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September 21, 2009

Host: Ted Simons

H1N1 Swine Flu

  |   Video
  • Several dignitaries will be getting their flu shots Monday in preparation for the upcoming flu season. Also, the Arizona Department of Health Services has released a new report on the swine flu. Bob Khan of the Phoenix Fire Department will discuss the seasonal flu and the swine flu.
  • Bob Khan - Phoenix Fire Department
Category: Medical/Health

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The American Lung Association of Arizona kicked off its "Faces of Influenza" campaign this morning. It's an effort to remind people to get their flu shots. Mayor Phil Gordon was among those participating in a press conference to get the campaign underway.

Phil Gordon: We've done this every year. And I think it's important that we continue to remind our existing residents and those that have come to our city how critically important it is to receive the influenza shot. It's about public health. This isn't just about a cold. Or somebody sneezes. Has a runny nose and then bear it is and gets to work or gets to school. This is a serious, serious disease that can infect much larger numbers if precautions aren't taken. First and foremost, as the doctors inform me is to get the shot. It's simple. It's relatively painless. And it's inexpensive and anyone that can't afford it, please let the city or the county or the state know. Number two is to do the things that we've been learning about over the last year or two. Wash your hands whenever you can because if you're carrying some germs, a virus from someone else that's just an unnecessary way to spread it. Certainly, cover your mouth, cover your nose when sneezing and coughing and turn your head away. And lastly, if you're sick, stay at home, don't go to school and don't go to work.

Ted Simons: Earlier today, I talked to Phoenix Fire Chief Bob Khan about the need for flu shots. Thanks for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Bob Khan: Thanks, Ted.

Ted Simons: Reports are maybe the first doses of swine flu vaccine should be in the U.S. by mid October. Ring true for you?

Bob Khan: Hearing the same thing. Around the middle of October for the H1N1, I think around a million vaccines for the state of Arizona.

Ted Simons: Also hearing in the country overall, you could have significant casualties. Fatalities if there's no mass vaccination program in the state, throughout the states. Again, that make sense to you?

Bob Khan: You know, most people don't recognize this until we get into the season, but believe it or not, every year across the United States, there will be 36,000 people, roughly, that will die from the flu and over 250,000 will go to the hospital. It's more serious than people recognize and the H1N1 isn't necessarily a worse strain. It's just one we haven't been vaccinated against.

Ted Simons: We should make that clear. Because we hear horror stories from the southern hemisphere and those are often people with preexisting conditions. The problem with the new one is so many haven't been exposed yet.

Bob Khan: That's exactly it. First responders are concerned and hospitals and everybody in the medical profession have great concerns. The Arizona department of health services is working with the CDC to do forecasting so we can stay in front of this flu.

Ted Simons: The importance of first responders getting the vaccines early. Talk to us about that.

Bob Khan: We did a program where we did a massive inoculation to our firefighters. Tried to get 80% of them vaccinated today and it's a drill where we use it as a way to monitor our firefighters and get them the flu shot and do accountability but also gives them the first layer of protection. If you think about it, we respond to calls a year. 100,000 of those calls will be medical. A fractured leg or burn injury but you're laying your hands on those patients and our firefighters will see literally 100,000 people who are not necessarily healthy.

Ted Simons: Schoolchildren, at schools, mass vaccination programs, these are not mandatory, correct?

Bob Khan: They're not. I have a six and eight-year-old and they're a petri dish for everything. We've not had to have the flu run through our house because we believe strongly in the immunization and the vaccines and it really will give you the layer of protection. Especially for the younger kids.

Ted Simons: Talk about that. So many parents are concerned. Not comfortable with getting this vaccine for their children. Are they unfounded?

Bob Khan: I talked to Dr. Bob England and -- says those are wise tales and typically, your arm gets sore. There's one in a million chances that you may have a reaction to it, but everything that I'm hearing and reading, and there again, I'm not a medical professional, but everything I've seen is that's just a wise tale.

Ted Simons: For those who say I never get the flu and never get a flu shot, this particular strain is Johnny come lately.

Bob Khan: It's very contagious and put you down for seven to nine days and if you have preexisting medical conditions, it can be worse. Talking to the healthcare professionals I know, the numbers can be as high as a thousand fatalities in the state of Arizona and 250 kids. Those are significant numbers.

Ted Simons: Focusing on children, there might have been something in the late '50s and maybe as far back as the '30s, separate strains that were similar.

Bob Khan: That's why people who are older aren't as susceptible. But if you're younger and haven't been exposed to those strains of influenza, that's why you need the get the shot. There's three mutations in the shots they typically give you for the influenza virus and so when you get that, you're building up antibodies for the flu and it gives you resistance. This strain, very contagious has not been around since those times and there's not a lot of resistance or antibodies built up.

Ted Simons: Am I hearing there might be a nasal vaccine?

Bob Khan: My six-year-old did that, and there's a nasal injection as opposed to the needle in the arm and we used it for my child and seemed to work fine. It goes up the nose and it's a nasal injection of the vaccine.

Ted Simons: Ok. So if you're worried about a sore arm you can go that route or it should be for certain folks at certain times?

Bob Khan: I would defer to my pediatrician but she seemed it was fine and didn't require the wrestling of getting the shot itself.

Ted Simons: Kids 4 months to 6 years, pregnant women and adults caring for these kinds of kids, should be first in line.

Bob Khan: Yes, sir, absolutely. I see no reason not to go down that road, Ted, and Dr. Bob England, talked to physicians but everything I'm seeing and reading and talking to our health professionals are saying get the immunization.

Ted Simons: And if you get the doses in mid October, it's all systems are go, what about the rest of us?

Bob Khan: The flu shot now is available. Your typical flu shot for the three strains I referred to. When the CDC and Arizona Department of Health Services come up with the plan, that I am look at the target areas and the less vulnerable folks will get in line after that. They'll design a plan and they're currently working on that at this point. They're very busy.

Ted Simons: Are you concerned there's so much information out there by weigh of the internet and all other electronic forms that scare stories and horror stories and misinformation is flying around and parents might get the wrong information?

Bob Khan: You know, everybody seems to be doing a pretty good job and most responsible parents are going to say -- defer to their pediatricians or healthcare providers. If there are folks who aren't getting the good information, go to the CDC website or the Arizona department of health services. Somewhere where it’s reputable. Not necessarily the blogs that might be throwing rhetoric out there and some conspiracy theories, if you would.

Ted Simons: Your two kids vaccinated?

Bob Khan: I got vaccinated today. And they're in line to get vaccinated.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

Bob Khan: Thanks, Ted.

Tuition Tax Credits

  |   Video
  • A legislative panel is searching for ways to stop reported abuses in Arizona’s tuition tax credit law. Meanwhile, there are those who say the law cannot be fixed because it’s unconstitutional. Hear what Institute for Justice attorney Tim Keller and AEA President John Wright have to say about the issue.
  • Tim Keller - Institute for Justice Attorney
  • John Wright - Arizona Education Association President
Category: Legislature

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Today at the state capitol, a bipartisan taskforce began looking into reported abuses of Arizona's tuition tax credit law. The law was intended to help low-income students attend private schools. Here's how it works. To qualify for the maximum allowable $500 individual income tax credit, a person must contribute at least that much to a school tuition organization. STOs then use that money to give private school scholarships to kids. They're supposed to go to kids who otherwise are not able to afford private school, but an investigative series by "The East Valley Tribune" revealed that's not always the case. In the following segment, you'll hear from a reporter who worked on the series, followed by an NAU accounting professor who testified at today's hearing.

>> Federal tax law forbids donations that are earmarked or designated for a -- to benefit one person. It's not charity if you're saying I'm just going to give money to help this one person. If you're giving money to a charity to disburse based on need and other things, that's charity. Instead of calling these earmarks, they call them recommendations and we found from actually going out and talking to parents and schools and reading surprisingly blunt details that schools publish describing how these works, they just change the wording thinking that will allow them to be within what the law allows, and at least on the fed side. The state law doesn't even address it.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask about oversight, you're saying no state oversight?

>> There's no actual regulation of the system by the state.

Larry Mohrweis: The reporters for the "The East Valley Tribune" and the "The Arizona Republic" did an excellent job of identifying many of the problems, many of the issues that have taken place. Where I think is lacking is looking on the other side of the ledger. That it's a balanced approach. A recognition that there are school tuition organizations out there that are doing exactly what you want them to be doing. It's the legislature's job as policymakers to clearly outline what you consider to be acceptable. And it is clearly the STO organization's job to make sure that they are not being just conduits passing donations from grandma or donations from aunts and uncles to nieces and nephews and -- and to children. And that's -- that's why I would like to see the overall policy be improved and I still stand on a position which is very controversial because some do not like that, but I still stand on the position that scholarships should be based on financial need and not earmarked for a specific child.

Ted Simons: While the taskforce is looking into ways to improve Arizona's tuition tax credit law, there are those who believe the law is unconstitutional. They say it violates Article IX Section X of the Arizona Constitution which states, "No tax shall be laid or appropriation made in aid of any church or private or sectarian school or any public service corporation." A challenge to Arizona's tuition tax credit law is up for review before the Arizona Supreme Court. Joining me is John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, one of the groups behind the challenge. And Tim Keller, an attorney for the Institute For Justice, which is defending the state's tuition tax credit law. Good to have you both back on "Horizon." Thank you for being here.

John Wright and Tim Keller: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Let's start with the idea that the law needs to be reformed. Agreed?

John Wright: It's a simple reform to make this law better and that's to repeal it. It's not good education policy and I believe the Arizona Supreme Court will rule it unconstitutional when they act.

Ted Simons: Between now and then and if they act in a direction that may not to be to your liking, reforms needed then?

John Wright: As we heard on the report, there's no oversight and regulation and no real guidance about how these tuition organizations should be functioning. The money is not going to the students that it was intended to support. You have people from both sides of the political spectrum saying this isn't the way it's supposed to work. Trent franks, himself, has said this has gone awry. This isn't what we meant. When you have subsidies for students already attending private school and parents who are capable of paying the money who are getting the money funneled into their private account.

Ted Simons: A lot of people say reform is needed. Do you agree?

Tim Keller: Yes, for better or worse, the recent spate of news articles by the "The East Valley Tribune" and the "The Arizona Republic" have tarnished the reputation of this tax credit. Therefore, the most important reform that the legislature can pursue is transparency. That means additional reporting requirements placed on the school tuition organizations receiving these donations from taxpayers. The reason transparency is important because once we know more about who these scholarship organizations are funding, what we'll see, the vast majority of them are going to families in need. One of the things that the "The East Valley Tribune" failed to do was actually document any large or vast problems with the program. Instead, all they revealed was four families who said they could probably afford the tuition without scholarship assistance.

Ted Simons: When the paper investigation says tax credits are not making private schools more accessible, you say?

Tim Keller: They're absolutely wrong. And, in fact, their own articles make the point for me. The "The East Valley Tribune" says there were at least seven school tuition organizations issuing scholarships based on what the paper says is appropriate means. Based on financial needs. But they only named three of the seven. Those three fund 10,000 scholarships annually. And that's a third of the scholarships going to kids who desperately need the financial assistance. If you factor in the other four unnamed, probably up to half and then the Tribune failed to say that the other STOs, financial need isn't the only criteria; oftentimes, it's one of the criteria they use.

John Wright: I don't think we can't deny the data that there's widespread abuse and exactly the kind of abuse that the AEA pointed out when we first argued the case back in 1997. I think there's more than transparency needed. There's transparency now that has exposed some of this abuse but there's nothing to be done about it. We need not just transparency, but enforcement mechanisms. Something has to happen to people who are misusing public dollars like this.

Ted Simons: Are the STOs doing what they're supposed to do and not allowing for earmarks or are they being lost in all of this?

John Wright: I don't know if they're being lost in the eyes of those promoting the STOs, but I know what is being lost. Funding for public schools where 90% of the students attend. We have 37 students in a 25-station chemical lab and subsidies going to private schools. That's not good public policy.

Ted Simons: The paper reported that tuition at private schools, instead of going down, has gone up, along with reports that it wasn't as accessible as it should be for private -- basically what they're saying, the goals were X, Y and Z, and they aren't happening. We've had congressman franks on here saying that it's not really working out. They were supposed to be designed for poor kids. It sounds like there are a lot of ways to reform here.

Tim Keller: What I'm saying is that the program is in large measure working as it was originally designed and intended to function. That is that there are tens of thousands of kids receiving scholarships based on financial need and attending private schools they couldn't otherwise attend. The idea is we're going to empower parents and based on the simple premise there's no one size fits all approach to education and there's no one better suited to decide where the child's proper placement is than that child's parents. That's going to include public, private, charter or home schools and what they've done with this program is empower parents who otherwise couldn't afford private schools to add that to the legitimate array of options they have in Arizona.

John Wright: I want to tell you, I agree with everything that Tim said, except it shouldn't be done at taxpayer expense. Choice, opportunity empower parents, find scholarships and give low-income children the chance at multiple institutions. Do it through donations. I think Arizonans have the biggest heart if there's a place they can contribute to as a charity and get a deduction on the income taxes. There can't be a dollar for dollar tax credit that siphons money off of traditional public schools.

Ted Simons: And that's your idea, because what? Essentially you're saying this is government sponsored.

John Wright: It's a scheme to permit these organizations to do in one fashion what the constitution prohibits them to do. We've had a court ruling that says vouchers are unconstitutional. You cannot take a dollar of tax money to pay a dollar of tuition. It's a back-door way of doing it. I think the Supreme Court will see it that way.

Tim Keller: The Arizona Supreme Court has already considered and rejected every single one of the teachers' unions arguments against tax credits. 1997 they filed a challenge to the individual tax credit program which was rejected and the court said three things with regard to article IX section X. These aren't appropriated funds. They're dollars donated by individuals and now corporations to the school tuition organizations.

Ted Simons: I want to stop you because I've heard this argument many times and what I keep hearing, these are not donated dollars. They're not contributed because basically if you're making the donation, you're using money that would otherwise go to the general -- you're not using your money. You're not out the money.

Tim Keller: These are individuals who have to at the end of the tax year write a check to a school tuition organization for their contribution. Yes, they receive a tax benefit. It's a dollar for dollar tax credit. There's no doubt about that, but these are funds that they have to decide whether or not they're going to give. There's no state-sponsored encouragement to do one thing after another. Donations to the citizens' clean elections act.

Ted Simons: Cut it in half, 50-cents on the dollar.

Tim Keller: I don't think it changes the constitutional issue one way or the other. These aren't state appropriated dollars. The other thing, they're not taxes. This is -- this is -- the argument that the teachers' union presented is that they get a credit against their taxes. That argument is a slippery slope. All of our money belongs to the state unless the state decides to let us keep it.

Ted Simons: Are tax credits done for if this credit is done for?

John Wright: I think you have to look at tax credits in general as economic policy and revenue policy. And I think if we identified this particular program as unconstitutional, you would see other tax credit schemes as unconstitutional as well. For other areas where we have tax credits and there are a number of others, I think that state government's not doing their job. If they think a particular program is important enough, they should appropriate money and support that program. The state government cannot legally support private or religious schools and this is a back-door way they're trying to do it.

Ted Simons: You don't see individual charitable donations in this money?

John Wright: Not a tax credit. I think Arizonans will make individual charitable donations and support causes like this. We do it through our churches and United Way. They will make the contributions necessary. They don't have to be coerced.

Ted Simons: Why not deductions as opposed to tax credits?

Tim Keller: Tax credits are a way to encourage citizens to engage in positive social policy and there's no doubt that the Arizona legislature has decided that providing aid to families to empower them to choose private education is good social policy.

John Wright: I don't think Arizonans need that kind of encouragement. I think they're willing do it without that coercion.

Ted Simons: If the courts continue to let this stand, how much reform is needed? Overhaul the program? Fine-tune? What needs to be done?

John Wright: I think there's an overhaul that needs -- that will be required. We have legislators that vote and earn a profit from these programs when they go to work after legislature is out of session. We've seen examples and it's probably just scratching the surface of the abuses and I think top to bottom, we have to look at how the state accounts for this money.

Ted Simons: Overhaul or simple reform?

Tim Keller: Simple reform. Transparency and empower the Arizona department of revenue to rein in any bad actors violating state or federal law.

Ted Simons: That means increased regulation. Are you ready for it?

Tim Keller: Ready.

Ted Simons: Thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

John Wright and Tim Keller: Thank you.