Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 8, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable

  |   Video
  • Local reporters review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Mary Jo Pitzl - Arizona Republic
  • Dennis Welch - The Arizona Guardian
  • Howard Fischer - Capitol Media Services


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Hello and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight -- Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic," Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian," and Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. Let's start with the state budget. Mary Jo, it looks like we've got something coming out of -- is this the real thing coming out of the House or is this just something to move things along a little bit.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, this is a package of budget bills. It's the actual first budget that's actually had a vote. From the house appropriation committee and but all the members, including those who voted for it, say this is a starting point. Something to get the ball rolling. It's early May, we've got to get moving on a budget, but even leadership is saying that the final product will not quite look like these bills.

Howard Fischer:
And the important thing is that some of the Republicans while they were voting for it said, “I’m only do this to move it along, but in order to get my vote on the floor, you're going to have to add this. For example, money for rural healthcare or take out the part where you're giving $210 million from the cities. So very clearly, you’re moving the process along. Beyond that, I don't know what we've accomplished.

Dennis Welch:
To the point whether this is a real budget, yeah, we've seen a lot of budget’s and this is "a" budget. But I mean look at the numbers in there, a lot of the numbers even according to the senate president Bob Burns, says this is soft. The 210 million dollars from the cities is once- we know you have this money out there, they shifted that to saying, well, we're not going to take it away against your will we’re gonna let you voluntarily give that up, that money is not there. They cannot give that money, it's contractually obligated, it’s not there.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And given that point, then it really isn't a balanced budget. If this budget depends on the cities giving voluntarily money -- and I've been looking for cities that want to send money and I haven't found one yet-- it's not a balanced budget.


Dennis Welch:
Then beyond the $210 million, There's the $50 million in fraud detection, that's not there either. You have to, since federal money’s involved here, you have to actually get $200 million in Medicare fraud to get the $50 million savings from the state and people are saying that's not realistic.

Ted Simons:
I want to go back to the voluntary aspect. Isn’t the idea, voluntarily give us this money and we'll lighten the load as far as impact fees?

Howard Fischer:
It's part of the game. They recognize- cities collect what are called development fees. In other words, if you want to put a development somewhere north of Anthem, you need -- the water lines extended you need the streets extended you need the sewer lines extended, you need parks and fire stations. And so cities have a formula of what they call impact fees, now these impact fees can be fairly substantial on the edge of town, they can be 10% of the price of a home. On a $200,000 home, they can be $20,000. The cities don't need to spend all of that money at once. Some is sitting in an account. It's spoken for. So what the state is saying, I'll tell you, we've got budget problems, you’ve got budget problems. We'll let you use some of this money for yourself if you give some of it to us. Not lend it, but give it to us. The cities are saying, wait a second, how does that make sense if we still have to build these things? The larger thing is this is a scam by the homebuilders. They hate impact fees. They've been trying to years to get the legislature to restrict them. They want to be able to say see, the cities live without these impact fees, they really don't need them. This is part of a larger political game.

Ted Simons:
Is it even legal for this to go through? If this were to go through would there not be a legal challenge?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
There likely would, because the cities ran out and got a quick legal opinion and say it's an unconstitutional move. I don’t know if making it voluntary would take some legal sting out of it. But these are monies that developers pay that are dedicated for specific infrastructure projects. If the cities, you know, no matter what the legislature tells them, to spend it on something else, gosh, who might sue? Maybe the homebuilders. Then we really weird circle going.

Dennis Welch:
They'd be in a weird position. This could touch off scores of lawsuits for every little pocket of money that was spoken for. That all of a sudden it's going to O and M costs or fire station or something that wasn't agreed to.





Howard Fischer:
Let's even go beyond, you wanna talk lawsuits, I've got two others out of this budget. When voters adopted prop 301 in the year 2000 and hiked the sales tax by 6/10ths of a cent, part of the deal said the state will increase state aid to schools or any element thereof, by at least 2%. It's been understood and the attorney general has said that means the entire basic aid formula. Well, the Republicans -- oh, we've got an idea. We think there's an "or" in there, and we can just increase the transportation aspect and we can keep state aid flat. Got news for you, AA will be in court before the ink is dry. The universities, they wanna take auxiliary monies, some of the monies that they get from the dorm fees and everything else. I've already seen the legal opinion saying you do that, we'll sue you.

Ted Simons:
How about the idea of school districts that had been saving money? This sort of idea. They want to move some of the that money out -- I've heard people say it's illegal for the school districts to try and save all of this money in the first place.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Right, there's a cap and cities are allowed to keep up to 4% above their budget in a carry forward balance, and so legislative committees went through and scrubbed some of these budgets and found there was more than 4% in a lot of these accounts and we'll take that. And the schools are saying wait a minute, just like impact fees, this money is obligated, if you take this we're going to have to raise our local property tax.

Dennis Welch:
Yeah this is the argument, it’s because they this money is there to help keep the property taxes low and it's a back door tax increase, the argument is out there. Another number, $300 million figure, used to balance this budget, which doesn’t appear to be reality, is this a balanced budget? It doesn't look like it.

Howard Fischer:
Well let’s go even further you talk about back door tax increase. These are the lawmakers who’ll say, “over my cold dead body I’ll vote for a tax hike”. There's a little thing in the budget and I'll only use the word once because nobody likes it. It's called qualified tax rate. It basically sets the rate that school districts have to charge their local taxpayers to qualify for the state aid. You change that rate, you save the state money, but you pass on over $60 million in higher taxes to local school districts. So tell me why that's not a tax hike.

Ted Simons:
That seems like the last three things we've talked about, all suggest that the state is saying we're not going to raise taxes in this budget, and yet on the other side, you've got property taxes, you’ve got cities and towns saying, where are we going to get the impact fees? It’s sounds like the state’s saying look at us, we’re not cutting taxes. And the cities and towns and school districts are saying we're going to have to raise taxes.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It is saying the buck would be passed on to us. And if you're trying to make an argument as a state lawmaker that we didn't raise taxes, I suppose you could argue that. But I think that some of the elements we’ve talked of, that’s some of the reasons why budget’s going to need a lot more work. Supposedly -- well, the governor, speaker Adams and president Bob Burns are working through the weekend talking about the budget and trying to find a common ground.

Dennis Welch:
And allegedly they’re not talking about this budget right now, they're still worried about the current year fix because chronologically you have to figure out that one before you figure out this one.

Howard Fischer:
And the numbers keep changing. I’ll give you a perfect example, we found out yesterday, the Arizona healthcare cost containment system, the rate of people enrolling is going four times faster than population growth. An 11% one-year increase. Well when people are unemployed they get below the Federal poverty level, they qualify. And that -- that one change is going to add a quarter of a billion dollars to next year's budget.

Ted Simons:
Are we seeing -- hearing reports that president Burns is reaching out to individual Democrats? Is that an accurate report? Are we seeing that, or is that just a nice thought?

Dennis Welch:
We've heard and he'll tell you that he's willing to talk with everybody and he has spoken with Democrats about this budget and will take any type of advice from anybody at this point.

Howard Fischer:
I'm not holding my breath. He needs to put something out with 16 of the 18 Republicans. He has to at least put that up on the board or know he's not going to get it before he can go to the Democrats.

Ted Simons:
What was the old mushroom coalition? Is that coming back in this particular scenario?

Dennis Welch:
I have a question about that. If you're a democrat at this point, why are you going to want to throw a life raft to the Republicans who seem to have a range of options that started bad and get really bad? Why are you going to help them out?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well it would depend on what you can get. But the Democrats' support is going to come at a high price. I can think of three Republicans that might agree. But most wouldn't. The Democrats are going to protect education. They're not going to stand for any cuts to education -- they’re gonna protect what they see as vital social services that affect the vulnerable and those price tags are going to lose Republicans.

Howard Fischer:
And you're not going to get what happened last time when you had three senate Republicans and all the Democrats doing it. Tim B wanted to just get the heck out of town to run for Congress for his losing bid.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Ted, when you ask, is there fungus among us -- [Laughter] The mushroom coalition was a bunch of Republican lawmakers, like back in the '90s who felt alienated from the more conservative elements of their party, who would strike a deal with Democrats. Maybe there's some but --

Ted Simons:
It's started to grow a little bit.

Howard Fischer:
But there are fewer mushrooms to have. The last election, despite the United States electing Barack Obama, despite some of those changes, moved a lot of the moderates out, both in the primary and the general -- now you're down to Carol and Allen running their own coalition in the senate.

Ted Simons:
You sound like the governor might be easing off on the tax hike talk.

Howard Fischer:
When the governor unveiled this on March 4th, she said as a last resort, we need to consider a tax hike. But ever since then, she’s said we can't do it without the tax hike. We have to have it. People who think we can't do -- people who think we can do it without it are stupid. What happened is, she had given a speech, and a couple of us talked to her about what's in the budget and what's not. And one of things not in the Republican budget is a tax hike, and she said, you know, we might need a tax hike as a last resort. And I said, what do you mean? I think what she’s doing is she's cooling the rhetoric. And that’s what Mary Jo and I were talking about, she's meeting with Burns and Adams and figuring if I keep saying tax hike, I've marginalized myself in these negotiations. I believe she thinks in her heart that they will come to the same conclusion she did. That you cannot do this without increasing revenues. But she's backed off from you'll do it my way or go the highway.

Dennis Welch:
To that point, she may be cooling down the rhetoric but hasn't changed her position on tax increases as we saw yesterday. In response to some of this talk, there was a press release sent out. We talked to the governor's people. No, she still supports her five-point plan, which does include some sort of a tax increase.

Howard Fischer:
Again take a look at that statement that went out yesterday. The statement -- that went out yesterday. The statement was sort of a non-denial denial saying, I still support my five-point plan, but it didn't say specifically you will have a tax hike. So she’s-- this is a Governor who hasn’t even told us which tax she wants to hike, if we want to hike it.She wants it all ways.

Ted Simons:
Rocky mountain poll, 24% say the governor is doing a good or excellent job. 26% say a poor or very poor job. Is this the kind of thing that gets the governor looking around and -- what does this say? And the legislature's with like a 15% positive rating. Dennis, what's going on?

Dennis Welch:
I think with the legislative bodies, just like congress, always have a very low opinion rate. Everyone is corrupt, everybody’s horrible, except for my guy. I think you're seeing what's happening is it's bad times. Your cutting budgets and talking about cutting education further and voters see and hear these things and it's not a good reflection.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I also think, the relatively low rating for the governor, you know the pollsters say because she's talked about a tax hike. But I think it could just as well be because she did sign a budget in late January that has deep cuts and hasn't had a real high profile. I think a lot of Arizonans are trying to find out who she is.

Ted Simons:
In the Cronkite 8 poll, we found that most folks, not a majority, did not know --

Howard Fischer:
It was Jan who? And then so how do you rate somebody if you don't understand? Mary Jo's point is right. She signs a budget that she says it was foisted upon me. She’s done these speeches but what have we seen? Where's the grand vision? What is it that she wants?

Dennis Welch:
In her defense, look at the bill of goods, look at the situation she was handed. It'd be interesting to see where Janet Napolitano, who always had high approval ratings. would be at at this point.

Howard Fischer:
This may be a style question. Because Janet did the weekly press briefings, she was on TV. The TV people, bless their heart, made Janet look serious.

Dennis Welch:
You want the governor on TV unscripted once a week?



Howard Fisher:
But that's the point. She isn’t, all people see are bits and pieces and that gets back to your point of who is she.

Ted Simons:
And the monthly appearance on "Horizon" which was crucial to getting the word out.

Howard Fischer:
The funny thing about that, governor: come to the show!

Ted Simons:
Don't point at the camera. You keep doing that. Mary Jo, we had a freshman democrat who had an interesting idea to save money and now everyone seems to know his name.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
In the midst of the marathon, Matt Heinz from Tucson proposed an amendment, the only democratic amendment that got accepted by the Republican-dominated panel and accelerates the time frame in which unclaimed property, can come under the state’s control, that the state can get its mitts on it. They figure it will bring in another $40 million, $50 million. Not bad, as one of my colleagues said, not bad for a freshman.

Ted Simons:
Probably everyone’s walking around slapping him on the back and saying great job.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well they’re saying this is why we have a bipartisan budget. I think Heinz has had a problem with that. Because everything else-these are ten budget bills, this was one amendment to one bill.

Ted Simons:
I was going to say, better that than the idea of driving 109 miles an hour in a 65-mile zone.

Howard Fischer:
But it may have been justified, don't you understand, Ted?

Ted Simons:
Let's synopsize quickly, please.

Howard Fisher:
Brett Meacham, who’s the executive director of the Republican Party, allegedly, because we have to say that, was clocked by a stationary radar camera doing 109 in a 65. He apparently ignored whatever letter he got in the mail so the DPS went to the Republican headquarters and led him out in handcuffs. He decided well I haven’te decided what I'm going to do. I want to review the evidence. Now it gets interesting to Sam Crump who’s trying to get rid of photo radar said he may have been justified traveling 109 miles per hour.

Ted Simons:
And stopped by a live officer, he said he would have been able to offer an explanation.

Howard Fischer:
I'm sorry, there's no explanation. What if somebody gets a call from a daughter that somebody is breaking into the house. 9-1-1.

Ted Simons:
Are you buying any of this?

Dennis Welch:
Well it's going to be hard to justify 109 in any situation. I don't see it. As D.P.S. officers told me, when you start doing the feet per second it's a very dangerous situation. According to their counts, there were like 20, 30 other cars in the area that he passed going 109 miles per hour.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And that’s in two seconds.

Howard Fischer:
The guy’s got a G.T. shelby, blue --

Dennis Welch:
The issue is , not that he was speeding on the 101. Whether he ignored the citation, ignored a court appearance. That could be the real damaging element.

Ted Simons:
And again, who is this guy, by the way, and how important is he within Republican politics. He is the executive director of the state party, so what's his future now?

Dennis Welch:
Well Brett had a really important role as the political director, the person who helped engineer some Republican victories in areas where they thought it was a down Republican year and may lose seats and Democrats thought they were going to win the legislature. He played a critical role. Rose to the rank of executive director and is instrumental in helping Randy Polin raise money and get and recruit candidates.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think -- is this a hire he wants to keep on board and whatever pressure polling gets from the executive board of the party.

Howard Fischer:
There's one wildcard in this. I talked to Andy Thomas yesterday. He has made it clear, as a Maricopa County attorney, he will not prosecute criminal speeding cases if the only evidence he's got is that picture. And he said, look, I haven't seen this case, but if the only thing we have is a picture, no corroborating evidence, nothing else, he doesn't believe he can bring criminal charges. The whole criminal charge may go away.

Ted Simons:
Something else that was moving awfully fast out of the West Valley, the Phoenix coyotes. Aside from the sports angle and whether you're a hockey fan, these sorts of things. The impact to Glendale is going to be huge; is it not?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Glendale put up $180 million in revenue bonds to help build Jobing.com arena and they're paying it back with the sales tax revenue generated by that project over the years. And off the top of my head, I don't know how far down that debt has been bought, but it’s safe to say, the city is on the hook for a lot of money and if you remember earlier this year, there were problems with the coyotes missing their rent on the building.

Dennis Welch:
And for the local economy too, Glendale has the cardinals now, which is a better product. But that's only about eight home games a year. For the coyotes, a hockey schedule, there's a lot more home games and more revenue and people coming down and collecting sales tax revenue. They're going to be hurt by that if they bail.

Ted Simons:
Will Glendale, if another bidder comes up, somebody who wants to keep the team in Glendale, I know we have a group of folks who are looking at that, will they agree to more concessions?

Howard Fischer:
We've had a series of court rulings, exactly what can cities do on behalf of a private organization. The one thing that Glendale has is working for it, because they own the arena they can say we're trying to keep a tenant in there, and so it benefits the public.

Dennis Welch:
What other options are there, except they have to bend over backwards to try to do anything they can to keep the coyotes in town. $180 million in bonds and all of this other stuff. A brand new arena and they're going to bail? I mean this is not something you really want.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Would more concessions be needed? There's a line of thought that the coyotes were not well managed. That if you get a different ownership structure in there, a different way of running things, you don't need anymore concessions.

Ted Simons:
Do you think Scottsdale is relieved that they did not wind up with this at Los Arcos?

Dennis Welch:
I think they would have been in a better financial situation had they stayed in the east valley or downtown Phoenix.

Ted Simons:
A better financial situation, but still they have their problems and this is Glendale's problem, not Scottsdale's.

Howard Fischer:
And this issue is, you know, this ain’t Montreal. There aren’t people here who grew up watching hockey stars

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Even that said, the coyotes have had a good attendance record even with a losing record. There's an argument to be made that the fan base is here. But you need to deliver from the other end, the team.

Howard Fischer:
And so the fan base is here, but we're down to the basic issue. You know my feelings about these sports subsidies. Are we really bringing in that much extra with people going to the restaurants? Are they adding anything to the mix?

Ted Simons:
I think a lot of people out there in Westgate would say they are. But how much they are and the difference between then and now or the future is another thing. We have a minute left. A Supreme Court vacancy’s coming up. The governor would love to appoint and --

Howard Fischer:
Doesn’t work that way. This isn't like Barack Obama trying to replace David Souter. In Arizona, because of a 1974 amendment, applicants submit to this commission on appellate court appointees. There are 17 who submitted 15 republicans and 2 democrats. The commission has to send at least three names. They can send more to the governer, no more than two of the three from the same party. The governor has to choose from the list. Doesn't matter if she doesn't like the list. As Ed Meacham found out, the chief justice of the Supreme Court gets to pick. That's the way it works here. The governer has to take one from column A two from column B, a Chinese menu, if you will.

Ted Simons:
The legal scholars seem to think this is a very good idea as opposed to what other states do.



Howard Fischer:
It beats having people spend $3 million to run for the Supreme Court. If you talk to people, Howie, it gives you liberal judges.

Ted Simons:
Does she whisper like that? Alright, we’ll stop it right there. Thank you for joining us on "Horizon." We appreciate it.

What's on?

Content Partner:

  About KAET Contact Support Legal Follow Us  
  About Eight
Mission/Impact
History
Site Map
Pressroom
Contact Us
Sign up for e-news
Pledge to Eight
Donate Monthly
Volunteer
Other ways to support
FCC Public Files
Privacy Policy
Facebook
Twitter
YouTube
Google+
Pinterest
 

Need help accessing? Contact disabilityaccess@asu.edu

Eight is a member-supported service of Arizona State University    Copyright Arizona Board of Regents