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February 24, 2010

Host: Ted Simons

Legislative Update

  |   Video
  • A mid-week legislative update with a reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times.
  • Jim Small - Arizona Capitol Times

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Ted Simons: State lawmakers continue to work on the budget, but other bills are popping up as well. Here to bring us up to date is Jim Small of the Arizona "Capitol Times." Jim, good to have you here. This other bill popping up includes kind of an all encompassing sweeping sanctuaries bill.

Jim Small: It's an anti-illegal immigration bill. It went to the house committee about party line vote. It's identical to a bill that went through the Senate a few weeks ago to author Senator Russell Pearce who has been of course one of the main opponents of illegal immigration and the main advocates for tougher laws, you know, dealing with illegal immigration. This bill would deal with the so-called sanctuary city policies that some cities and municipalities have on enforcing federal immigration law. It would illegal immigrants guilty of trespassing and it would work to curb roadside day labor solicitation.

Ted Simons: The idea, at the heart of the sanctuary bill, correct me if I'm wrong, law enforcement cannot be kept from checking on identity and legal status. I guess there's still a lot of gray area there, but the city, the municipal can't stop them from doing so.

Jim Small: Right. They can't enact an ordinance or department policy that keeps officers from if they have a reasonable suspicion that someone that they're dealing with might be an illegal immigrant, that they can't stop them from checking that status.

Ted Simons: When this first came down the pike, there was a lot of scene that every government worker would be responsible for everyone they came into contact with. is that still a concern?

Jim Small: That's still in the bill. It says that any government employee who has a legitimate contact with a person, a citizen, but a resident or someone living in the community and if they have a reasonable suspicion that this person might not be here legally, they are required to do what they can to try to verify that person's immigration status.

Ted Simons: And if they don't do what they're required, they get in trouble?

Jim Small: Yeah. In fact, there could be lawsuits, citizens could file lawsuits against the city, County, town, state, what have you, table them to court and say, you're not fully enforcing federal immigration laws.

Ted Simons: Another immigration bill, a house panel okays this bill to track illegal immigrant students. What is this all about?

Jim Small: This is a bill that would basically require school districts to report to the state Department of Education information about students that are enrolled and those who can't prove that they are here legally. And the Department of Education then will be required to every year compile a report and submit it to the legislature and to the governor and state treasurer. It would have to list things like the total number of students who couldn't prove that they were American citizens, how much it cost to educate them, how many teachers it cost, it required to accommodate the extra students. I mean, a whole variety of things designed obviously to highlight a problem. Critics have said for years that it cost upwards of a billion dollars to educate illegal immigrant children.

Ted Simons: Both of these bills, are these the kinds of things that could sail, could have problems? How easily could these things get through?

Jim Small: I think both of them are going to be issues where there's obviously a lot of opposition. I think that there's going to be some pretty robust discussions certainly behind the scenes I think about both of these bills. We'll see whether they move through and if they do, what kind of forum they'll be in. I suspect the sanctuary cities bill, because it encompasses so much more and it's not just a narrow topic like the education one, I think that one is probably destined to undergo some kind of changes. It remains to be seen what it will be changed to. Senator pierce is always very strident in keeping his bills the way he wants them. It could be a challenge moving forward.

Ted Simons: Speaking of robust discussion, will we start hearing that regarding the budget next week? Sounds like next week is go time?

Jim Small: That's what we're hearing from legislative leadership. Next week committees won't be meeting in order to let lawmakers focus on the budget. I think the idea is try to hear it in committee at least Tuesday and Wednesday, and we'll see how far they progress and whether they're able to push it forward and actually take it to the floor and debate it. Obviously it will be very similar to the governor's budget plan she released in January, but it does have some differences. It remains unclear and I suspect it's because there isn't a final agreement between the legislature and the governor, otherwise this thing would be moving out already. So I think that, you know, whatever comes out of committee at least is going to undergo a little bit of change and it probably will be a couple more weeks.

Ted Simons: Surprising change are you hearing or just change?

Jim Small: we'll have to see. I think one of the big components and one of the things that isn't in agreement is how to deal with voter protection. I think both the governor and Republican in the house and Senate want to deal with it, but there's a number of ideas floating around on how best to do it. I think that's one area that definitely needs to be more discussion.

Ted Simons: Thanks for discussing it. Thank you.

Maricopa County Politics

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  • Arizona Republic reporter JJ Hensley discusses breaking news that a Superior Court judge has dismissed charges against Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and disqualified County Attorney Andrew Thomas from the case.
  • JJ Hensley - Arizona Republic

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Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Deep cuts in health care being proposed by Governor Brewer would mean big job losses and other financial hits to the state. That's according to a new report put out by Arizona State university economists, commissioned by the Arizona hospital and healthcare association. The report says that the state will lose 42,000 jobs and close to $3 billion if the governor makes her cuts to health care. The report also says that Arizona hospitals would lose $1.15 billion.

Ted Simons: Visiting Maricopa County superior court judge John Leonardo today dismissed charges against County supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. The judge also disqualified County attorney Andrew Thomas from the case. Here now to talk more about all this is Arizona republic reporter J.J. Hensley. Good to have you back. Thanks for joining us.

J.J. Hensley: Thank you.

Ted Simons: This is a big bombshell here. What do you make out of all this?

J.J. Hensley: It all came out of testimony last Tuesday where Thomas and Sheila Polk testified for the better part of the afternoon in front of judge Leonardo. I don't know. Right now I think the biggest news was Thomas was disqualified because of his conflict of interest or the appearance of the conflict of interest. The judge ruled he had both of those, but that conflict triggered the dismissal of the Wilcox case.

Ted Simons: The conflict was also based, the judge mentioned, retaliation against the board, retaliation against political opponents, all because of that conflict of interest.

J.J. Hensley: Right. Those were things that were all laid out in the motion Wilcox's attorney filed that triggered that hearing last Tuesday. The judge agreed with them on all of those points. The most interesting thing about his ruling today was the political alliance with the Maricopa County sheriff who the judge said misused the power of his office to target members of the board of supervisors for criminal investigation.

Ted Simons: Why is that especially interesting?

J.J. Hensley: Because the sheriff's office, as they pointed out this afternoon, didn't have anyone testify at that hearing. The judge's ruling on that was largely based on the testimony from Yavapai County attorney Sheila Polk who had these cases for the better part of six months.

Ted Simons: The response by the County attorney's office, have we heard much yet?

J.J. Hensley: Just this afternoon he announced he was also filing motions to dismiss the case against Don Stapley and a criminal complaint against judge Gary Donahoe. Both of those, essentially he says, because if he's already conflicted out of the Wilcox case, I'll just cut to the chase and dismiss these other cases, too. He, at the same time, called for a special meeting of the board on Friday to appoint special prosecutors, which the judge in his ruling today, said you still have the power to appoint independent prosecutors. Once you appoint them, you're out of the case.

Ted Simons: The operative word there I was going to say is appoint. They can't be hanging out.

J.J. Hensley: That came in a case where they had an interview with the sheriff's office. At that time Polk's office had been appointed by special prosecutors of Thomas' office. She said she was surprised to find Andy Thomas and representatives of his office at that meeting and they had been continuing to give advice to sheriff's investigators on how to proceed in these cases she was supposed to be prosecuting.

Ted Simons: Those factors in that was the misuse of power the judge talked about. Sounds like the Polk testimony was key in this decision.

J.J. Hensley: Seems like the judge really paid attention to that. Because one of the things she said at the time in the testimony last Tuesday was that she felt like the County attorney's office was bowing to pressure from the sheriff's office to take these cases back from her office because her prosecutors weren't granting the grand jury subpoenas and other items related to the case that the sheriff's investigators were asking for.

Ted Simons: Have we heard any response so far from the sheriff's office?

J.J. Hensley: Officially so far they've not said anything. Some people over there, though, have said, you know, that I don't think they were entirely surprised by this. They don't think that it was a ruling on the merits of the case, just on the role of the prosecutor. They intend to cooperate with the investigator or the prosecutor, whoever is appointed next, and they're standing by the fact that both Stapley and Wilcox have been indicted twice by grand juries.

Ted Simons: So the headlines will read the Wilcox case dismissed, Thomas disqualified and the County attorney has gone ahead now and dismissed, thrown out and said we're not going to bother anymore with Stapley and other aspects therein. But the bottom line is that if an independent prosecutor comes in, Andrew Thomas, the County attorney, can say basically I tried. I did everything I was supposed to do. I wanted these people investigated and look, they're going to be investigated.

J.J. Hensley: Right. And the sheriff's office will say the same thing just as they said they were happy when an independent judiciary was appointed. Though I don't know how happy they were with the outcome of this testimony on Tuesday that resulted in the ruling today. I think one of the other interesting things here to note is that all of this conflict is rooted in the RICO complaint, the federal racketeering complaint that Thomas filed against the board of supervisors, the County judges and outside attorneys that the board had hired. That complaint is still making its way through federal court. Motions are going back and forth, but that complaint and everything in there really created the conflict for Thomas in prosecuting Wilcox, Stapley and others, in addition to the fact that his members of his office had offered advice to Wilcox on her financial disclosure statements.

Ted Simons: We have a meeting board of supervisors and County attorney's office this week?

J.J. Hensley: He's requested it for Friday. I don't know right now if the board is going to agree to that or not, but his request was let's meet Friday. We can appoint these special prosecutors and get on with this thing.

Ted Simons: And we'll take it from there. Thank you for the information. We appreciate it

Phoenix City Budget

  |   Video
  • Phoenix City Councilmen Michael Nowakowski and Sal DiCiccio discuss a proposal to cut as much as $140 Million from the City’s budget. Find out how the cuts would impact Phoenix residents, and if any alternatives to cuts are available to city leaders.
  • Michael Nowakowski - Phoenix City Councilman
  • Sal DiCiccio - Phoenix City Councilman

View Transcript
Ted Simons: A budget recommendation that includes $140 million in cuts was released by the Phoenix city manager's office earlier this month. Since then, the city has held more than a dozen public hearings on the plan. Tomorrow, a revised budget plan will be released with a final council vote expected next Tuesday. In a moment, we'll hear from two members of the Phoenix city council. But first, David Majure shows us a couple of city services that are bracing for the final budget.

- Package-

The proposed Phoenix budget makes deep cuts to virtually every city department.
This is a priority case for us.
Even vital services like public safety.
The impact obviously was pretty horrific initially.
Phoenix police sergeant Trent Crump said the initial cut was going to lay off 286 sworn police personnel and transferring another 70 or so. That's a 12% cut to a department of 3200 that's targeted to operate with about 3600 employees.
The food tax has helped save a number of those jobs and so have the concessions by the employees that work for the city who are clearly saying that we want to do something to help keep our employees here.
A 2% city food tax is expected to soften the blow. Trent says it looks like it will help limit anticipated police layoffs to somewhere between 60 and 100 people.
I think that you're going to find a lot of fans on the police department and in public safety who are for the food tax for our organization is saving hundreds of jobs.
From public safety to the arts.
It's visual arts, it's performing arts, it's a culture program, it's guest lectures.
Stacy Holmes is visual arts coordinator of the Phoenix Center for the Arts. It's located in downtown Phoenix in a building that used to be a church.
And then in like one little area make it sort of --
Oh, this center provides world class arts instruction and that's something that I think some communities may be lacking, but we offer here at the Phoenix center for the arts. Not only do we offer it, but we offer it at a very reasonable price. We are one of the most competitive arts program in the valley.
The center may be forced to close, eliminating three full-time employees and saving the city about $153,000. The visual and performing arts may not be a vital service, but more than 16,000 people use the center, and for many inner city kids, it may be their only access to art.
And today a lot of the schools unfortunately don't have really rich arts programs or they have programs that are very limited, call it art on a cart. So as arts hub in the middle of the city of Phoenix, we're able to step in and bridge that gap that schools can't make and provide high-quality arts education to our youth.

-End Package-

Ted Simons: Joining me now to talk about the Phoenix budget are Phoenix councilman and vice mayor, Michael Nowakowski. And city councilman Sal Diciccio. Good to have you both on "Horizon." Thanks for joining us.

Nowakowski & Diciccio: Thanks, Ted, for having us here.

Ted Simons: Is there a problem with how much the deficit the city faces and how much needs to be cut?

Michael Nowakowski: I think so.

Ted Simons: What are we looking at right here?

Sal Diciccio: 139.5 million. But we're in agreement.

Ted Simons: What do we do? What should the city of Phoenix do?

Sal Diciccio: I've been promoting a structural change in the city of Phoenix for sometime now. I got put back on the council last year. One of the things we identified is that there is a structural problem. When you have nine of your last 11 budget years, you have a crisis and you have a problem that needs something to be fixed, that tells you something internally needs to be done, Ted?

Ted Simons: Do you agree with that?

Michael Nowakowski: : you know, Ted, I believe first of all, we're looking at the first time in the history of Phoenix that we had to cut 153 officers, 140 firefighters, 298 parks and recreation people and all the different programs that go along with that. This is the first time we were actually cutting public safety. So we looked at a pragmatic way of doing it and we've been talking about food tax. That's why I believe the mayor basically put the food tax up for a vote and that's why I voted for that.

Ted Simons: If there's been a history of budget problems, culminating in a big budget problem, does that not suggest that structural problems should be looked into?

Michael Nowakowski: I think we've been looking into it for the last three years. We've cut $615 million from our budget. Our top management has been taking 7% cuts. This year the unions all came together and agreed to take a 3.2 cut on their -- the next coming year. I believe that we're all looking at it and we're doing our best at eight.

Ted Simons: Is it fair to say there's a structural problem when we've had the great recession as it's being called and municipalities everywhere, the state, national, everyone seems to be having problems right now balancing a budget?

Sal Diciccio: Well, Ted, I mean, this is where Michael and I will disagree. The fact of the matter is when you take a look, I've got the documentation, this is done by budget and research. This isn't my numbers, it's their numbers. If you take a look at the budget, the city of Phoenix budget has been increasing every single year, but we've been basically paying more as taxpayers and receiving less service. If you look at what happened in the last five years, the city of Phoenix added $270 million more in additional labor cost into the budget within the last five years. Your average cost per employee is $100,000 a year. That's everything. That's your compensation, salary, your benefits, the whole package. That tells me we have an internal structural problem that needs to be addressed, otherwise we'll go back to the public this year and the year after that and I would like to stop that.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Michael Nowakowski: Ted, I'm here to set the record straight. I think the morale of our employees is really low. We have individuals out there saying they're making $100,000. That's not true. Half of the employees are making about $40,000 and that's what they're taking home. All of these inflated numbers and all of these scare tactics that are out there are really hurting the morale of our individuals. I had a young lady from the parks and rec at one of my public budget hearings last night saying they had people throwing coke cans at them saying, how are you making $100,000 when I'm only making $33,000 a year? It's hurting. It's hurting our employees that are probably the best employees in the nation and they're great. So I think that we need to set the record straight and let people know that the average is about 40,000.

Sal Diciccio: Michael, I agree. We have great employees. I think they're fantastic. I love our employees. But the fact of the matter is, when we're talking about average costs, this is what the taxpayer pays. It's not what they're taking home because salary, benefits and the whole package. You know, you're in the private sector. You look at what your unit cost is, how much does it cost a taxpayer. From a file clerk all the way up to the city manager, we have a triangular organizational chart, the taxpayer pays $100,000 per employee. That's all costs included in that. If you just look at salary, we're right at 57,000 is the mean, which is still above the average. The average cost per employee in Maricopa County, benefits, salary, the whole package maids to executives is 74,000. I believe there are certain things we can do. I have an entire list for the city of Phoenix to take a look at, how to restructure government and what we can do to change the course we're on.

Ted Simons: Sounds like most of your ideas involves outsourcing to private businesses, correct?

Sal Diciccio: it's a good chunk of that. That's true. There are efficiency studies we can do internally to find out if we can handle it internally as well. There are certain functions in government that we do right now -- we have the largest vehicle repair shop in the state of Arizona. We spend $34 million year repairing automobiles internally. Is that a function that can be better done in the private sector or is that something we as government wants to do at a high cost?

Ted Simons: Is it time to get the public sector more involved in the city of Phoenix?

Michael Nowakowski: If you look around the whole state of Arizona, we're the leaders when it comes to privatizing it. I mean, in our council meetings we have about three or four pages of private businesses that we allocate funds to from streets to landscaping to fixing roofs and stuff like that. So I think we're doing a good job. Can we better it? Yes, we can. But I think that's what we really need to look at, an outside committee, oversight committee to look at what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong. We are the leaders when it comes to privatization looking throughout the state of Arizona.

Sal Diciccio: We do some privatization. But a lot of it, if you look at our council packet deals with, products for purchasing. Buying pens and pencils is still not the same as manufacturing pens and pencils. That would be the worst thing for the city of Phoenix to be involved in. There are functions that we do right now, Ted, that we ought to be looking at and say is that the same way we can deliver the service that is more strategic without worrying about the expense of it? It's a long-term expense. It's not what you pay today. The way the city of Phoenix benefit structure is set up for the retirement package, not only do you have to pay for it now, you have to pay for it 20, 30, 40 years into the future. Is there a better way for us to operate today than we're doing now? I believe we can.

Michael Nowakowski: You talked about the mechanics. I think out of that 30 million, 7 million of that is actually going out to outsourcing or privatization. But you got to look at it. 71% of our budget is public safety, so that's fire, truck, police cars and all of that. Would you want a private sector person to change your oil that just happened to get a D.U.I. that's mad at our officers that can actually work on the brakes? No. Do you want that person to have access to the computer. We have workers that are certified that had a background check that can work on the brakes. There's a safety issue when you tack about privatizing.

Sal Diciccio: The computers wouldn't be. Bottom line, other counties have done it. Maricopa has done it. They get a pretty good low unit --

Ted Simons: Other cities do food tax and others way of revenue. I know you were against it. Why?

Sal Diciccio: Because we don't need it. We have enough funds internally. We have more money in now and we're spending more money today than we've had in the last five years. Every year the city of Phoenix budget has gone up but service has gone down. The reason why is we have a labor bubble within the city that needs to be addressed. It's the white elephant or 900-pound gorilla that we need to talk about.

Michael Nowakowski: I think it's a great idea. All the cities surrounding Phoenix has food tax. It's something I've been hearing 95% or something approval rate. Even in the budget hearing that I went to that you had in your district, Sal, people were in agreement of a food tax. It's saving all the libraries. It's saving our youth centers, our senior centers and the quality of life that people live today are going to be saved, right?

Ted Simons: can't something like a food tax go along with increased attention toward privatization? Is there a mix there, a blend that would work?

Michael Nowakowski: I believe that's what our goal is. I believe that I like to see my colleague, Sal, with that champion in that and to show us how to privatize. I would like to see, Sal, you take one of your centers and privatize that and show us how we can privatize. Show us how you can be that champion in teaching us how to privatize.

Sal Diciccio: Let's take something even easier than that. Let's work together, Michael, with automobile repair or printing. We ought to be looking at things we already done. If you pick up a yellow pages, that's what we ought to be looking at because it's being done in the private sector. More than saying we're going to privatize everything, we ought to look at what's competitive and what's the best thing for the city of Phoenix to do. We ought to be looking at all functions of government and whether or not there's a better way of delivering the same service better for the public.

Ted Simons: We'll stop it right there. Good discussion. Thanks for joining us, gentlemen.

Michael Nowakowski and Sal Diciccio: Thanks, Ted.