the board's been pretty quiet on that. so, um, to that point, there may be stuff going on behind closed doors.

Mike Sunnucks:
interesting that that county board gets the most pub when someone gets in trouble. most people don't know who is on the board until they tear down a house they not supposed to or don't fill out their disclosure form correctly.

Ted Simons :
somebody who gets a lot of pub is the sheriff's office. one of the sheriff's office employees is facing a $315,000-odd fine. talk about that.

Matt Benson:
This is Captain Joel Fox with the Sheriff's office. back during the election, he was the treasurer of a group called sheriff's command association. it gave $105,000 in two separate donations to the state republican party. he never registered his group with the state or county and never disclosed his donors. it was a total mystery who this was. eventually, the state g.o.p. gave the money back to him. nonetheless, the state democratic party filed a complaint this $315,000 fine represents three times the money he donated and this came down from the investigation from the sheriff's office basically finding he violated these laws by never disclosing his donors and never registering this group. it's important to note he continues to refuse to disclose who the donors are to this group sca. it's the focus of no short amount of speculation.

Mike Sunnucks:
it's interesting. there's all these shell groups out there both parties set them up. then they have the catchy little patriotic names. and you can register them and move money around and stuff. the fact they try to do this without following any of the rules, there's plenty of ways to get around the rules whether it's federal, state or whatever. people do it all the time. the fact they were so brazen to not even register this at all is kind of baffling.

Dennis Welch:
i think the best part about it is the sheriff isn't commenting. when's the last time the sheriff hasn't commented on anything out there? the guy can't avoid a microphone. he's unavoidable for comment if you ask him about this, he'll say, i can't comment about that.

Ted Simons :
fox himself did not write the checks personally, correct?

Matt Benson:
that's my understanding. yeah.

Ted Simons :
so basically, he is facing a fine. could they work out a deal where, all right, just tell us the names and we'll drop the fine?

Matt Benson:
in theory.

Ted Simons
in theory.

>> in theory, yes, he's shown no willingness to release the names. i think he was quoted to saying something to the effect that when these individuals donated the money, they had an expectation of privacy and that expectation continues.

Ted Simons :
meanwhile, the money was spent on some commercials which we talked about on this program. the commercials ran and off we go.

Matt Benson:
the state republican party says that money wasn't spent the two ads.

Ted Simons :
oh, they're saying that? ok. all right. all right, ok.

Mike Sunnucks:
those ads were down and dirty. that race was down and dirty this money was part of that. that shouldn't be lost on people looking at this.

Matt benson:
down and dirty and seemingly unnecessary. arpaio won in a walk and thomas won easily too.

Mike Sunnucks:
pretty much by the same margin.

Ted Simons :
wasn't as close as a lot of people thought it would be. ads on light-rail, i wasn't aware this light-rail system was plan planning on being the only light-rail system in the world that wouldn't allow ads in cars, on cars at stations.

Mike Sunnucks:
at least for the first year, they were going say no ads. if you go on any subway, light-rail, tram or trolley, they have ads on there. it's a revenue boost. the suns wanted to do ads for the upcoming all-star game. i think as the economy -- this thing launched later this month, if the economy hits ridership, you'll see them relook at the ad thing. they wanted to be a clean start, just kind of showcase that i think you'll eventually see ads on there.

Matt Benson:
it doesn't make sense to me you have ads on school buses, for crying out loud. ads on regular metro buses. you have ads everywhere.

Dennis Welch:
definitely the economy will make them rethink this. why would you want to turn down any type of revenue in this environment? it doesn't make sense.

Ted Simons :
it seems like the suns will be a test run. if it works well with the all-star game, they'll perhaps give way to the moratorium. have you seen it around town?

Matt Benson:
yes.

Mike Sunnucks:
i love the little trolley noise.

Ted Simons :
the little beep-beep. all right, let's go to tom horn. apparently now, tom horn has gone ahead and said, that's it i want that attorney general's job.

Dennis Welch:
yeah, because he can't run for governor now. tom horn, republican, has announced he'll be exploring his options and the attorney general's office -- i mean, he -- it was no secret, he wanted to run for governor at some point with janet napolitano leaving and jan brewer, you know, assuming to take over that office, um, he's probably not going to get his shot to run for that office in 2010 like many people had planned.

Ted Simons :
is that the kind of thing where, i don't know, andy thomas might be interested in running against tom horn in the primary?

Dennis Welch:
the odds on that -- the best bet right now see a rematch between andy thomas and tim nelson. we saw that here in maricopa county for the county attorney's office race. that might go again with what round two may occur for the state job.

Ted Simons :
go ahead.

Mike Sunnucks:
it'll be interesting to see if horn runs. if he does, it's going to be interesting how much money he puts in in the primary. andy has the anti-immigration stance. i don't know how horn who's got decent name i.d. but all in education how he he translates that to the attorney general, what he latches onto. thomas will be the law-and-order, close-the-border guy.

Ted Simons :
these names playing around the state. which plays better? who could lift themselves to get passed a tough democratic side down there in tucson?

Dennis Welch:
to thomas's point, he'll have a tough time in the primary if other people decide they want to run in that. a lot of republicans outside of maricopa county don't like the way he's played politics. as far as a democrat on the other side, tim nelson, he certainly did a pretty good job campaigning this year for the county job. he obviously would play a lot better in the statewide race because there's a lot more democrat support outside of maricopa county.

Ted Simons :
another name that needs to get more recognition outside of maricopa county should political ambition follow is phil gordon. apparently he's now calling for more border agents talking to the transition team, obama's transition team is this the kind of thing that is used to help boost image? boost profile?

Mike Sunnucks: e
verybody latches onto immigration as a way to boost their political profile. there's a ton of violence in northern mexico. the cartels are fighting each other. they're fighting the police. they're fighting the army down there it's a really bad situation the state department put out a lot of warnings about going to nogales, tijuana, juarez and those types of places. it's a good statewide national issue to latch onto. the problem for gordon, he's a democrat. if he goes too tough on immigration, he'll start to bite into the hispanic base there there's talk about him maybe running for governor. possibly running for congress if we get kind of a central seat or maybe they extend his term as mayor.

Matt Benson: frankly, the call for more border patrol agents, that's one of the things that everyone can agree on. who not? favor of more border patrol agents?

Mike Sunnucks:
immigration has dried up. a lot of the folks are have gone back. people aren't coming over on. most were coming over for jobs. construction jobs. service jobs. those jobs are gone.

Ted Simons :
real quickly. matt on a scale of 1-10, 1, just isn't going to happen, 10, it's a certitude. special session on the budget?

Matt Benson:
oh, i'm thinking it's about a 1.5.

Ted Simons :
hm. ok.

Matt Benson:
yeah.

Ted Simons :
so it ain't going to happen?

Matt Benson:
doesn't look that way. that's ok with me.

Ted Simons :
all right, well -- ok, [ laughter ]

Ted Simons :
thank you, all for joining us tonight on "Horizon." coming up monday, arizona attorney general terry goddard will talk about a human smuggling ring his office helped break up. plus, find out about the increased demand for government assistance in the tough economic times. that's coming up monday at 7:00 on "Horizon." tuesday, a conversation with senator jon kyl about the proposed bailout of the big three automakers. wednesday, a look at how you can use metro light-rail in the valley. thursday, pbs news anchor jim lehrer sits down to talk with me about his journalism career and the state of broadcast news. friday, we'll be back with another edition of the journalists' round table. coming up next, climate change crisis, an entire nation being washed away? that's next on "now." that's it for now, i'm ted simons, thank you so much for joining us. you have a great weekend. if you have comments about "Horizon" please contact us at the addresses listed on your screen. your name and comments may be used on a future edition of "Horizon." "Horizon" "Horizon" is made possible from the contributions of the friends of 8, members of your arizona pbs station. thank you.

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