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April 9, 2013

Host: Ted Simons


  |   Video
  • ALEC IS the American Legislative Exchange Council, and critics say it allows corporations to direct and produce legislation for state legislatures. Tom Jenney of the group Americans for Prosperity, will talk about some of the pluses of ALEC.
  • Tom Jenney - Americans for Prosperity
Category: Politics   |   Keywords: ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: ALEC is the American legislative exchange council, and critics say it's a corporate interest lobbying group that directs and produces model legislation for state lawmakers. Last week we heard criticism of ALEC's influence from the head of common cause. Tonight we hear from a supporter of ALEC. Joining us is Tom Jenney, of Americans for prosperity. Good to have you here.

Tom Jenney: Thank you for letting me be here.

Ted Simons: What is ALEC?

Tom Jenney: ALEC is the American legislative exchange council. You can find it on the web at There's no big secret here. They put their agenda out there, they put their model legislation out there on the web for everybody to see. There's no big secret to this. They're a lot like -- They're the conservative version of the national conference of state legislatures, which is kind of a more of a centrist, maybe center left organization, and it's the same counterpart to the progressive states network, which if you're a left wing legislator you would probably go the PSN.

Ted Simons: But we kind of -- We had the head of common cause on last week. I mentioned PSN, and other groups. What he said was these were not charity groups, they were lobbying groups and ALEC is not a lobbying group. And he had problems with that. I want you to respond to the idea that it's an organized -- Organization that's filed as a charity. First of all, is that true?

Tom Jenney: As far as I know, they have at least some element that's got to be 501c3 and a large part is putting policy ideas out there for people to look at. And it seems to me, I just don't understand what the news story is, really.

Ted Simons: The news story is a lot of people think they have undue influence, and they're a lobbying group that says they're not a lobbying group. Do you see them as a lobbying group?

Tom Jenney: I suspect if people think they have undue influence, people from the left who worry at one point, one-third of all the legislators in this country belonged to ALEC. So it's a group with a lot of influence, but that's largely because conservatives in state legislatures have quite a lot of clout.

Ted Simons: We mentioned Bob Edgar last week, I want to listen to what he had to say regarding the idea this is a lobbying group that says it's not a lobbying group.

Bob Edgar: It's actually lobbying on the cheap. I think what your constituents here in Arizona want, they want their representatives to come to the state capitol and do the best job they can, listen not only to corporations, but listen to all sides of a particular issue. And they want lobbyists to be known, registered, and not hiding in the shadows.

Ted Simons: Do you think ALEC is hiding in the shadows?

Tom Jenney: That's absolutely silly. Go to their website. You can find all their model legislation on that website.

Ted Simons: Do we know who donates to ALEC?

Bob Edgar: I don't know if you do or not. I haven't checked with that. But a lot of organizations, including left wing organization and they're protected under a very old, five decades old court case decided, NAACP versus Alabama, and the courts rightly said organizations often want to protect their donors.

Ted Simons: Should those organizations, again, I'm speaking from what the other side is saying and what we're hearing from the other side, should those organizations have that kind of influence in modeling legislation at various state legislatures around the country, and having that kind of contact with lawmakers? That kind of access?

Tom Jenney:I think a public --

Ted Simons: that a public person may not otherwise have.

Tom Jenney: What have you heard of a legislature who didn't -- Who's down there at the legislature and never looked at any other states for an example of what to do? This person just sat there and didn't listen to anybody coming in, no lobbies, just tried to make up their own mind about legislation. Wouldn't you think that person was uninformed? You'd think that person was not using the resources available. So if you are a center right, if you're a conservative, you go to ALEC and network, and you try to find good ideas for your legislature. If you are a centrist, you go to the national council of state legislatures. In fact we pay Arizona state -- The state of Arizona pays for people to go to NCSL. If you're a left winger you go to progressive states network.

Ted Simons: The idea, and I think this is what I'm hearing from common cause, is that ALEC is in a sense defrauding the tax code, and basically the influence is there, it's -- I think you used the word lobby, they are lobbying, but they say they're not a lobbying group. And thus anyone and their brother can donate and get a tax credit for it. Is that fair? First, is that right, secondly, is that fair?

Tom Jenney: I think you've got groups all over on the left, including by the way a lot of University professors, who come in and basically weigh in on bills that are before legislatures, and these are 501(c)3, and you could argue these think tanks and University professors, that they shouldn't be doing that. But in reality, we have a pluralistic system. My concern, my big concern about this whole story or this nonstory, as I think the case is, is that it kind of leads to a conspiracy mentality. For instance, one of the big issues, I think we should be focusing on issues. One of the big issues facing the legislature is the fight over the Medicaid expansion. I could sit here and tell you the hospital lobby, the hospital corporations are going to get a ton of money from Washington. If we do this expansion. And I could tell you they've hired the biggest lobbyist in town, Chuck Coughlin. And a lot of people joke that chuck Coughlin is the shadow governor, and all this stuff. But that conspiracy mentality, that conspiracy thinking doesn't get us to the real issue, which is, should we expand Medicaid in Arizona or not? We think it's a bad idea. The people on the other side for reasons that have nothing to do with the corporations that will profit from this, there's a lot of people who don't stand to gain a penny, who still think it's a good idea. And I think we need to debate on that level. On the policy level.

Ted Simons: We have debated on the policy level many times on this program, but if I want to donate to lobbying firms, whether it's chuck Coughlin or ABC over here, I don't get a return on that as a donation. Folks who donate to ALEC do get a return, and that's what I think the criticism is. That we're basically paying for this kind of a corporate interest lobbying group to have this kind of access. That's what I keep hearing. How do you respond to that?

Tom Jenney: For better or worse, the tax code is the way it is. The case law is the way it is. And there are left wing groups that do the same thing. And everybody knows how to play the game, and everybody invests where they want to. George SOROS, he's got a group of left-wing organizations he's helped funded, and god bless him, they're out there in the policy arena, and they do what they can under the law.

Ted Simons: Last question -- When common cause says taxpayers support, taxpayers fund, and taxpayers subsidize ALEC, does that bother you?

Tom Jenney: I think it's mostly not true.

Ted Simons: You don't think it's true?

Tom Jenney: If you look at the national council of state legislatures, there's actually an appropriation from our legislature to send legislators to that and staffers to that organization. I'd rather they didn't use taxpayer money that way, but it's not a huge amount of money, and a lot of the staffers will tell you they get good information from that organization, and again, I wouldn't -- I don't think we should do that. I think we should zero out that appropriation, but in the big picture is this corrupting, sending legislators to the national council, is that corrupting our legislature? I don't really think so.

Ted Simons: Tom, I'm glad we had you on. Thanks for joining us.

Tom Jenney: Thank you.

Sky Train

  |   Video
  • The Phoenix Sky Harbor Sky Train is up and running. Deborah Ostreicher of Sky Harbor will tell us more about the train, which will take passengers from the East Economy Parking Lot to Terminal 4.
Category: Community   |   Keywords: sky harbor, sky train,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Futurist and architect Paolo Soleri died today. Soleri was 93. He died of natural causes at his Paradise Valley home. Paolo Soleri was one of the last living architects trained directly by Frank Lloyd Wright, and is best known for Acrosanti, an ongoing if slow-developing experimental city that Soleri began years ago near Cordes Junction, north of Phoenix. The sky train at Sky Harbor officially opened to the public yesterday. The train connects light rail to terminal four and is just the first phase of the airport's passenger moving expansion plans. Here to tell us more is Deborah Ostreicher, deputy aviation director for the airport. Good to see you again.

Debra Ostreicher: Hello, Ted.

Ted Simons: We talked about it when it was in its planning stages. It's here. What is the sky train.

Debra Ostreicher: The Phoenix sky train is so amazing. It takes you as you said, from the 44th street and Washington metro light rail stop to our east economy parking, which is a great place to park right into terminal four, where 80% of Sky Harbor's passengers are.

Ted Simons: How fast does this thing go?

Debra Ostreicher: It Averages about 25miles an hour, but it can go even faster, up to 38 miles per hour. It's faster than you think when you get on it.

Ted Simons: If you get on 44th street and you get -- How long to the east economy lot?

Debra Ostreicher: Three minutes.

Ted Simons: From the east economy, how long to T-4.

Debra Ostreicher: Two minutes. The whole ride is five minutes.

Ted Simons: And when kind of train, what kind of technology are we talking about tracks, air, what do we have?

Debra Ostreicher: This is a state of the art driverless train made by Lombardia, and it's sunk down so it's on a guide rail, so there's no driver and it's all controlled by a control room.

Ted Simons: Interesting. How long of a wait between trains?

Debra Ostreicher: Three to five minutes. Three minutes in peak times. So the reliability and the frequency is unbelievable, because you always know another one is right behind the first.

Ted Simons: Really, three to four minutes, poof, here comes another one.

Debra Ostreicher: That's right. And unlike the buses, which were great in their time, and we continue to have buses to the other terminals, but you know there's a train coming every three to five minutes now.

Ted Simons: Right now we're on this train toward the airport. I gotta tell you, it's elevated, there's not much to the size. That's an interesting ride.

Debra Ostreicher: Oh, there I am, look at that. The first ride yesterday.

Ted Simons: The mucky mucks at the opening ceremony. That is a ride, isn't it?

Debra Ostreicher: It really is. We all expected the ride to be beautiful and scenic as you go up over that active taxiway that everybody sees. But what we found when we rode it the first time the other day, it's beautiful the whole ride. You really get to see Arizona in such a unique way.

Ted Simons: The waiting areas, you don't have to wait very long, but describe the waiting areas. Benches, seats?

Debra Ostreicher: So the train is designed for quick travel with suitcases. So the inside of the train, there are hardly any seats, there are a few seats, and the stations are beautiful at 44th street and at the east economy lot, and terminal four, they have public art inside, they are worth going to see just to see them.

Ted Simons: And as far as parking, correct me if I'm wrong here, there is no permanent parking at the 44th street light rail area?

Debra Ostreicher: That's correct. The airport doesn't have any parking. Some of the hotels and properties around 44th street and Washington do have some private facilities there where you can park. But the very best option now is the east economy lot. Whether you want uncovered parking or the covered garage, that is probably the best place to park now. Because you just hop on the train and you're in terminal four in two minutes.

Ted Simons: But there is a drop-off area at 44th and Washington.

Debra Ostreicher: There is, and a cell phone waiting lot that a lot of people are used to. So what we're hoping is this new transit station will be a place that you can pick up and drop off so that you don't even need to come into the airport proper. You can just tell somebody to meet you at the 44th street and Washington station.

Ted Simons: There's a remote bag check involved?

Debra Ostreicher: Yes. This convenience is incredible. Both at the 44th street and Washington station, and the east economy lot. You can drive up, give your bags right now with southwest and U.S. Airways, no extra charge for that, give your bags to someone, and off you go your bags are checked.

Ted Simons: do you have to get there a little earlier?

Debra Ostreicher: A little earlier, I think the cutoff time is an hour and a half. You'd be there anyway if you were parking. But now you don't have your bags.

Ted Simons: What kind of cost to build this thing? I've heard upwards of $1.56 billion.

Debra Ostreicher: for the entire project, once it's done, going to the rest of the terminals to the rental car center, the estimated cost is $1.5 billion, but what we opened yesterday, $644 million.

Ted Simons: So what you opened yesterday was phase one. Talk about the rest of the phases here. This thing goes to 2020 completed out?

Debra Ostreicher: That's right. In 2015, we're continuing to build right now. If you drive past terminal three right now you can see the beginnings of the next station. But we figured why wait to open it? Let's open now what we can, which is to serve 80% of the passengers anyway. So the sky Travis Murphy train will go to the rest of the terminals in 2015, and sometime in the 2020s it will go all the way to the rental car center.

Ted Simons: This is really something. But let's get a 30,000-foot view if we can. Why was this built? What need does this fill?

Debra Ostreicher: This fills a very important need. That is, if you've ever been to the airport on a Sunday night, or during Super Bowl, we have another one coming up, or any big holiday weekend, you see the roadways get so congested. Sometimes you can't even get up to terminal four to pick up or drop off a passenger. As we look into the 2020s, that's what the roadways would begin to look like every single day. So rather than wait until that happens, we needed to act now to build this so we can grow together with the demand for traffic.

Ted Simons: Last question. Is there a message involved? Is there like a civic message? Airports are often the first thing that out of town folks see when they get to a particular community.

Debra Ostreicher: Well, this is really a -- Just another sign that America's friendliest airport, what we're doing for customer service. You can't be more efficient, quick, and beautifully transported than you can on the new Phoenix sky train.

Ted Simons: It sounds exciting. It's running as we speak.

Debra Ostreicher: It sure is, 24 hours a day.

Ted Simons: Seven days a week. Good to have you here.

Debra Ostreicher: Thanks, Ted.

Tax Tips

  |   Video
  • The tax filing deadline of April 15 is fast approaching. Bill Brunson of the IRS and Anthony Forschino of the Arizona Department of Revenue will discuss the latest tax tips and tax fraud.
  • Bill Brunson - IRS, Anthony Forschino - Arizona Department of Revenue
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: economy, taxes, tips, IRS,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The tax filing deadline is approaching, and every year there are new tax laws to consider and new scams to watch out for. Here to help us navigate this special time of year is Bill Brunson, spokesman for the IRS in Arizona, also with us is Anthony Forschino, spokesman for the Arizona department of revenue. Good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Bill Brunson: Thanks for having us.

Ted Simons: I want to start with you, and sequestration. What's going on here as far as the IRS? All other federal agencies are getting hit. What's happening?

Bill Brunson: Right now we're not specifically certain as to how that's going to play out. So we expect that we're going to be furloughed for a number of days, but we haven't seen the exact, say, paperwork yet. They're supposed to notify the employees within 30 days of the event. But it hasn't yet come to be, so there might -- It might occur, it still might not occur, but we're waiting to see.

Ted Simons: OK. And real quickly, Arizona, I want to start with what seemed to have been a problem for a while with computer glitches regarding acknowledgment receipt of returns. What was that all about?

Anthony Forschino: What happened is it's really a small amount, what happened was in the beginning as we started, what we have to do is a reconciliation with the IRS. That means that we send our acknowledgments through the IRS to get to the person. That's how it goes. But sometimes there's some glitches as it goes, and what you get is, we do reconciliation with the IRS and say -- They say, you sent us an acknowledge, and we say yes, so we resend it. We had about 40,000 sitting in a hopper. Over the past weekend we took care of all of those 40,000. And what's funny is, even somebody at our work actually got filed, got their refund and then got their acknowledgment.

Ted Simons: So the delay was there, the delay is gone.

Anthony Forschino: Right. And it didn't mean the return wasn't being processed. It just meant the acknowledgment wasn't going.

Ted Simons: OK. Let's talk about electronic payment here. And the options that are out there with the federal tax system. What can I do as far as electronically filing?

Bill Brunson: Well, your payment with -- In that area, if you owe the federal government money and you owe less than $50,000, you can basically call the shots as long as you can pay that off within a five-year time frame. Now, if you're asking about electronically filed tax returns, that's the way to go. 80% of all Arizonans are going to file their return this year with 2.2 million, out of 2.8 million will submit it electronically. It's fast, accurate, secure. It saves the federal government money. It's truly a win-win situation for everybody.

Ted Simons: And you use credit or debit cards?

Bill Brunson: When you pay, yes. If you have a liability, you can use credit or debit cards. If you would like. That's certainly an option. Now, they're going to charge you a fee. That's a fee between you and that service provider. So just keep that in mind if you decide to go that option.

Ted Simons: Funds withdrawal, electronic fund withdrawals from your bank account, A-OK as well?

Bill Brunson: It certainly is.

Ted Simons: If you are -- If you file, if you -- What if you are unable to file? What choices do you have?

Bill Brunson: Run away. No. Basically you need to request the extension to file. It allows you an additional six months to submit the paperwork, not pay the tax. Then you want to request an extension before midnight Monday, April 15th, which is the due date for the return. There's no cost. And you don't have to make a supplemental payment with it. But you just need to make that request for the item before midnight Monday, April 15th. And you can do that online electronically, and you can do it for free on IRS.GOV's website through the free file option.

Ted Simons: This is -- If you're unable to file, not -- So if you're unable to file do you still have to pay something to keep things going here?

Bill Brunson: That was the old way. No. Is it a benefit to the taxpayer to pay what they can when they do file the return or request an extension? You bet, because it's going to save them penalty and interest. But it's not a requirement.

Ted Simons: I want to get to what happens if you're unable to pay here in a second. But back to the state. I notice there are some changes here regarding be the use tax and clean elections. Tell us what's changed over the year.

Anthony Forschino: The use tax is the tax you pay on purchases you make from out of state, online, that tax is not collected. Then you as the individual have to pay that. Last year there was a line on your tax return which allowed you to pay that tax. This year the line is removed. But the use tax is still owed.

Ted Simons: I -- Why is that?

Anthony Forschino: It was a legislative decision to remove the line from the return.

Ted Simons: So you’re not even reminded, but you still have to do it.

Anthony Forschino: Right. In our booklet we do have a page that talks about it, and on our website and tells you where to pay it.

Ted Simons: As far as the future is concerned, this is kind of going the way of the DODO, right? Eventually you'll have to pay taxes on pretty much online purchases, aren't you?

Anthony Forschino: That's the direction most legislation, federal legislation all that is going.

Ted Simons: All right. As far as clean elections --

Anthony Forschino: clean elections always had a checkoff box on the return where you could donate $5 or $10 , then you got a reduction of five or ten, or you could give a donation and get a credit. That's been removed, so the checkoff boxes are no longer there. The credit is no longer there. The donation is no longer there. However, on this year's tax return, if you made a donation prior to August 2nd of last year, you can still take the credit for this year. Because the law went into effect on August 2nd. Any donations made before that is allowed.

Ted Simons: You better remember it, and there's no prompting.

Anthony Forschino: Exactly.

Ted Simons: What happens if you can't pay your tax on time? We talked about unable to file, what about payment?

Bill Brunson: There's going to be a late payment penalty of one half of 1%. So if you're an individual that, say, doesn't have all their paperwork together and has a balance due, they owe uncle Sam money, go ahead and request the extension to file, and you'll not have a late filing penalty of 4.5%, just a late payment penalty until that amount is paid off. Then what we recommend, the intern revenue service recommends, pay what you can and get formally billed by the system, then contact us and we'll work out a payment arrangement.

Ted Simons: These requests for relief can be made online?

Bill Brunson: Yes. You can go to IRS.GOV or pick up the phone or go by an office. So much is available online at IRS.GOV, it's amazing. You don't truly need to pick up the phone.

Ted Simons: Are there requests for relief that just don't cut it. At what point do you say, no. We can't work with you? Or do you always say, we'll find a way?

Bill Brunson: That's a very fair question. If the individual is reasonable with us and communicates, we're going to be reasonable with them. But if we see a history of where they vote for multiple years and haven't worked with us, that's a different story.

Ted Simons: OK. Real quickly, another change, state taxes here regarding STO, school tuition organization.

Anthony Forschino: The school tuition organization, they gives scholarships for private schools, is what's happening is the credit that's there is 500$ for single, a thousand dollars for married, which has gone up to and a 503 or thousand, six, because it goes by inflation. So it's an extra three dollars. A second credit has been created for another and another thousand dollars. So you can give up to a thousand or two thousand, dollars for that credit. And you can give it up to April 15th and still take it on last year's --

Ted Simons: very quickly, seconds left. What do we watch for? Biggest tax scam right now?

Bill Brunson: Probably a fishy tax scam, somebody offers a refund, seems plausible because you filed and you may not have gotten everything you thought could be coming to you, and they'll ask for personal financial information. Don't fall for it. The IRS already has your personal information. If you get something like that, and you're not certain, contact the IRS and we'll talk with you. Then you won't have a problem with scammers.

Ted Simons: Good stuff. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great evening.