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November 23, 2009

Host: Ted Simons

1,000 Foot Free Power Line Extension

  |   Video
  • In the past, to encourage growth, landowners were not charged by APS for the first $25,000 of costs to extend power lines to their properties. The Arizona Corporation Commission has reversed that policy. Now, landowners must pay the complete cost of connecting their properties to a source of power. Critics say this has unfairly lowered property values and negatively impacted Arizona’s economy. Ted Simons will discuss the issue with Bobby Miller, a realtor representing Arizonans for Fair Power Policy and Sandy Bahr, Director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club.
  • Bobby Miller - Arizonans for Fair Power Policy
  • Sandy Bahr - Director, Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club

View Transcript
Ted Simons: An administrative law judge recommends that APS be allowed to raise its rates about $6 a month. The Arizona Corporation Commission is set to hear the case in early December. APS reached a settlement agreement on the rate hike with 22 of 24 parties in the case. One thing not included in the settlement is a request to return to the days of free powerline extensions. David Majure has more.

David Majure: Getting electricity to your property used to be free. As long as the property was within 1,000 feet of existing powerlines and the cost of a line extension was $25,000 or less, Arizona Public Service would make the connection at no cost to the landowner. The policy was an effort to promote growth. But in 2007, the Arizona corporation commission changed the policy that had been in effect for decades. The Arizona capital times quoted corporation commission chairman Kris Mayes as says we decided to eliminate the free footage allowance because we were concerned that utility rate payers were subsidizing log splitters and sprawl. Now the landowner must pay the entire cost of extending a powerline to its property. The expense is no longer passed on to our ratepayers. Critics say it's created a disincentive for growth because many landowners can no longer afford to build on their property. They say the policy is hurting the market for construction jobs, negatively impacted local tax revenues and causes property resale values to plummet.

Ted Simons: Joining me to talk about the free line extension policy -- Bobby Miller, a west valley Realtor who's representing Arizonans for Fair Power Policy, an organization that's pushing to reinstate free line extensions, and Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club. Good to have you on "Horizon". 2007, power policy is reversed. Why is that a good idea?

Sandy Bahr: Because it ends a subsidy for urban sprawl. Something that's in place for a long time. Arizona has a lot of subsidies for sprawl and development. And finally, the corporation commission decided, look, the ratepayers should not be paying for the people who wanted -- the people who want the line extensions should pay for it.

Ted Simons: Why is it a bad idea?

Bobby Miller: It has a domino effect into too many areas of the community. The people who were subsidizing were paying 20 cents approximately per household, but the policy benefited an extreme number of rural Arizonans, as well as those who intend to go to rural Arizona and there's a domino effect that begins from the construction industry through 50 trades on down to mortgage industry, engineering, surveying, all the way into federal and state lands and the values of those.

Ted Simons: Let's start with the economic impact of this. You just heard Bobbie, this sounds like a killer as far as construction development is concerned. They have to be concerned.

Sandy Bahr: First of all, there's no indication that this has affected construction in anyway. The economic downturn has affected it, and the bottom line is if you already have a markets that is overbuilt, we have thousands and thousands of empty houses and thousands of lots that have been platted but that haven't been built on and so the argument that we need to encourage more building by subsidizing it, that doesn't hold much water. You know, yes, there has been an economic downturn, but I think if you ask most, they'll say growth ought to pay for itself, we’ve been subsidizing it for too long. This is a small way begin the process of paying for itself.

Ted Simons: The concept of growth paying for itself. That makes sense.

Bobby Miller: But it always has been there. Look at the industry we have in Arizona and discuss exactly what would be the largest industry. Is it semiconductors, anything beyond growth? I'd say no. I've been here my whole life since 1951 and watched growth be the most dominant industry and this has affected growth substantially and has the potential to stymie growth.

Sandy Bahr: There's no indication it's affected growth at all and so that is not an accurate statement. They presented their case to the corporation mission commission. The administrative law judge reviewed and they found no indication that this policy has affected growth at all.

Ted Simons: Doesn't it make sense if it's going to cost a homeowner, a developer, whomever, $20,000 more than what they're already paying, especially in rural areas, doesn't that sound like a chilling effect, even in areas that are already developed but not to 1,000 feet?

Sandy Bahr: Well, first of all, in most places it's not going to cost that much. If you have them pay for the sewers, it gets incorporated into the cost of the home and the mortgage. And there were, by the way, other provisions in the rate case, there was an impact fee under consideration and several things that APS backed off on and the bottom line, it's a basic question of fairness. Should all of the APS ratepayers have to subsidize someone's mansion in the woods?

Ted Simons: That's the basic question. Should everyone pay for a powerline extension for that other person? Why should I have to pay for that?

Bobby Miller: I have been since 1954, and I didn’t hear anyone complain. All of the relatives in the industries I spoke of related to growth from any way are affected by that. She says it has no impact. She doesn't sell land. I sell land. I'm not selling land.

Sandy Bahr: You cannot blame an economic downturn on this policy. It does not pass the laugh test.

Ted Simons: Go ahead, respond to that, please.

Sandy Bahr: I thought you were done.

Bobby Miller: I'm not done. This is not an economic downturn effect.

Bobby Miller: There's a lot of people who have lost their homes but own a piece of property that would gladly put a rural home or a manufactured home on that land and make that move out to rural Arizona. They cannot do it. Quite frankly, we've had four quotes for an 800-foot extension, it was $25,400, to 130 foot extension, it was 11,800. And for property line power just delivered to a home that used to be free, all of these were free in the past, it now costs $7,800 for property line power. The fact of the matter is this has been major effect for my clients, the people I see every day. I don't lobby at the state capitol. I talk to people who want to buy, sell and live in Arizona.

Sandy Bahr: The Realtors lobby at the state capitol and for a very long time, the Realtors, and the Realtors' association, the homebuilders association, have opposed any efforts to have growth pay for itself. There's more money in their pocket if the rest us pay for it. It's a basic issue of fairness. And maybe at one time, there was a good reason for it, but there are a lot of policies that don't make sense. One would say we don't need to subsidize growth anymore. Continuing to focus purely on growth and having an economy that relies too heavily on it, has brought us to this situation and it's going to take a long time to dig out.

Ted Simons: This particular situation suggests if one person is hit with this, regardless of the cost, it's going to cost something to get the power out there, 1,000 feet, more or less, if they pay for it, aren't they subsidizing for everyone else that comes after them?

Bobby Miller: That's correct, Ted. That person intends to keep doing things but having the power grid completely growing and gives everybody else an opportunity to tie in. Which has always been the case. That's one of the reasons rural Arizona has done so well, when you go to the mountains, there are beautiful communities that have paid their way and beautiful communities up at Anthem and the southwest valley, all the way down to Buckeye that have filled in those communities with power at their own expense that has worked for the last 50 years.

Sandy Bahr: And the ratepayers and taxpayers have heavily subsidized those communities in many way, not just with extension of electric lines but roads and other service services and the people of Arizona have said repeatedly we think that growth should pay for itself. We need to turn this around. This is one small step to do that. You know, we -- we need to begin now to move this back and have -- and have development pay for itself and -- and you know, I would again argue that the economic downturn has more do with a lot of land speculation and over-supply and the problems with the mortgages and foreclosures and this is just a really small piece of the pie but it's an important one if you're an APS ratepayer. By the way Tucson electric power ended this and Unisource and all those other utilities have ended this policy. And it's a basic issue of fairness and, yes, the Realtors want us to continue to pay their freight.

Bobby Miller: That's not true. Salt River project --

Sandy Bahr: They're not regulated by the corporation commission.

Bobby Miller: And quite frankly, a lot of statements she made were erroneous. I grew up on Bethany home road when there was nothing beyond my home. If the policy that the Sierra club presented back in 2000, prop 202, would have gone through, which is a lot like this policy, I would have seen no growth in Phoenix in my lifetime. We grow here and develop here and so much of our industry depends on the continued growth and continueddevelopment which this policy has been snuck under the radar in 2007. We at this table may have been aware of it, but the common people in the general populace weren't aware of what happened with the corporation commission diminishing this particular policy. And it needs to brought forth and let the people decide. Which was a 2-1 vote against the Sierra club.

Ted Simons: Very quickly, we don’t have much time left. Is there compromise on this issue? Can you cap a fee? Doing something halfway? Kansas and Iowa and these other places which seem to have less than the cap we have here.

Bobby Miller: By all means, common sense will always prevail. It's something that we need to sit down and make sure that all have the opportunity to see, rather than having a small sector sneak it under the radar.

Sandy Bahr: Talk about a small sector, the Realtors are professionals at this. We have subsidized this for far too long. The corporation made a wise decision in 2007. They should keep it in place. It's a good settlement for the ratepayers of APS.

Bobby Miller: I respectfully disagree.

Ted Simons: We have you both on camera and record. Thank you for joining us on "Horizon."

H1N1 Update

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  • Dr. Bob England, Director of the Maricopa County Public Health Department, dispels myths and misinformation about the H1N1 flu virus.
  • Dr. Bob England - Director of the Maricopa County Public Health Department
Category: Medical/Health

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The state department of health services shows that many Arizonans are receiving inaccurate information about the H1N1 virus. Here with the facts is Dr. Bob England, director of the Maricopa County public health department. Thanks for joining us.

Bob England: Great to be here.

Ted Simons: Let's get the latest on the virus and the vaccine. What's new?

Bob England: Right now, it looks like we're on our way down a little bit, past the second wave of the epidemic but not all of our indicators look rosy, so it's going to be bumpy road down -- and this is only the second wave of the pandemic. If history is any guide, we should expect a third wave to come maybe as soon as our regular flu season starts in January. And that's important because regarding the vaccine, that's what has guided our strategy right now to push really hard on school-based vaccination. If we want to keep the disease from spreading as much as it has been when that third wave hits we need to get as many kids as possible immunized so they don't bounce it around to each other and spread it to the rest of the community.

Ted Simons: These kids are in and still are in the high-risk group, correct?

Bob England: Absolutely. From the beginning, we pushed the vaccine to those at the highest risk. Young kids and underlying health conditions and pregnant women and anyone caring for an infant who is too young themselves to be vaccinated and healthcare workers. We hit a point a couple weeks ago, where we had to make a decision are we going to keep the vaccine and pushing it that way and expand it to all children to try and prevent more spread of this disease and protect all of us by decreasing the amount of transmission in the community.

Ted Simons: And yet we keep hearing stories there's not enough vaccine. What's going on here?

Bob England: This has been the most frustrating process I've ever dealt with in my career. We've been allocated, meaning we're allowed to order each day less vaccine than we were led to believe originally might be coming. I'm not sure of all the reasons why. But it's been really frustrating for us to allocate it. And I know it's even more frustrating for healthcare providers who have to look their patients in the eye and say I don't have it yet or run out already and it's got to be frustrating who are seeking the vaccine. Who want it.

Ted Simons: Ok, so when do you think we're going to get what we need in terms of a vaccine?

Bob England: You know, we continue to push it out right now for the next few weeks to schools. We've got to finish the schools up before they go out for winter break, if that strategy of herd immunity and preventing transmission is going to work. We continue to push it out, otherwise we're hoping by the middle of December we should have enough to really hold some real public clinics with people whose providers aren't participating in this or people who don't have a provider can go and get vaccinated. We’re hard at work at setting those up right now.

Ted Simons: Our last Cronkite Eight poll, 54% say they're not going to get the vaccine. They say it's unsafe and untested.

Bob England: You know this vaccine is made exactly the way every season's flu vaccine is made. The vaccine against the novel H1N1 virus is just as new as every year's flu vaccine is new. It's the same vaccine made toward a different strain of the virus. That's all. It makes no sense whatsoever to have someone answer on a poll, yeah, they'll get the regular season flu shot but not this one. Your odds are greater of getting the novel flu during a pandemic because there's more of it being transmitted around and no partial immunity in the population of slowing it down than the odds of getting the regular seasonal flu.

Ted Simons: And yet we hear stories, especially back in the '70s, when it came out, there was a problem with that vaccine.

Bob England: The reported problem was a syndrome called GUILLAINE-BERET that hit one in 100,000 people that got the vaccine. They stopped the program because that particular disease never showed up. Never turned into the pandemic that was predicted. This time, you've got a real disease, that’s making a lot of people seriously ill balanced against that ever since that one year that caused the disease at a lower rate than the flu itself causes guillane-beret syndrome. You're better off getting the vaccine than getting the flu.

Ted Simons: Another myth is this isn't all that dangerous of a flu. It's just the flu. Is that a myth?

Bob England: You know, for the number of people, the rate at which people are dying, becoming seriously ill and dying, is about the same as you get with regular flu but it's hitting very different people. Half of our hospitalizations have been kids. That is way different from seasonal flu. About one in five of the deaths has been in kids. Most people who've gotten into serious trouble have underlying health conditions but they aren't things that people think of as being an underlying health condition. Pregnant women are at tremendously increased risk from this flu virus. Even compared to regular seasonal flu seasons. Kids with asthma, with diabetes, people with -- kids especially with neuromuscular disease are at extreme risk for serious complications of this. Yeah, the numbers may not seem off the charts, yeah, it's not 1918 all over again, but we still do need to pay attention to this and the people who are truly suffering this time around are younger. Older adults got to know, you still need your regular seasonal flu vaccine, and if you get this flu, any flu, contact your healthcare provider because you can get into serious trouble from this flu, just like you can seasonal flu. You're just much less likely to get sick in the first place.

Ted Simons: Alright, Dr. Bob, thanks for joining us.

Bob England: Thank you.

Special Session Update

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  • Arizona Capitol Times reporter Jim Small discusses the recently-concluded special legislative session that resulted in $300 million of new budget cuts.
  • Jim Small - Arizona Capitol Times
Category: Legislature

View Transcript

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon", I'm Ted Simons. Lawmakers wrapped up their special session today, sending $300 million of budget cuts to the governor, who quickly signed the legislation into law. Here with more is Jim Small, legislative reporter for "The Arizona Capitol Times." Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Jim Small: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: What actually happened? What's getting cut?

Jim Small: Well, what happened today was the legislature approved the package of bills they were set to do last week before things went a little bit HINKY in the state senate and the thing fell apart. And basically, looking at $300 million in cuts to education and the department of economic security, which runs the state's social services, social welfare programs, things like that… food stamps. And, looking at some fixes to state agency funding that allows a couple of agencies like the corporation commission and the Department of Revenue to access money that they'd been appropriated to but the statutory mechanism had been vetoed so they were looking at the money they couldn't touch.

Ted Simons: Last week the meltdown in part because one senator was not there and couldn't find him. Was he there today?

Jim Small: He was there today. Last week, one of the reasons he didn't show up because he wasn't going to vote for the budget. Today he stood up and apologized to his colleagues and said I'm sorry I didn’t let you know where I was going to be or why I didn't know where I was going to be and then voted yes on the bill and said he'd had time to think about the situation and received a commitment from his leadership team that his concerns about agencies being able to raise fees, that those would be addressed in the future. So he was satisfied enough with that and had a change of heart. Showed up and they had the 16 votes they needed.

Ted Simons: I was gonna say there was talk that a couple of democrats in the senate might be switching over. President Burns was working on them, but no one switched over?

Jim Small: Not on the main bill, the cut bill. The one that cut $300 million. This morning, senate President Burns was meeting with the Democrats really focus was senator Albert hale, from Northeastern Arizona, from the Navajo reservation, and looking to get funding -- federal aid for native American district schools. And that was one thing they'd been fighting for for a while and there was talk that the Republicans were going to give into that and going to try pick up a couple of democratic votes that way. The way it worked out with the senator coming back and another one that was gone, who was out of town last week, with her coming back, and they had the votes they needed.

Ted Simons: A little bit of hurt from the Democrats?

Jim Small: I think they were hurt much the way they had been. They made a number of speeches in the house about how Republicans are just looking at one part of the problem and not everything, that they're only looking at cuts and not looking at increasing revenues.

Ted Simons: The governor, any indication she was pushing things along in any way, shape or form?

Jim Small: The governer was probably involved behind the scenes. I think really what happened today, though, was mostly the one senator who had kind of gone off the reservation a little bit came back and had a change of heart for whatever reason. And voted for it. You know, I think, certainly, the governor's office would have been involved in any proposal that would have altered the plan to bring Democrats on board.

Ted Simons: Ok. So we've got this done. We have yet another special session likely in the next week or two, or is it likely? What are you hearing?

>> We don't know if it's likely yet. Obviously, this was a relatively easy fix. These were bills passed two or three times before. Things fell apart last week, and so whether they can actually bring together 16 and 31 votes in the senate and house in order to put together some kind of -- you know, more -- more intensive legislation, things like the sales tax referral or other tax components or revenue components, or more cuts, whether they can find the support for that, I think is unknown and might depend on what the governor and Republican leadership come out with as a plan. And to a certain degree whether they're willing to work with Democrats.

Ted Simons: Sine die for now?

Jim Small: Most likely the second week if they're going to have one.

Ted Simons: Thanks, Jim. We appreciate it.

Jim Small: Thank you.