Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

October 30, 2009


Host: Richard Ruelas

Journalists Roundtable

  |   Video
  • Local reporters review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Dennis Welch - The Arizona Guardian
  • Jim Small - The Arizona Capitol Times
  • Mike Sunnucks - The Business Journal
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Richard Ruelas: Hello and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Richard Ruelas sitting in for Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian," Jim Small of "The Arizona Capitol Times," and Mike Sunnucks of "The Business Journal." Thanks for coming out on this Friday night and engaging in this silliness in the Journalists' Roundtable. It seems to be the slow season but it seems there's a lot of politics going on. We'll start with the City of Phoenix. David Cavazos being named the City Manager.

Mike Sunnucks: They did a national search to replace frank Fairbanks who had been there for two decades.

Richard Ruelas: It was a nationwide search?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, and inside -- so Cavazos won. He was the economic development director and assistant director at Sky Harbor and one of the deputy city managers at the city. They went with him. He faces a dubious situation with the budget. They're looking at the $65 million to $90 million deficit for the rest of the fiscal year so they're facing more budget cuts like other states and cities right now.

Richard Ruelas: Is there a chance that the legislature when they eventually come back in, will sweep money from the city as a possible remedy?

Dennis Welch: There's always that possibility that they're going to try and sweep that money. But you've got to remember the city lobby has a lot of influence and power and they guard that jealously. And any time you go after that, it stirs them up.

Mike Sunnucks: I haven't seen as much this session. It popped up a couple of years ago. The cities make a good argument. When sweeping money, we're talking about police and fire. A lot of key local services.

Jim Small: In the past, President Bob Burns has been a critic. But he went out of his way before last session to say we're not going to do that. We had a big problem to solve, but we're not going to take it from the cities. We'll see if that happens.

Richard Ruelas: The mayor is already talking about possible emergency tax increase. That idea may spread to other cities. Is that a worry that may come back to bite the lawmakers?

Dennis Welch: They may not be coming after the cities to take the state shared revenue. But some say it's forcing the local governments to bear some burden. You may recall, there's a movement with the Department of Corrections, people serving under a year have to serve in the county jail. Certain policies are forcing cities to raise taxes.

Mike Sunnucks: And cities are so dependent on sales tax for the revenue base. Sales tax is way down and that's going to be a lagging indicator. Even if the economy improves. Consumer spending will be one of the latter things to bound back. Sales tax will be one of the last ones.

Jim Small: Education is another area, like Dennis was saying where policy changes at the state are shifting that burden down to local homeowners and business owner where is a district may have to do an override or bond that may -- they say they wouldn't have otherwise had to do.

Richard Ruelas: We'll see overrides coming up Tuesday.

Dennis Welch: I think this is going to be a fascinating election to watch, because given the current economic environment, the outcomes of these are going to be particularly important. I bet you the governor will be watching this. These things historically pass easily. What is the result going to look like this year? More overrides and more bond elections go down? That could further the argument that people don't want the sales tax. But if they pass overwhelmingly, the governor could take that back to the legislature.

Richard Ruelas: If they pass but don’t pass overwhelmingly like they use to.

Dennis Welch: People are going to try to make whatever they want to to support their positions as well.

Mike Sunnucks: The turnouts are usually small. It's usually the -- if we see a shift, that would say a lot. Nobody spent any money on these campaign so it could be a -- would be a good indicator of where the public is. We have all of these challenges right now and we want someone who can come in and knows the system. The guy started as an intern and been there two decades so they didn't want to go outside and have --

Richard Ruelas: He also seemed to weather a storm. He wasn't unanimous, councilman Mike Johnson voted against him. But weathered controversy about travel pretty well?

Mike Sunnucks: Phoenix got issues about how much people are traveling especially during these tough times and we'll see what happens with the other guys who he beat out. A lot of guys had been there for a long time and we'll see if they stay or move on.

Richard Ruelas: You love it when the session is going. When the lawmakers are there. And helps things out. When is the latest word we might see them back at work at the budget?

Jim Small: Everybody is looking at November as being a time when the special session may happen. And people are now saying it will be maybe the week before Thanksgiving, the 17th, 18th, right around there. So they come in and do a quick fix of a couple of agencies and finish the special session quickly. I think what's holding it up, you have a lot of people, especially in the house of representatives who want to take a chunk out of the $2 billion budget. They want to fix $500 million that -- in cuts that the governor vetoed back in September. And want to add on and maybe take out another 2, 3, $400 million so in January, they're not staring at this problem.

Richard Ruelas: Statutorily, do they have to get down to zero before a certain time frame?

Dennis Welch: I don't think so. It was -- you had to get a balanced budget by July 1st. Well, they broke that threshold.

Jim Small: It's a constitutional thing, you know, the legislature must present a balanced budget. Well, technically, the legislature presented a balanced budget and the governor vetoed it and made the situation unbalanced. So I mean, no one sued over it, and it would have to be litigated before any kind of determine nation was made.

Richard Ruelas: They were -- determination.

Richard Ruelas: I think the clock was turn turned off in the chamber for a while, right?

Jim Small: And technically, it didn't get presented until the early morning hours of July 5th which was the new fiscal year. It angered people, the way it went down, but the state spent most of last year out of balance.

Mike Sunnucks: It will can interesting to see if the dynamic changes. If she's going to be able to get a few Democrats to go along and they're trying and there's indication they could get a few Dems on there where she hasn't before.

Dennis Welch: She's gotten rid of her former chief, replaced it with her budget director out there. I think it will be real interesting to see how effective she is in being able to bring everybody to the table. Get what kind of deal they can cut and show what kind of relationship this governor's going to have with the legislature, moving forward, because as we know, it's been acrimonious at best this year and if they can get something done, it bodes well for the governor moving forward.

Mike Sunnucks: It's like a big credit card bill you have. And if you try to pay it off at once, it's hard to do. They had a chance to go to special session with Janet, and they didn't want to do that. It's easier to swallow for folks and get that through, instead, they get bigger and bigger and can't get a deal and it's going to be tough.

Richard Ruelas: The spending continues at the rate they've allowed it, to appropriated these agency, they keep spending money thinking they have this budget, when it comes time to cut, a lot of that money is gone. Are there practical things they need to do to keep state government running? I mean, there's talk of dire emergencies, some --

Jim Small: I think Dean Martin, treasurer Dean Martin said the funding would run out in January or February. The way the budget is shaped right now. At least until that point, they'll have money in the bank the past that, you enter unchartered territory. We were borrowing $100 million a day just to pay bills and pay that go back at the end of the day as tax receipts came in. It will be interesting to see whether a special session happens before the holidays or not. Because if you don't get it done in the next couple of weeks, you really miss a window and you have a lot of people gone. Spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, all of these holidays.

Richard Ruelas: You talk about agencies that need quick fixes. What are those quick fixes and are they necessary?

Jim Small: Yeah, there's a couple, corporation commission and the department of revenue are two in particular who they had some -- the fund's been appropriated. They just don't have the legal mechanism to go in and get it.

Richard Ruelas: Ok.

Jim Small: The corporation commission closed its Tucson office and the Department of Revenue says it may fire half of its staff if it doesn't get this assurance that the fixes will be made.

Mike Sunnucks: It seems like a common public policy thing. If the back -- it's to back people up in the corner. Oh, Thanksgiving, you want to go home? When we try to pressure lawmakers into passing something, it's worked in congress and legislatures before. Sometimes it doesn't work. And this year, it hasn't yet. These artificial delays and deadlines they present to people annoy lawmakers sometimes.

Richard Ruelas: I don't know, has a deal been crafted? Is there crafting going on somewhere, do you think?

Dennis Welch: You hope before they come into a special session. Typically, until this year, the law of political physics in the state don't apply. But historically, there's a deal. You come in after the deal's been done and vote it out and do whatever it is and go home. It doesn't happen that much this year.

Mike Sunnucks: This year, they took one plan too into a rules committee where they had -- and they hold the vote --

Richard Ruelas: Governor was trying to publicly shame --

Dennis Welch: Somebody might call it unanimous. [Laughter]

Richard Ruelas: There's been another string -- it seems we've had a drumbeat of these, of these 15% reports. The governor asking agencies if I ask you to cut 15% out of your agency, what happens and it sounds like freeways crumble.

Dennis Welch: It's great political theater because we can present all of this horrible stuff that's going to happen. The sky literally will fall. We were talking in the green room, some of this stuff ain't going to happen. You know? According to these 15% cuts, going to let 10,000 to 13,000 prisoners out. And there's not a lawmaker down there who wants to be responsible for letting 10,000 to 13,000 prisoners out.

Richard Ruelas: Are these reports based in some reality? If we cut 15% from the department of corrections, will we have to release prisoners or possibly, to get headlines choosing to let another program --

Mike Sunnucks: We're bringing in 6.5-7 in revenue and -- through Napolitano, we've been cutting taxes and raising spending. Either the -- that doesn't mesh.

Dennis Welch: These 15% cuts, whatever they are, is within the context of the governor still, again, moving for that one-cent sales tax increase she's been fighting for since she got into office. This is, again, more leverage she can use. If we do this, this is the bleak outlook that the state faces unless we get some of that money.

Richard Ruelas: Some of these are campaign -- help her campaign for a sales tax, essentially.

Jim Small: Not a campaign with the people. I think her campaign with the capitol. That's where it's about. Republican lawmakers I've talked to have said we know what she's doing. Trying to force us into doing this by pointing this horrible picture. Making it look like Arizona is going to be the thunder dome if this happens. I don't think I've talked to a Republican lawmaker who said, yeah, she's right. Look at these cuts, we're going to have to change. They say, no, I'm going to dig heels in further. This is public blackmail.

Mike Sunnucks: This isn't a one-year budget deal here. The economy is not going to turn around right away. Revenue is not going to turn around. The surplus bill is not going to be there forever. Her argument is, this isn't an one-time budget which I think a lot of people down the legislature view it. This is a three, four, five-year budget fight and we have the structural shortfall we're not going to be able to deal with. 15% may be sensationalistic for this budget. But over the years, yeah.

Richard Ruelas: You had an interesting story in the guardian, usually governors help their state parties out and I don't know whether Brewer's governorship is helping Republicans. Is all of this hurting her popularity?

Dennis Welch: Some say, the story is that Governor Brewer hasn't been the big fundraiser traditionally governors have in the past. They tend to be big, big benefits for the parties they belong to. They've got a lot of power. They can call people up. I'm going to have this function, bring your wallet. Blah, blah, blah. People want access to that. Review of recent records filed with the FEC, hasn't happened. Some people said, listen, she's had to deal with a budget crisis. All of these financial problems and other stuff that's going on. She hasn't been able to focus on raising money. That's interesting and one reason out there. And the other is, though, she's traditionally doesn't like fund-raising and they also say she could go after more money once she decides she's going to run, way one or the other.

Mike Sunnucks: The governors will raise money for the party and the knock is force them to spend the money on them. When Janet was in there, she raised money for the party and most of it went to helping her. And there was a lot of complaints from democrats that they didn't help them enough.

Dennis Welch: By contrast, Janet Napolitano, under her leadership, the party had gobs of money.

Mike Sunnucks: [inaudible] Peterson.

Dennis Welch: But a lot was Napolitano. Very effective at doing that stuff.

Richard Ruelas: Seemed to be in demand as a keynote speaker.

Dennis Welch: She was. And you can't underscore the economy again. It touches everything and it's harder to go out there and raise campaign dollars and hit people up for dollars when they don't have that themselves. Coincidentally, on the other side, since Napolitano left, Democrats have struggled to raise money and they were down to $4,000 cash on hand with one of the key federal committees they use to pay salaries out of.

Richard Ruelas: Speaking of Brewer's popularity, she was one talked about in the KAET poll. Donate now. To discuss, I guess we can use this as a handicapping mechanism to see how the governor's race is shaping up. The polls say that people haven't formed an opinion on Jan Brewer. They also didn't have an opinion about Ken Bennett or Dean Martin. I don't know how unusual that is.

Dennis Welch: I find it interesting they haven't formed an opinion about the governor. I think it shows how she hasn't been out there in the media a lot of she's been on "Horizon" a couple of times. Hasn't really appeared on KJZZ and NPR.

Richard Ruelas: I don't believe she had a talk to the governor show.

Dennis Welch: No, and Napolitano had weekly press briefing. This governor is behind closed doors. People don't know Jan Brewer.

Mike Sunnucks: Maybe that's good. Maybe people blame the legislature with what's going on and don't associate it with her. These other offices, Bennett, Martin, and even Goddard, I think it shows the transient nature of Arizona and people aren't that engaged that much on a lot of political offices.

Richard Ruelas: Brewer did make heady decisions in the session. Probably surprised folks by going against her party but maybe didn't explain that enough?

Jim Small: I think Dennis is right. She's not out there or acting certainly the way we've seen the governor act in the previous six years, with campaigning for her own projects. Out campaigning across the state and Governor Brewer did that for her five-point plan when she announced it but a lot of that was done in meetings at different social groups and chambers of commerce and it wasn't in front of the public or media. And I think really her lack of visibility is amplified by the fact she was appointed to this office. Didn't campaign for it. So voters don't know who she is. Even if they voted for her for secretary of state.

Richard Ruelas: Move into, as we opinion with the poll. Our weekly Arpaio block. Phenomenally popular and very few people had no opinion of the man. Their opinions were strong. Is there any talk of running for governor?

Mike Sunnucks: Most people don't think he's ever going to pull the trigger on that but he could raise money off it for his own campaign for sheriff. It brings him attention and he enjoys that. He insists he can win if he wants, but I don't think there's an indication that he's going to change his MO and -- M.O. and run. And the poll says and there's a Rasmussen poll that says that people in the county support his law and order, anti-immigrant stance for the most part.

Richard Ruelas: There's a statewide race that an opponent could use against him and there's a few we can go over here. Joel fox, filed suit against the county.

Jim Small: Saying he was going to sue -- he wanted a settlement for $75,000 for emotional distress. For basically the entire process which he called it illegal in his letter. Said that the county basically pursued a massive fine, in violation of state law and admitted as much in one of the final orders in the case and because of that they should pay him $75,000 as a settlement or else he's going to pursue civil and criminal charges.

Richard Ruelas: Sounds like the dispute wasn't about the nature of the charge. Whether campaign donations were funneled through him --

Jim Small: It was a matter of procedure and nothing to do with whether he did what he actually did and whether he agrees with that.

Richard Ruelas: And Arpaio had a news release calling for a reassessment of his security.

Mike Sunnucks: That there's a report that Lou DOBBs shot at his house. It was hunting season and he lives in a rural area. And they have the same immigration stances and get criticism for that. So Joe thinks I should look at my security. There's handfuls of protesters, only a handful, I don't think there's non-incident down there. But he says, some of the rhetoric saying he's equivalent to a neo-Nazi. And they're going to look at it.

Dennis Welch: I don't doubt you want to beef up security around such a galvanizing figure like the sheriff. It seems every few years, Joe comes out and says someone wants to kill him and there was a death threat. And that remains to be seen and I'm sure he does want to look at his security because he's taken some unpopular decisions.

Richard Ruelas: Is it possible that Russell Pearce becomes the director of public safety.

Mike Sunnucks: He can't do it if he resigns, it has to be the end of the term. But it was floated out there as something to galvanize the party together. Brewer got hit for supporting the sales tax, especially from conservatives, but she may be able to take a harder stance on abortion and social issues and maybe if she has Russell Pearce in her camp, it will bring the conservatives back.

Dennis Welch: She had Russell Pearce on her tax increase.

Jim Small: Putting someone like Pearce in charge of DPS might not be a good idea. That the law enforcement agency has its own culture and doesn't like when people from the outside come in and take control and they're protective of their own. Roger Vanderpool came up through the ranks and officers will tell you they would want someone to come up from within the agency, then someone without a DPS background.

Mike Sunnucks: He would make it a statewide MCSO and follow Joe's lead in being aggressive.

Richard Ruelas: If that's the case, it would obviously give us a lot more to talk about. Gentlemen, that's all we have for the Journalists' Roundtable. Thanks for joining me this Friday night.

Jim Small, Mike Sunnucks, and Dennis Welch: Thank you.

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