Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 1, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable

  |   Video
  • Local reporters review the week's top stores.
Guests:
  • Matt Benson - The Arizona Republic
  • Paul Giblin - The Arizona Guardian
  • Mike Sunnucks - The Business Journal


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Hello, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight -- Matt Benson of the "The Arizona Republic," Paul Giblin of "The Arizona Guardian," and Mike Sunnucks of "The Business Journal." Swine flu outbreak has not ignored Arizona. And some state lawmakers have taken the opportunity to point fingers. Democrats are saying Republicans have drained the fund?

Paul Giblin:
Yeah, they accused the Republicans of draining the fund in the house fund that could theoretically been used for something like that.

Ted Simons:
How much?

Paul Giblin:
A half a million, something like that.

Matt Benson:
It's been around for about a decade and used in past decades for a variety of things. A syphilis outbreak and this one had about a half million dollars in it lawmakers came in and swept that money and drained the fund.

Mike Sunnucks:
They cut half of it last year as part of the budget deal and they came back and erased it. The governor's office did say they have a $2 million state emergency fund they could use and they can shift money around. But when you cut something like the health crisis fund, it's obvious to folks.

Paul Giblin:
This is part of the massive fund cutting that the legislature did. It went a massive of everything.

Ted Simons:
Overall, how is the state reacting to the flu situation? Doing a good job so far?

Matt Benson:
It seems like they're following the protocol as other states. When they found one in a school, they close the school for about a week and it seems to be the pattern elsewhere.

Mike Sunnucks:
They had a press conference today, the health services department and the county health director and they said they think it's more widespread. More people have it but it's not as severe as they feared. It may be a pandemic, but the W.H.O., but they're optimistic they're not seeing the severe cases. I think only 5% of the cases in the U.S. have had to be hospitalized. None of the Arizona cases have been hospitalized. They were optimistic, while more people have it, it's not as bad.

Paul Giblin:
During the press conference earlier in the week, the health officials said they suspected they would get more. Suspected that one person doesn't catch the flu in a community. It presents further. His words were true.

Mike Sunnucks:
They talked about backing off the school closure rule and treating it more like influenza.

Ted Simons:
Antiviral medications up to speed?

Matt Benson:
The state has courses of the antiviral and Arizona has another bit from the national stockpile. About a quarter of the supply from the feds. We're going to have about 900,000, a little less than that, of basically Tamiflu, is what we're talking about. Health officials say that's plenty for what we need. If we had an outbreak that was severe and deadly enough, certainly that's not enough for the people who live here.

Mike Sunnucks:
They're hesitant to use it all up in one fell swoop. We talked about the 1918 pandemic and others where they come in waves. If you use all of your antiviral meds up, you don't have enough in the end. So they're looking at that.

Ted Simons:
How is this playing politically? Is this enhancing the close of the border talk we've had for a while? It's in Mexico where it started ground zero down there.

Paul Giblin:
No, there's been some discussion on that topic. Close the border and keep people from immigrating here legally or otherwise, and see if we can stop the spread of it. But the health officials were saying it's already here. How did the first kid who got it, how did he get it? Where did it come from? And the answer is it doesn't matter because it's here already. Because how it got here is irrelevant. If you use that thinking, if it's coming over from Mexico, it's already here and trying to close the gate after the horses are gone.

Mike Sunnucks:
There's talk that somebody in San Diego had it and went down there. And the health folks said the kids who had it, didn't have travel history. Like Paul said, it's here and spreading around and the close the border argument is off target. Like the international reactions to it.

Paul Giblin:
It's showing up in places like New York and other parts of the country. Do we stop people from traveling to New York?

Matt Benson:
We're talking about something that's basically as severe as a normal seasonal flu. Is it worth the expense of closing the border? Even assuming you can even close the border. You're talking about enormous security expenses and then the economic impact is almost incalculable.

Ted Simons:
We've got an economic forecast coming out. The numbers don't look good and yet you keep hearing folks saying we seem to be closing in toward bottom.

Mike Sunnucks:
The state commerce department came out with projections think we're going to lose 146,000 jobs this year. They think it's going to flatten out. And construction continues to get hit hard. Mining, business, financial services, all of those. And we've become a poster child nationally for this. We've lost of more jobs in Phoenix than Detroit has. We're fourth in gross jobs behind only L.A., New York and Chicago. Those are much bigger markets than us. It's not looking good this year, but people are hoping that 2010, it will flatten out.

Ted Simons:
We had Dennis Doby from the commerce department in. The recessions of the early '80s were bad and this is much worse. And politically, the economy as a whole, how is that playing down at the capitol?

Paul Giblin:
It's playing poorly, because as the economy goes, so goes the tax revenue that would come from a healthy complex. That's part of the reason they're having a difficult time coming up with a budget. You mentioned construction was hard hit and yet all of that stimulus money is coming.

Mike Sunnucks:
You're seeing a blip on the civil engineering side. The guys who build the roads. They're starting to hire a little bit. But the commercial real estate still hard hit. The stimulus is a creek; it's not a river of jobs yet.

Matt Benson:
And I maintain that Arizona's economy is not going to pick up until they get a handle on the housing market. That was what brought us down and I don't see how the economy recovers until it stabilizes. And based on the numbers, it continues to fall.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think we've got a large foreclosure rate. People aren't qualifying for the modifications and population growth drives us. People can't sell their house in Michigan or Pennsylvania; they aren't going to buy here.

Ted Simons:
We've had a G.O.P. -- what was it -- a plan, a list of options? What was it?

Matt Benson:
I'm not sure what term. There's some critics of the plan who would have words for it we can't say here tonight. It was basically an option list. More than an option list. This is over the last two and a half months, the leaders in the house and senate came up with to close a shortfall. There's $500 million they've been struggling with. How to you fix that $500 million? And their solution is to go after money from the school districts and the cities and towns, and that got huge blowback this week.

Ted Simons:
Those are two controversial ways of getting money. As far as the cities and towns, explain what's going on here. Its developer impact fees, correct?

Matt Benson:
$210 million. Basically, the cities and towns, they have impact fees. Developers pay these fees and it pays for the sewers and roads and when you buy a house, those fees get passed on to you. The state would like to tap into that money. A couple hundred million dollars, and use it to fix the state's shortfall.

Ted Simons:
I've asked this question a couple of times. In order to not raise taxes we're going to take money from the cities and towns who will wind up having to raise taxes?

Mike Sunnucks:
It's shifting the burden and the cities and towns are worried about the developers suing them because these fees are meant to pay for project X coming into the suburbs, it's supposed to pay for the infrastructure. The developer's got a case in court. Don't like the impact fees and they've been going up and it's shifting the burden from the state to the local governments.

Paul Giblin:
And the other argument to this is who is building new subdivisions? As you mentioned a minute ago, we have foreclosed houses all over the whole state. Is there a great need to build new houses? Why not sell the houses on the market already.

Ted Simons:
Critics will say the school districts did a good job of saving money, they were prudent and they're going to be the first ones hit.

Matt Benson:
$300 million that school districts, that's carry forward money, get them to the next year and balances out when they're thin in terms of cash and the state would like to tap into that. It's another robbing Peter to pay Paul issue. You can bet if the feds were doing this to the state, the same lawmakers would be howling about it.

Ted Simons:
Howling to the point where there would be challenged in court?

Mike Sunnucks:
Both will be challenged in court. You'll see on the impact fee, cities, and even developers and certainly the K-12 folks take it to court. It's backwards logic. The school districts that have a lot of reserve cash lose more than the ones that haven't. If you pay your mortgage and on time, you don't get help but the guy who is irresponsible down the street does.

Ted Simons:
Is there anything in the formula that jeopardizes stimulus money?

Matt Benson:
There's a lot of question whether this money really exists. Whether there really is $300 million that the school districts have available. Whether the $210 million for the cities and towns -- how much has been encumbered. It's contracted and spent, so to speak. We don't know the answer to that.

Mike Sunnucks:
And you see little anecdotal evidence of school districts going out and buying stuff so the -- they're already hurting but the capital budget is different. They're going to spend it where they can so they don't lose it.

Paul Giblin:
People know that the legislature's already raided the schools and now they see it coming again and a lot of legislators are getting antsy.

Mike Sunnucks:
When people think of what K-12 schools do for them. The several services and compare that to what the state government does for them, I think most would side with the local folks in the schools.

Ted Simons:
I know that speaking of blowback, people getting antsy, are there appropriations hearings set? Is it Tuesday? Why is this happening and not happening?

Paul Giblin:
The reason is they think they have a plan and we'd have a budget. But behind the scenes, people are bailing off the plan and they cancel the meetings and try to rework it. They try to build a coalition. If they're losing people from the right, they might have to look to the Democrats and it's crazy down there and that's why it falls apart.

Ted Simons:
This is, of course, budget hearings. And we're getting -- revenues aren't supposed to be what they're supposed to be.

Mike Sunnucks:
Sales tax is down because the consumers aren't spending. People are waiting on the governor and her plans. We don't have a lot of specifics. Everybody thinks they know what the tax plan is but nothing is laid off and I haven't seen her playing public hard ball with folks yet.

Ted Simons:
Speaking of that, let's go to the channel eight poll we ran and released this week. A temporary one cent sales tax increase, 60% ok with that. Surprise you at all?

Paul Giblin:
It did. How often do people say they want to be taxed more? I was talking to Republicans, they were blown away, they say that everybody I talked to tells me no new taxes but then ask the next question: Who are you talking to? People in my district. Frequently talk to people in the same position in life. Talking to a lot of people, telling them the same thing but talking to a lot of the same people.

Ted Simons:
Surprise you at all, this 60%?

Matt Benson:
This is the third or fourth series of polls on this. It depends on who is asking the question and how they're asking it. It seemed pretty straightforward. What was more interesting to me was that 69% of the people said they opposed any additional cuts to education. Of course, when this comes to budget cuts in 2010, education is a natural area they're going to come after because it's a huge pot of money. To me, that's a big warning sign to lawmakers. 69%.

Ted Simons:
We should mention nearly half of the respondents couldn't mention an area they wanted cut. I think the service cuts out there seem to be hitting home. People are starting to say, "Whoa."

Mike Sunnucks:
I think people are worried. That's jumped to the front of the line and they've made a good argument in saying you're going to cut these and they've presented the sales tax as a penny for three years. Temporary. People think that's not big of a burden for what you can possibly trade off in cuts. There's a lot of other polls show a softer support for that. I think people are concerned about cuts to essential services right now.

Paul Giblin:
When you have university going up. They notice that.

Ted Simons:
All-day kindergarten, more people thinking it's -- you've got proposed tax increase, thumbs up. You were talking about reaction from lawmakers. Are they looking at these polls, I don't believe what I read, or looking at them saying people don't get it.

Matt Benson:
It's interesting, the senate president Bob Burns has come up, and he said he didn't want this to go to the ballot, a tax increase, because he was afraid it would pass. He was saying there's going to be powerful constituents behind it and I'm afraid it's going to pass. And he's opposed to it.

Paul Giblin:
You mentioned powerful constituents. One of those people is the governor, who initially threw that out.

Mike Sunnucks:
You've got the universities and you'll have the business communities. They're generally supportive because they think it's a temporary thing that's not going to hit everybody so hard but it's going to save all of these things.

Ted Simons:
Speaking of the governor, channel eight poll here, our poll, more than a third do not know enough about the governor to rate her job performance. Again, is that a surprise?

Matt Benson:
I don't think it's a huge surprise. She's been in public office for over 20 years, but most of these positions were under the radar. She was a legislator. A board of supervisors. Secretary of state. I don't think most Arizonans could name the other elected officials beneath her either. Maybe Terry Goddard. She's going to have to deal with this problem before 2010 if she has hope to get elected.

Mike Sunnucks:
We've got a huge deficit. They're talking about cutting schools and raising tuition and she calls for a tax increase. You'd think she would be unpopular. Maybe she's not getting the blame for what's going on.

Paul Giblin:
She gained office without ever running for office. She wasn't in front of voters for two or five months.

Ted Simons:
No missteps but not taking enough steps to make a misstep. People are waiting to find out what her vision for the state is.

Mike Sunnucks:
She hasn't been out there like our sheriff. She hasn't leveraged publicly people to get behind her tax increase. She -- we don't see her standing up there with Michael Crow and so forth.

Paul Giblin:
As you mentioned earlier, Bob Burns will openly oppose her. That's unusual where you have the Republican governor and Republican leaders in the legislature on completely different pages and feel free to oppose her publicly.

Ted Simons:
Matt, you wrote about the governor's first 100 days in office and what people are looking from her. Is she -- does she get it? Does she understand what her image is around the state or still a learning process?

Matt Benson:
I think, obviously, a learning process. And it's natural. I think what's interesting when you tell her, when she hears people want more direction from her, her response is that's a good thing because that means people want to hear more from me. Not want me to go away. They see the silver lining, but I think it's dangerous because if it gets enough, people think you're not a leader. And if they decide that, you're in trouble.

Ted Simons:
Is there a dynamic with President Burns saying nothing happens until the budget gets settled here? Does she lose her ability to work this bill and give you this and this? Is any of that going on down there at all, A, and B, does that hurt her?

Paul Giblin:
There's none of that going on. I was speaking to several legislators this week. They think they're wasting their time and there's nothing happening and if there's no bills moving around, there's no horse-trading.

Mike Sunnucks:
And Napolitano was good at that. She did a lot of horse-trading. And she brought in moderate and liberal Republicans on some issues and able to sign off on things and find a middle ground and I think that helped her with the budget in the end.

Ted Simons:
Of those in the channel eight polls that did have an opinion of the governor, it was positive. Over 50%. Those that did know liked. I think, Matt, you made a great point. There's got to be more people that know.

Matt Benson:
That's part of the reason she's been going around the state talking to business and community groups and get her face out there. I would look for more of that.

Mike Sunnucks:
She has thought outside the box. You wouldn't -- I bet a lot of us wouldn't have predicted she would call for a tax increase. That's not Republican dogma in this state and seems open to other ideas and not as partisan as everybody expected.

Paul Giblin:
She's personable and will engage you in conversation, unlike her predecessor who was kind of distant. When you get to know her, she's a nice person.

Ted Simons:
Last point. Sounds like Bill Knopnicki will challenge Ann Kirkpatrick.

Paul Giblin:
I spoke to him about that a day or two ago. Remember when the Republicans were doing the hokey pokey about one foot in and one foot out and then finally ran against Kirkpatrick and lost handily. But the reason he didn't do it last time, he didn't see a lot of money. 2006, 2008, a lot of money going to the Democrats. Now we've had the democratic president, democratic congress and things might be changing.

Ted Simons:
Is he strong enough within the Republican Party to get the money he needs?

Paul Giblin:
That's another interesting point. He's on the moderate side of the Republicans. He's not the core Republican down at the legislature right now. However, maybe the legislature doesn't represent the Republican Party in general in this state.

Mike Sunnucks:
Kirkpatrick has tried to take on moderate issues. Democratic issues.

Matt Benson:
This should be a good Republican year. The pendulum should swing back.

Ted Simons:
We've got to stop it there. And congratulations, you Pulitzer Prize winner. You thought I’d get away without saying that.

Paul Giblin:
Thanks, Ted.

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