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April 19, 2012

Host: Ted Simons

Arizona Supreme Court Ruling: Tucson v Arizona

  |   Video
  • Ken Strobeck, Executive Director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, explains what a recent decision by the Arizona Supreme Court says about how much control the State Legislature has over local charter governments.
  • Ken Strobeck - Executive Director, League of Arizona Cities and Towns
Category: Law   |   Keywords: law, arizona, supreme, court, justice, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Earlier this month the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the state does not have the authority to tell charter cities how to conduct their municipal electrics. The ruling focused on how much authority the state has in telling cities how to deal with local issues. Here to talk about all this is Ken Strobeck, he's executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. Good to see you again.

Ken Strobeck: Thanks, Ted.

Ted Simons: Talk about this recent Supreme Court decision here and the impact it -- I'm not sure a lot of folks realize, this could be pretty far reaching.

Ken Strobeck: It really is. It's a very significant decision, because the court ruled that in matters of purely local concern, if a city is adopted a charter which has to be vote order by its citizens, and it's a matter of local concern, not a matter of statewide concern, the local charter trumps state law.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about what exactly charter government is. Give us a definition.

Ken Strobeck: Ok. The Arizona constitution allows for cities over 3500 and over in population to adopt the charter. And the constitution calls it the organic law of the city, and the Supreme Court in this case and in other cases has referred to it essentially as a city constitution. It's a document that has to be drafted by very complex system, the board of free holders gets together, drafts a charter, once the charter has been approved by the council then it goes to the governor, the governor has to approve a charter and it becomes essentially the constitution of that city. And any changes to it have to be vote order boy the people.

Ted Simons: Why would a city want a charter, why would the city not want a charter?

Ken Strobeck: Very good question. In fact, in many cases the charter actually limits what a city council can do. In most noncharter cities and towns, if a council wants to raise the sales tax rates, for example, they can do that boy a majority vote of the council. That is, of course, challengeable by the people if they want to do a referendum, but in the case of a charter city you may have a provision that says there can be no tax increases unless vote order by the people. In some case as charter is liberating, in others, a charter is more limiting.

Ted Simons: If the city wants a charter government they need to go through the machinations you just described.

Ken Strobeck: Right.

Ted Simons: OK. Supreme Court decision, this dealt with municipal elections, what the idea of one side wanting to make it partisan and the city saying we don't do that? Or vice versa?

Ken Strobeck: Yeah, yeah. Essentially in 2009 there was a law that -- a bill introduced in the legislature by senator Johnathan Payton from Tucson, saying that Tucson could no longer conduct partisan elections, they're the only city of the 91 in Arizona that actually conduct partisan elections. And that they could also no longer do nominations by ward for council seats but election at large for those seats. So basically threw out two provisions that were in the Tucson city charter. The Tucson city charter was adopted in 1929, and they've been conducting elections this way ever since 1929, and in fact a few years ago they had a ballot question in Tucson to say, shall we change the way we do elections? The people said no, they voted no on that issue, and the Supreme Court in this case said that again, because it was a matter of local concern, the manner in which a city elects its own representatives mayor and council, there's nothing more purely local than that decision, and in that case since it was a charter 70 had these provisions, the state legislature could not overrule them.

Ted Simons: So how do you separate laws of statewide and local interests? Where is that dividing line?

Ken Strobeck: There's the million dollar question. And probably will be that if more of these questions are litigated. This decision actually made reference to that. So there's always going to be debate, always going to be a little pull and tug between local authorities between state authorities. But simply saying that something is a matter of statewide concern by putting that as an amendment or as a clause in a bill in the legislature does not automatically make it a matter of statewide concern. Unless the court agrees with them.

Ted Simons: So I think this is -- it's not self-evident, and so as you mentioned, you have to find this balance, it seems as though in recent years the legislature has been very interested in municipal matters and passing a lot of laws that deal with local issues. Talk about that dynamic, especially in light of this decision.

Ken Strobeck: Yes. Exactly. We went back and did a little research, looked over the last few years of some of the laws that have been passed where there is this clause that says we find this to be a matter of statewide concern. Some of these may or may not be. Some things about the components of various general plans that cities have to adopt. That's the local matter. Outdoor shooting range regulation. Is that really a matter of statewide concern? So maybe, maybe not. A sign walkers, remember those people that -- they put on there that that signs and all?

Ted Simons: Yeah, yeah…

Ken Strobeck: Well that was a matter of statewide concern. Probably not if it went through a court. This is my favorite one. Shopping cart retrieval. A matter of statewide concern.


Ken Strobeck: And just recently, guns in public buildings. That may be something you can challenge as a matter of local control rather than statewide. And even today, the legislature passed the house bill 2826 that mandate consolidated election dates that says that all the cities over 70 that have spring elections cycles can no long surrender that, they have to be moved to the fall. Again, that's one of these things that seems to be very much tied to this Tucson V Arizona decision.

Ted Simons: We've had lawmakers on the program and I've asked them directly about this, why are you focus so much on cities, and the response is that cities are basically subdivisions of the state. And the state is a supervisory capacity over cities. Are you saying with this decision that mind-set needs to change?

Ken Strobeck: I am definitely saying that. I think there's a miss appropriation of the word ‘state’. When you look at the fact state authorizes cities, it does so through the constitution. But the legislature has no provision whatsoever to create a city or to dis-incorporate a city. It is only done by the people through the people outlined in the constitution and in conformity with the laws that are passed that are of statewide applicability. When you talk about local authority, and the fact that the cities are a political subdivision in that sense, I think what they get mixed up in is that the state legislature doesn't create cities, the state constitution creates cities. The same way it creates the state legislature. So in a sense we're battling a little more as equals when you talk about matters of local concern versus statewide concern. And we do have to follow the laws that they pass.

Ted Simons: Talk about the history of this in a sense of, it didn't seem like in years past we heard a lot of the state getting all that interested in local issues, seeing a lot of that right now. The economy has something to do with that, the state wants to ease its budget, let's get the cities to pony up a little more than they have in the past. Is that mostly it? What's going on here?

Ken Strobeck: I don't know. I think there's always going to be a bit of tension between the state and between cities. Because you have interest groups that come to the legislature that want to pass one size fits all legislation. Maybe a tax exemption for an industry. So we've had many cases of that over the last few years. And also the takeaway of local control on matters such as photo radar. There's been several bills this year to say cities couldn't pass -- couldn't have photo radar in their communities. Those have been defeated, but those are matters that you have to go, is this really a statewide issue? But a lot of people get an idea and they say, we want to pass a law and it's easier to go to the legislature and have it apply to everyone statewide.

Ted Simons: OK. So let's talk about what this means for laws that have been already passed. What happens?

Ken Strobeck: Well, obviously they would have to be litigated and viewed to go through this whole process to find them unconstitutional. My hope is that at least the precedent established by this case will be slowing down maybe to some extent, some of those proposals that come through the legislature, and maybe they'll think twice, maybe the rules attorneys and the house and senate will say, are you sure you want to pass this, because it very well could be unconstitutional in light of the strong opinion that came out in Tucson V Arizona.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, as far as proposed laws, this would be -- I don't sense this is getting a lot of traction, a lot of buzz at the legislature. Are they aware what's going on with this decision?

Ken Strobeck: I'm sure there are some, but I haven't heard in the hallways, a lot of conversation were this particular issue. There's been some media coverage about it, but I think maybe again, it's going to take some time if there are more court cases that involve local authority versus state authority.

Ted Simons: Is that relationship a little away from this decision, is that relationship between the state and cities charter or otherwise, do you see maybe a little more understanding here recently, or is it still as you mentioned, maybe the state not quite figuring out exactly what the state needs.

Ken Strobeck: I think maybe there's more of that than the other case. But again, you have to go back to all this all developed. Back in the 19th century, this case references that, that there was a very strong belief that cities were entirely creations of state legislatures. There's a historic decision in Iowa in the 1860s called Dylan's rule, and this says a Supreme Court judge in Iowa wrote legislatures create cities and if they can create them they can destroy them. In other words they have Supreme Court authority. There was another decision out of Michigan that said no, local government has inherent rights and you can't take those away at the lush. Our constitution was written 40 years after those decisions, when the political climate was very different. It was part of the progressive era where you had initiative and refer recent dumb and council manager government, all those things intended to put more power back in the hadn’t of the people and just as bails reference that, he says 19th century thought says the legislature was supreme, our framers rejected that idea.

Ted Simons: Well that was interesting stuff. The fallout should be interesting too. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: Friday on Arizona "Arizona Horizon," Governor Brewer says she won't sign any new bills until the budget is done. This after once again vetoing a bill that allows guns in public buildings.

Ted Simons: Those stories and more Friday on "The Journalists' Round Table." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

First Solar/Arizona’s Solar Industry

  |   Video
  • Tempe-based First Solar is downsizing its global manufacturing operations. ASU research professor Tim James talks about what the layoffs and say about the state of the solar energy industry.
  • Tim James - ASU Research Professor
Category: Sustainability   |   Keywords: arizona, solar, energy, future, ,

View Transcript

Ted Simons: Tempe-based First Solar announced layoffs this week of 2,000 workers worldwide. 120 of those layoffs involve U.S. employees. First Solar is a leader in thin film solar technology and the company is currently building a major manufacturing plant in Mesa. What do the layoffs at First Solar say about the state of the solar industry? For an answer we talked to Tim James, research professor at W.P. Carey School of Business. Thanks for joining us on "Arizona Horizon."

Tim James: Good to be here.

First solar laying off 2,000 workers worldwide. First of all, is that a bit of a surprise?

Tim James: I don't think it is really. I think if you look at what's going on with the energy market generally, and solar specifically, it's in flux at the moment. Europe is suffering economically and that's meant the Germans, the Spanish the Italians, the French, and the British are all reducing subsidies to spend on renewable energy. That means that market is dying, and that's where First Solar has made a lot of its inroads in the solar market.

Ted Simons: It sounds like First Solar was concentrating on Germany, and Germany, again, decided subsidies no more, at least for now. Big impact huh?

Tim James: Yeah, I mean Germany has a way of trying to introduce more solar, distributed generation and utility scale solar. This involved large subsidies and then incentives for people to put solar on their roofs. The German claim at one time was there were 1 million roofs in southern Germany alone with rooftop solar. That's all coming to an end because the Germans are finding it more and more difficult justifying spending large amounts of public money on subsidies. Really the Spanish market has died because their economy is in a worse state than the German market, so Europe is not a good place to be if you're a new energy company at the moment.

Ted Simons: Is there -- I've heard there's an oversupply of solar panels on the market. Is that true?

Tim James: There's overcapacity probably in terms of what you can sell feasibly at the moment. One of the reasons for that is that really China has moved into solar manufacturing, PV - photovoltaic manufacturing of various kinds, really quite heavily over the last few years. Developments have also meant the price of competing technology has been driven down. So it's making for a glutton in terms of the amount of solar capacity there is. That's really what is driving prices down.

Ted Simons: So manufacturing capacity is outpacing demand.

Tim James: Well, yeah. We're in a situation where there isn't the demand -- the public subsidies are no longer backing the market. So there is a reduction in terms of what people are willing to put out, compared to what people have been doing in the past. Then people have geared up in the expectation that renewable market would carry on. So there's got to be some restructuring, and I think the whole First Solar move is a clever way to make sure you realign associated the way you think world demand is likely to grow.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Now is there a cheaper way -- you mentioned China. Are they finding a cheaper way? Is there a new development or an innovation that is undercutting what First Solar was expert in?

Tim James: First Solar is a thin film manufacturer. And they're crystalline Manufacturers as well, and they compete with each other as far as in terms of R&D expenditures they make and the kind of developments that they make. And it's -- nobody really knows, there's an argument to made maybe Crystalline Manufacturers are a little bit ahead in terms of cost per megavolt, and that might mean they have a cost advantage. But there's a kind of battle taking place in terms of R&D to make more and more efficient P.V. solutions. And at one stage one group will be ahead another stage another one will. So it don't mean the game is over, just that we're in a competitive phase in terms of --

Ted Simons: What does it mean about this plant being built in Mesa. The first solar is building a manufacturing plant in Mesa, it's still being built. I guess they'll complete it, but what's going to come of it?

Tim James: That's a really big question. I don't know the answer to it. Hopefully we'll be able to provide a solution in state where we can export some of the potential we have to generate power using solar. It's one of the big interests of the state. We've got a state next door that needs more renewable energy, if we can supply them with solar power. If we build an appropriate transmission system, hopefully there will still a big market. And that will mean maybe the Mesa plant will get off the ground.

Ted Simons: You're seeing first solar more in terms of restructuring, and looking at the market and trying to play it smart as opposed to, what, the first of a death rattle in this case?

Tim James: Yeah. I think they're making sure they're realigning themselves so they're not trying to supply a market which no longer exists, which is Western Europe. They're also curtailing the amount of capacity they've got in Malaysia, which is also one of the big palnts as well. And maybe the U.S. can lead us out of the recession that we've been in, and that will mean we'll grow a renewable energy here first and that will lead to them going back to the other areas that they were prosperous previously.

Ted Simons: A quote from management at First Solar – ‘our current operational structure is not sustainable given today's market realities’. That's basically what you've been talking about. So again, is this a survival move, or delaying the inevitable?

Tim James: I think -- I hope First Solar will survive. They're in a better situation than other solar organizations. They're a big player. They're important to the state going forward. And they certainly have advantages the others don't have. Hopefully this is just part after restructuring move which will make them more fit for purpose going forward.

Ted Simons: Would fit for purpose mean more attractive for sale?

Tim James: Sale to who?

Ted Simons: That's the question. Is anyone interested in buying them?

Tim James: There's going to be restructuring in solar. As people take advantage of economies of came, some of the big players might acquire each other or merge. Who knows what's going to go on?

Ted Simons: What does it say overall? What's going?

Tim James: One of our problems, nobody knows. Because you've got this big problem with governments having supported renewable energy for a long period of time, now it's coming to an end. Even in the U.S. federal incentive will come to an end in 2016 we think. That makes them -- the demands in the market very uncertain. The supply side is in flux as well. Because natural gas prices are quite low, which is making natural gas, the amount of it available in the U.S. like an attractive option in comparison with what we were looking at before. Renewable was a way of replacing carbon intensive fuels we were using.

Ted Simons: Can you look at it on the bright side, though, more in a positive light, this is innovation, it's rapid innovation and a rapidly innovating industry, forcing First Solar to restructure to rethink that would be a good thing.

Tim James: I think there is some truth there. Adversity is the thing that often makes you change things or change the way have been behaving. You are forced to become more competitive and target particular markets where you know you can be successful.

Ted Simons: Last question, what should we look for in the sow radar market in the solar industry to give us an indication of where all this is going?

Tim James: That's a really difficult question. Because I don't think anybody has a crystal ball here. I don't know whether that a pun or not. But---

Ted Simons: Is there any indicator?

Tim James: I don't think -- I think -- we need power going forward, energy going forward. But the form of energy we're going to use, I don't think anybody is certain about. Because the thing that got thrown into the mix over the last four or five years is the economic downturn. Which meant the market as it existed prior to 2007 was completely different to the one that exists now. So really the driver for all this climate change is being put on the back burner. What we're really doing is trying get in a situation where the economy is better, and I think we'll start thinking about what we need to do in terms of our energy usage going forward to fit with more of our long-term goals, reducing carbon footprints.

Ted Simons: We'll keep an eye out Tim. Thanks for joining us.

Tim James: Thank you.

Ninth Circuit Ruling: Arizona’s Voter ID Law

  |   Video
  • Associated Press reporter Paul Davenport explains the Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruling on Arizona’s law that requires voters to show ID at the polls and proof of citizenship when they register to vote.
  • Paul Davenport - Reporter, Associated Press
Category: Law   |   Keywords: voting, law, circuit, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The Arizona house passes a bill that would allow certain businesses to drop contraception coverage in their health plans. The bill was rewritten to more narrowly focus on businesses with religious affiliations, but critics say the language is so broad, it can apply to any business. The bill now heads to the state senate.
Ted Simons: A full panel of the ninth circuit court of appeals ruled earlier this week on Arizona's 2004 voter I.D. law. It was a mixed decision of sorts as the court ruled both in favor and against certain parts of the Arizona law. Here to talk about the ruling is Paul Davenport, of the Associated Press here in Arizona. Good to see you again.

Paul Davenport: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us. Before we get to what the court ruled, what exactly is going on here, give us a brief history or synopsis of what this is all about.

Paul Davenport: This case stems from a 2004 law, and it was kind of a hodgepodge of things. It had provisions to deny certain public benefits to illegal immigrants, and it had some rather important provisions affecting voters. One was to require that voters when they're casting ballots at the polls that they show I.D. to prove who they are. The other part of that was when you register to vote, it requires you to provide proof of citizenship. The stated aim was to eliminate and prevent voter fraud. And of course that gets into a controversial political realm, the dispute between the parties.

Ted Simons: So the ninth circuit, originally the three-panel ninth circuit, originally, what did they rule?

Paul Davenport: They basically ruled that the portions due at proof of citizenship conflicted with federal law because there's a federal law that says you can use a federal form, essentially a postcard to register to vote, and the states have to allow use of that form. On the other hand, states can also have their own processes, their own forms, and Arizona does. And we get into this case, and the ruling by the large panel of the ninth circuit, which the is the one that came out just now, said in fact Arizona can't override that federal law that you still have to permit people to register to vote with that federal form. But they said it didn't affect -- there's no problem with legally with the use of the state-owned processes, you can go online and use the state provided form, both of them still require proof of citizenship.

Ted Simons: So basically the three-judge and the ninth panel saw that the federal law supercedes in this case, but what about this voter I.D. at polling places?

Paul Davenport: That was upheld. That remains a law. That's been in use in Arizona since this law was passed. And that's still on the books and still being enforced and there's no change on that.

Ted Simons: But the idea that the federal form now, do people use this very often?

Paul Davenport: From what I'm told, no, they don't. Most people use the state form, which is what would you get when you register at county elections office, or they register online through the motor vehicle system when you renew your license you can register to vote. But of those have provisions for requiring proof of citizenship.

Ted Simons: I understand these enforcements are not necessarily a free pass. You have to avow you are a citizen and have you to be -- I guess they somehow tell you there's threat of federal prosecution if you aren't a citizen and you go ahead and send these in. So there are some ramifications. But the court was really more interested in federal versus state.

Paul Davenport: That's right. They're staying you don't get to trump federal law because the federal law is clear on this. The critics of the state law on this regard said that, yes, the federal law form isn’t used very much, but this ruling may have the effect of making it more prevalent. It is easier to use, it's essentially a postcard, you don't have to copy any other document and enclose witness an envelope and mail it in. So it's easier.

Ted Simons: So with that in mind, I hear the secretary of state saying we're going to take it to the Supreme Court, attorney general, are they going to take this to the Supreme Court?

Paul Davenport: That's what they say. The other side says they're not going to appeal. When I talked to them about it, they said well, they had already lost at the lower court so they're not going to push that issue. Push their part of the case. But the state officials say, yeah, they want to take it to the Supreme Court.

Ted Simons: Even though no one really much uses it now, their idea, what, ideology and the fact it could open the floodgates. Perhaps their position?

Paul Davenport: Their position. And a prediction on the other side saying the federal form could become more popular.

Ted Simons: The idea, I was reading one of the opinions here that checking I.D. is inherently and traditionally intimidating to Latinos. Can you talk about that? The reasoning behind that? I know that was another reason that this thing was challenged. But literary tests, literacy tests were used as late as the 1960s as preconditions, these things?

Paul Davenport: The opinion talked about how there has been -- there's proof of discrimination affecting minorities in Arizona. But what it also concluded was that they didn't find evidence that it was -- that this provision had that effect. So that's what it shook out as.

Ted Simons: When everything kind of shakes out as you say, this was a win overall for the state. The state law did pretty much hold on.

Paul Davenport: Most of the status quo as approved by voters, is intact.

Ted Simons: Ok. We'll stop it there. Good information. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Paul Davenport: You're welcome. Thank you.