Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 16, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Democratic Leadership

  |   Video
  • House Minority Leader David Lujan and Senate Minority Leader Jorge Garcia share the Democrat’s view of the state budget process.
Guests:
  • David Lujan - State House Minority Leader
  • Jorge Garcia - State Senate Minority Leader
Category: Legislature

View Transcript
Ted Simons
>> good evening, and welcome to "horizon," I’m Ted Simons. Although they are in the minority at the state legislature, democrats are making their voices heard. They are holding budget meetings throughout the state, and they've fought republicans on a deadline for teachers being laid off. Here to talk about the legislative session from the democratic perspective is senate minority leader Jorge Garcia, and house minority leader David Lujan. Thank you both for joining us on "horizon."

Jorge Garcia
>> Thank you.

David Lujan
>> Thank you.

Ted Simons
>> What can you tell us as far as where we are right now?

Jorge Garcia
>> We’re still waiting, still waiting for the republicans to come to some agreement among them, and issue a budget.

Ted Simons
>> is there any sense that it’s close to being -- we've heard rumors it might be this week, could be next week. Is there anything there?

Jorge Garcia
>> no, not from what I’m hearing.

Ted Simons
>> are you hearing the same thing?

David Lujan
>> yeah, I saw the speaker and the president on your show earlier this week and they are engaging in a lot of wishful thinking if they think we're a week or two away from getting a budget. In talking to some of the rank and file republican caucus members in the halls of the capitol, I think they are still a long ways, just within their caucus, of having any sort of agreement.

Ted Simons
>> from what you are hearing, what are the stumbling blocks, the concerns?

David Lujan
>> when you're looking at a budget shortfall this large, and the republican leadership is trying to essentially close the gap by cuts alone, and also using some of the stimulus money, and then doing lot of borrowing and accounting gimmicks, there's a lot of members that don't want to have the draconian cuts we saw earlier this year. They don't want to see another massive cut to education. I think that's where democrats are hoping that we can work with some of those members to come up with a responsible budget.

Ted Simons
>> is that where democrats stand right now in the senate, waiting to see where things fall out and who you can and can't work with?

Jorge Garcia
>> that's basically it. We're willing to work with President Burns or folks from his caucus.

Ted Simons
>> are you hearing anything from the rank and file that suggests things are going one way or the other?

Jorge Garcia
>> no, I mean, not -- as 6 representatives Lujan mentioned, we have less numbers. I think it's the same factors that folks aren't enamored with the realities of the cuts, how deep they are. I don't think anybody wants those deep cuts, and they are looking for something that is less painful.

Ted Simons
>> I want to get to that in a second.

Ted Simons
>> there's much talk, and we talked to two leaders earlier in the week about the process, the fact that it was supposed to be transparent, more of an open process. Are you seeing that?

David Lujan
>> no.

Ted Simons
>> not at all.

David Lujan
>> I mean, I -- if you look at how the budget was done in years past, it was done in the appropriations committee. If you're looking at that type of process, it's not happening. The budget is still negotiated behind closed doors. Tonight the republicans are holding their first budget hearing, public budget hearing, and actually charging $5 to attend. Democrats have held 15 hearings, free public hearings all over the state, because we want to hear from the public. I don't think there's been many opportunities for the public to come and give feedback on these decisions.

Ted Simons
>> on this show the speaker said to suggest otherwise that there was no transparency or less or even not more, to suggest that would be engaging in misconceptions and rank hypocrisy.

David Lujan
>> I heard that. Who controls the budget process at the state capitol? The republicans are the ones in the majority. If they want to make it a transparent process, they are the ones who control that, and they haven't done that so far.

Ted Simons
>> I believe the president also mentioned, or the speaker, one of the two, mentioned last year's budget never had a public hearing.

Jorge Garcia
>> unfortunately, that's -- they are completely mistaken. They know that. There was a public hearing, it was on the budget, as was crafted by the folks who gathered the 16 votes.

David Lujan
>> and the republicans were in the majority last year, too. If they wanted to have a transparent process and they didn't, that was their failure.

Ted Simons
>> the membership is more involved than ever, says leaders. True?

Jorge Garcia
>> no. Not at all. I can tell you from the last two years I was involved in negotiating budgets, it's primarily been the leadership that negotiate the budget, and then we go back to members and get them to buy off on the budget.

Ted Simons
>> there was some talk among leadership that if you truly opened this up, and I mean completely wide open, it becomes over politicized. The last time they kind of let some cats out of the bag with budget options. They say they have been hammered ever since then, regarding the budget option process. Maybe a few secret meetings here and there keeps things moving forward, as opposed to letting out the wrong ideas, which were never intended to be implemented in the first place.

David Lujan
>> I think we're in a real defining moment in our state. It's the largest budget shortfall we have ever faced. How we handle the crisis will determine whether we make it a two or three-year crisis or one that lasts generations to come. I think the people of Arizona deserve to play a strong roll in that process. They can, by opening up the appropriations committees, having subcommittees. I think it's worked in the past, and I think that's the way we should be handling the budget now.

Ted Simons
>> you're in leadership. You know when politicians say one thing, they thinking they may want to change their minds later but they are hesitate to do so, for whatever reason. Again, does everything, all things need to be wide open on the table?

Jorge Garcia
>> yes, they do. But it depends on what you mean by wide open on the table. I don't agree that everything should be open to all 90 members of us, because then you would have a discussion going ninety ways, and you'd have the extremes in both caucuses driving the section where there is nothing. The last two years where I’ve been involved in the negotiations, it was the centrist approach that was taken that moved us forward towards a budget. It was a centrist approach last year that got us the 16 and 31 votes. It was a much more centrist approach that got us going the previous year.

Ted Simons
>> are you sensing a much more centrist approach from the governor's office right now?

David Lujan
>> I am, at least more so than from the republican leaders in the house and senate. One thing governor Brewer has done, she said that all options are on the table. That hasn't been the case with the approach the republican leadership has taken in the house and senate. They are taking options off the table. Governor Brewer has shown a willingness to look at tax reform, and I think we're going to need to look at that to balance the huge shortfall that we are facing.

Ted Simons
>> a couple of ideas coming out of republican leadership here, borrowing long-term: better to borrow long term than to raise taxes?

David Lujan
>> that's funny, last year I thought that was not the best approach, that's what they were saying was that governor Napolitano was doing all the borrowing and campaign gimmicks and that was bad but apparently this year it’s a good thing.

Ted Simons
>> let me stop you right there. I asked president Burns about that, I said it sounds a lot like the former governor. He said the former governor was trying to increase spending. He's talking about building a bridge.

David Lujan
>> that's not true. The only year that governor Napolitano proposed the borrowing and accounting gimmicks was last year. Last year's budget she had zero in additional spending proposals and over $350 million in budget cuts. It's simply not true.

Ted Simons
>> the selling off of state assets these sorts of things, one on one, as opposed to raising taxes: your thoughts on that.

Jorge Garcia
>> that was the approach that former governor Napolitano was taking, the approach that we as democrats are proposing. If we cannot get us there, if it'll get us there beyond next year is the question.

Ted Seimons
>> talking about taxes, the concern regarding taxes: is there a tax you can think of right now that would affect the economy the least, in terms of a burden, but impact the state the most?

Ted Simons
>> well, we've got sales tax, income tax, property tax.

Jorge Garcia
>> you know, the senate democrats are looking at basically a broad range of taxes, okay? We are proposing reinstating the 10% income tax reduction that governor Napolitano agreed to back in 2005. Obviously the $250 million for state taxes, and a couple other options that will get us up there to a billion dollars.

Ted Simons
>> same question: what impacts the state the most, the economy the least?

David Lujan
>> house democrats put out a comprehensive budget proposal that had a number of different tax reform ideas in it. I know governor Brewer has suggested a sales tax increases. We want to make sure that in this difficult budget time that we are impacting middle-class families the least. Our tax reform proposal would impact middle-class families to the tune of about $80 a year, the average Arizona family a sales tax increase would impact the average Arizona family about $380 a year. We want to protect those vital programs, protect education, and have the least impact on the middle-class families when it comes to a tax increase. I think the democratic proposal does that.

Ted Simons
>> the permanent repeal of the property tax, I know the speaker and lots of republicans basically call that a job killer. Are they wrong?

David Lujan
>> I think when you're looking at it in this time, we're facing the largest budget shortfall in the history of the state, and you're looking at taking off the books $250 million in revenue, you're just digging the hole deeper. I don't think this is the time to be doing that. I don't think most Arizonans -- they want to see that money being invested in education.

Ted Simons
>> digging the hole deeper as far as the state concerned, but adding burden as far as business is concerned is that a job killer?

Jorge Garcia
>> not at all. I’ve discussed this with senator Burns before. My challenge to him was that governor Napolitano agreed to almost a three quarter of a billion dollar cut to taxes, both business and personal income taxes back in 2005. Where are those jobs?

David Lujan
>> I would also throw out, we've temporarily retailed that tax for the last three years. Have we seen a lot of businesses coming in as a result of that temporary repeal? Have we seen a lot of jobs created? I think the answer is no.

Ted Simons
>> regarding this task force, fact task force, basically they said there might be a way to raise taxes in the short-term as long as you pay them off and then some in the long term, two, three, four years maybe out. Is that even legal, do you think?

David Lujan
>> I have some real concerns about that type of approach. I think it would be challenged immediately if we were to even try it. Then if it was successful in being overturned in the courts, we'd be back in a worse position, because then we'd have to make even deeper cuts. I think it's very risky and I wouldn't want to see us taking this chance at that time.

Ted Simons
>> Your thoughts on that?

Jorge Garcia
>> concur.

Ted Simons
>> same thing, huh?

Jorge Garcia
>> same thing.

Ted Simons
>> gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us, we appreciate it.

Jorge Garcia
>> thank you.

David Lujan
>> thank you.

Ted Simons
>>> school districts had until yesterday to let teachers know if their contracts would be renewed for next school year. Arizona superintendent of public instruction Tom Horne says some districts overreacted to economic uncertainties by laying off as much as 30% of their teachers. He said budget cuts are likely to be no more than 2% when federal stimulus money is taken into account. He received letters suggesting outrage over those remarks. First, here's what superintendent tom Horne had to say earlier in the week.

Tom Horne
>> we have worked very hard every day to reform our education and raise the academic performance of our kids. The organizations are status quo organizations. They have lobbyists at the legislature, every time reform comes up, they are instructed to say, change? Change? We can't have change, we're used to things the way they are. It's so that we don't lose the economic war with India and China that's coming, where we need better educated kids, against the status quo education.

Ted Simons
>> these people who work in public education -- you are the superintendent of public education for Arizona. Should you not be on their side?

Tom Horne
>> well, I am on the side of the teachers. They are the ones teaching our kids. I say don't overreact, don't send unnecessary layoff notices. Don't lay off your music teachers, art teachers, all of your PE teachers when an analysis of what was prepared by the joint legislative budget committee shows the cut is going to be 2%. If you want to make it 6%, I won't argue with that, but not 30%.

Ted Simons
>> joining me to talk about some of the tough choices school districts are making is Roger Short, the executive director of the Arizona school administrators association.

Roger Short
<< thank you we really appreciate the opportunity to be here today.

Ted Simons
>> Great, I think at core here is his idea that the cuts shouldn't amount to more than 2% per district do those numbers ring true to you?

Roger Short
>> that's a real high level of concern, and what prompted our organization, along with two other organizations, to write a very stern letter about that concern. The information we're getting from our lobbyists and our folks in looking in at a closed become process, is that the amount of the state cuts would be higher than that, upwards of 5% or even higher.

Ted Simons
>> and superintendent Horne said even 5% or 6%, he may be wrong but he could see that happening. One district is talking 30% layoffs. Mesa has a different situation, they are between 13 and 15% layoffs. Is there an overreaction if 30% of teachers are being told they could be laid off?

Roger Short
>> first of all, we work very hard in our office along with some of our ancillary organizations to identify where this district is that is going to have this 30% cut. We've not had any luck at this point but we're going to keep trying. Basically what happens when a cut hits any of the 226 school districts in our state, it affects each of them in a different fashion, depending on some of the economic situations the district has going, whether they are on an override, going off an override, declining enrollment, increasing enrollment. There are so many factors. A one size fits all approach to saying 2%, that's going to affect each district or 5% would be different also.

Ted Simons
>> let me go ahead and try to do the math here. You've got stimulus money, we're going get $1.5 million. We'll say cuts no more than $800 million. And stimulus money can backfill $600 million. According to that math, have you $96 million that needs to go somewhere, that's 2%. That's what superintendent Horne thinks. Is he correct?

Roger Short
>> there is a great deal of concern over the use of stimulus money, that hasn't been totally clarified yet, the quantity of that and if the and what fiscal years the district can use the stimulus money, whether it's all in the upcoming 2010 year or does it have to be spread over 2010 or 11. That hasn't been clarified. That's a bone of conjecture at this point, too.

>> again, and I mentioned to superintendent Horne, it seems like there's a moving a target out there. He says here's the money, here's the information. It has to be, it has to work out to 2%.

>> well, the big thing we're facing is the unknown quantity these two gentlemen just talked about prior to me coming into the room, about what the state budget is going to be. That's the unknown factor. It's a closed process, no one has their arms around that. Our districts are acting in a fashion that they have to act to make sure that they are fiscally sound. They are under a statutory guideline to create a budget that is fiscally sound for any of their 226 districts by July 15th. The biggest expense in the maintenance and operation budget of a public school district is personnel. The only way to effectuate a change in a district is to do a change in personnel.


Ted Simons
>>Quickly, because I want to veer off to somewhere else, but you just mentioned personnel. Can districts survive with fewer administrative personnel?

Roger Short
>> it's not an ideal situation. Administrative or educational leadership personnel are a vital part of situations. We have encountered some situations where for instance you have a principal and two elementarys and then the district is going to reduce personnel and put one principal to run two elementary schools. That's not an ideal situation. We see that as a temporary fix. Those children need a strong educational leader. Research shows that, and the survey from the AED. Shows that. If that's a temporary fix that has to be done by a district, that's a hard decision to make. But the educational leadership is a strong component and is needed in all settings of the instructional environment.

Ted Simons
>> can districts reorganize departments to save money?

Roger Short
>> there's always the opportunity to combine and mix and match individual programs. That means less quality program instructionally, and taking part of a and b into c. It's not ideal but as long as it's a temporary situation, it'll work, not to the level that we would all like it but we are always concern about instructional quality.

Ted Simons
>> the reason I bring that up, that instructional quality is at core here. Some folks are saying, you know, teachers are obviously very important. Are they more important than some of these administrative personnel, or so important that you need to go ahead and try and reorganize departments, which avenue means instruction keeps its quality?

Roger Short
>> quality really begins with the teacher. The teacher is the bottom line in the organization. That's where the service is delivered. The instructional assistance a teacher gets from his or her administrators is also a very important component it's been shown by recent research done by the AEA., one of the main reasons they stay in their teaching assignment or school or district is the quality of the leadership in the school or school district. There could be temporary reductions in both settings, but the ideal situation is a school full of teachers and a strong educational leader working with the teachers to provide quality instruction for the youngsters.

Ted Simons
>> superintendent Horne said what he is running up against is he's a reformer. Every time he wants to reform education in Arizona, he run in to the status quo, you. He's calling you the status quo. He says you don't want this kind of reform, you want to keep things the way they are. Respond, please


Roger Short
>> that's not necessarily the case. We are an organization of educational leaders. Some very innovative situations created by the teacher format, we have received national recognition for being a computer for every youngster. We have moved the instructional year for a longer year to help the youngsters learn better. Those are two prime examples. Good innovative teaching occurs every day in our state. We are an organization that helps those leaders move forward to professional growth, and recognizing innovative and progressive leadership.


Ted Simons
>> So how come he says you are fighting him?

Roger Short
>> we've done some things with Mr. Horne I think have been very innovative. I’d like to set aside some of the rhetoric that's occurring with this situation and focus on the issues. I think that would be good from everybody's point of view. To the extent --, my organization created some of that problem, and we're not going to do business that way in the future. Lets work together and solve these issues.

Ted Simons
>> think the verbiage has gotten a little hot and heated?

Roger Short
>> a little bit, because of this unknown factor. When we don't know what we're facing it's very difficult on all of us.

Ted Simons
>> I’ve had more than one e-mail from teachers that say, why is it that a qualified teacher who happened to be hired later, than a lesser qualified teachers why is the better-qualified teacher the first to lose their jobs?

Roger Short
>> the current process in statute and in the board policies in our school districts calls for last in, first out, where seniority is a primary factor in the first years where teachers are considered probationary teacher. There are very difficult ways where that could be circumvented as long as you're able to prove quality of the individual reduction going around that process. It's very difficult to do, and it's been done in some cases.

Ted Simons
>> real quickly, should it be easier to do?

Roger Short
>> that's a difficult situation. It's very difficult, that's a local control issue, which we've looked very closely at that. The local district makes the concern about which teacher stays or goes, along with that seniority piece.
Ted Simons
>> thank you for joining us.

Roger Short
>> it's our pleasure to be here.

Ted Simons
>> thank you very much.

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