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May 30, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Rep. Kirkpatrick

  |   Video
  • Representative Ann Kirkpatrick will talk about the latest from Congress, including comprehensive immigration reform.
Category: Immigration   |   Keywords: immigration, congress, arizona,

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Ted Simons: A backlog of V.A. claims, a push to lower student-loan debt and the continuing controversy over a proposed copper mine near Superior. Those are among the issues we addressed to Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick in a conversation earlier today. Thank you for joining us. Good to have you here.

Ann Kirkpatrick: Nice to be back.

Ted Simons: Let's start with V.A. claims and the backlog of V.A. claims. This is kind of going a little under the radar. I know you've been interested in this. What is the concern here?

Ann Kirkpatrick: I have a caseworker in my Casa Grande office dedicated to helping veterans. When he reported to me the vast majority of his case load is claims backlogged, some of them, many of them more than two years, he told me he's hearing of people who died before their claim is processed. So a ranking member on oversight and investigations, we had a hearing, we brought the V.A. in and said, what's going on here? And what came out of that hearing is the great majority of delay is in the department of defense. And so they're having trouble transferring their records in electronic format to the V.A. So I and the chairman of the committee Mike Coughman of Colorado wrote legislation that's called -- It's called a Claims Operation Records Efficiency Act. And what it requires is that the Department of Defense now has metrics, they have to deliver to the V.A. in a timely manner, electronic format of their records. So we're really trying to encouraging them to go into electronic records keeping and away from the inefficiency of paper.

Ted Simons: I think many would be surprised that the Department of Defense has trouble transferring records electronically. Is this true?

Ann Kirkpatrick: That's what came out of that committee hearing we had. The good news is we just had another follow-up hearing out of -- After we had that initial hearing, the V.A. decided to direct personnel to the oldest claims. And they reported to us that they had been able to clear up 51% of that two-year and older backlog. But what they've done is shifted people from new claim processing, to the old claim. So there's going to be some tricks, but really those veterans who have been waiting so long should be processed as quickly as possible.

Ted Simons: And once they're processed, is there further measurement? I know the bill describes efficient electronic fashion to be delivered. What is efficient? How do we define efficient?

Ann Kirkpatrick: That's going to be up to the department to define the most efficient way. We'll keep oversight on that whole process. Because I say delayed care is denied care for our veterans.

Ted Simons: So department of defense and the V.A., what kind of response are you getting?

Ann Kirkpatrick: We're getting a good response. They say that they like the legislation, the V.A. Core Act, that that's the direction they were moving in terms of reaching a mutual agreement on how to address this.

Ted Simons: It's one of these moving the battleship things where it's going to take forever, or will there be some movement?

Ann Kirkpatrick: There's been some movement.

Ted Simons: Another issue I know affects a lot of Arizonans is regards to student loan debt. I know the bill out in focused on this, and another may not be a bill yet, but there's an effort to do something with Pell grants and to get banks out of the middle man process. Let's start with what's already out there. Students are just being crushed, some students, by student loan debt. What's happening with this?

Ann Kirkpatrick: If Congress doesn't do anything by July 1st, the interest rate on student loans almost doubles. There was a bill introduced by the Republicans that makes it even worse. So it's hard to comprehend why we wouldn't be trying to protect our students. And I hear from them all the time. Last night was in Flagstaff and NAU students were saying, we're having a hard time finding jobs. This is really going to devastate us. So it's a serious problem for our students.

Ted Simons: So right now if nothing is done by July 1st you're saying, the interest rate doubles?

Ann Kirkpatrick: Right.

Ted Simons: If something is done, the only thing that's out there right now is a bill that would essentially triple?

Ann Kirkpatrick: Almost. Almost. Make it worse, certainly than doing nothing.

Ted Simons: Making it worse I guess because of the market conditions?

Ann Kirkpatrick: The idea is these students borrowed this money and they need to pay it back market rates. But it's so hard on our students. We still have a jobs deficit in our state. In the country. And it's hitting really hard. Those new graduates.

Ted Simons: How do you address the issue without hitting the banking industry hard?

Ann Kirkpatrick: You know, we should keep in place what we have right now. We need to act and keep was in place right now. That's working for students, they're not complaining about it.

Ted Simons: I know there's also an effort to get banks out of the process of loans and grants to students. I know Pell grants, that's been addressed as well, more money into Pell grants, getting government direct loans as opposed to middleman with banks.

Ann Kirkpatrick: Pell grants are used extensively by students in Arizona especially in my district. Community college students really rely on Pell grants. I support Pell grants, I support raising the amount of the grant. Actually voted for legislation that would -- Did that in my first term.

Ted Simons: So this idea of maybe getting rid of banks at the middle man process, you think that's a good idea.

Ann Kirkpatrick: You know, we have to look at it. There has to be something that's fair and balanced. And basically it has to be done in a bipartisan manner. So we can continue having those conversation, but the important thing is that we are able to get these young people jobs, good-paying jobs, and that's my whole focus. I've said before my goal for Arizona is a diversified stable economy. And our young people coming out of college and University with a good education, really are part of that vision.

Ted Simons: Are you -- Last on the program we talked about the Superior copper mine, boy did that spark all sorts of conversation. We had both sides coming on after your appearance last time to give their best argument. What is the state of the land swap that is involved with this copper mine?

Ann Kirkpatrick: There was a hearing in the natural resources committee and all parties had a chance to have their concerns heard. And that was very important. And then it just passed out of that committee, so it's headed to a vote on the full house floor. And then it will go to the senate. The bill in the house is not perfect, and as you know I'm cosponsoring it with congressman Paul Gosar, which has been an interesting story, because you may remember he's the gentleman who defeated me in 2010. We've put that behind us and we're working together on a number of bills for Arizona that are good for Arizonans. But this is a major one, because it creates jobs. But the environmental concerns of the people who live over there are valid concerns, and they need to be addressed. So I'm now talking with members of the senate about how we can do that. What kind of environmental studies are fair, should be in the process, I want it to be an open transparent transaction with community input, and government-to-government input from the tribes.

Ted Simons: We heard from some folks in the community up there, and they had environmental concerns, water usage concerns, but the big thing was the environmental studies issue. They're saying do the environmental studies before the land swap as opposed to after. Is that a valid argument?

Ann Kirkpatrick: It's a valid argument. They deserve to know what's going to happen. And I introduced legislation my first term that did exactly that. So it has the environmental study prior. And then another one afterwards. But that's a very important part of the process. Those folks have lived in that area for generations, it's called the copper corridor. That proposed mine is within -- Easy radius of six other copper mines. And so those families are generations of miners. But they live there and they want a safe environment for their children and grandchildren.

Ted Simons: Is that deal breaking ground there regarding when this -- These environmental studies will be done?

Ann Kirkpatrick: I think we're having good conversations about that. They understand to actually get this signed into law, remember, it has to go to the president. So it's got to be fair and reasonable. And it's got to address some of those concerns. It won't be perfect and that's the way legislation is. There are goings to be people on both sides who aren't happy, but I think we can find a reasonable and fair compromise.

Ted Simons: Before you go, give us an assessment of the atmosphere back in Washington. Because from a few thousand miles away it sounds like if it isn't gridlocked it's close to it, especially in the house where all sorts of things are done and the senate completely ignores. What's going on?

Ann Kirkpatrick: It's so different from my first term. I feel more bipartisan action. And so the fact that Congressman Gosar and I are working together, our staffs are working together, I've been approached by other Congress members on the Republican side to cosponsor legislation. That didn't happen my first term. The freshman class has come in and started a new caucus, it's called United Solutions and they really want to solve problems. And people always ask me, why is that? It's because of the American people. In the last election they told us they wanted to elect members of Congress who could work together, find solution and get things done.

Ted Simons: So why does it seem like from a distance that's not happening? I know you're having your caucus and everything, but we -- All we're seeing is gridlock.

Ann Kirkpatrick: Yeah. You are seeing that. Especially on some of the major issues. That is still happening. But I'm very hopeful that this new trend will be able to continue. But you're right, we should have been able to sit down and reach a bipartisan deal on sequestration, we should have been able to do that on the budget. But that said, we are doing that with immigration. So there's a bipartisan effort in the house and in the senate. And I commend our two senators for taking leadership in that effort. So you're seeing it in various sectors. It's not ideal yet, but we're moving.

Ted Simons: It's capitol hill.

Ann Kirkpatrick: Right.

Ted Simons: It's always a pleasure. Good to have you.

Ann Kirkpatrick: Thank you so much.

Sales Tax Ending

  |   Video
  • The state’s temporary one-cent sales tax is ending May 31. Arizona State University Economist Dennis Hoffman will talk about the impacts on Arizona’s economy.
  • Dennis Hoffman - Economist, ASU
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: tax, arizona, economy, ASU, ,

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Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. In 2010, Arizona voters approved a three-year, one-cent increase in the state sales tax. Last year, voters refused to make that tax permanent, which means the tax goes away after tomorrow. Here to talk about how the tax impacted Arizona's economy and what comes next is ASU economist Dennis Hoffman. Good to see you again.

Dennis Hoffman: Great to be here Ted.

Ted Simons: Are we all ready for this end of this temporary sales tax?

Dennis Hoffman: We're coming down -- Counting down the hours. I think it's news that many folks are unaware of, both on the merchant side and the buyer side. But indeed it does come to an end.

Ted Simons: Where did the tax revenue go?
Dennis Hoffman: It was important. It was a very much a stabilizing force, fiscally in the state. It went to the general fund. And so the general fund -- And it was earmarked primarily to stabilize education and stop the free fall especially in K-12 education that had begun. But it did -- It was general fund dollars. So it -- If it went to education it might have freed up other dollars in the general fund. And so it went to fund then K-12, Universities, prisons, indigent health care, our share of indigent health care, those general fund meets.

Ted Simons: With those general fund needs addressed by the tax, what happens now that's tax goes away?

Dennis Hoffman: The economy has continued to improve. I think partially because of the stabilizing nature -- We sent a very clear signal that Arizona got its fiscal act together. Cyclically we knew we were going to improve, it's hard to predict exactly at what trajectory. But since the tax has been in place, the pace of retail sales, the transactions has picked up, and it's not because of higher taxes, of course. But it's just -- It's a sign that a small increase in the tax rate really did not stifle any growth in retail transactions.

Ted Simons: So the theory back when the tax was being proposed is that it would have been a bridge. It was supposed to be a bridge for three years to get us out of the worst times, get us to a nicer shore over here. Did we make the shore? Are we on the other side of the river?

Dennis Hoffman: We can debate that. It clearly was the bridge of stability. I think you could argue it was a catalyst to attracting federal dollars. It certainly put a support under a number of the expenditures that took place in the public sector. And I think it would have been quite concerning I think among many people to lose the kinds of public services would you have lost without that temporary tax.

Ted Simons: Critics of this and any tax say that any tax hurts the economy period. Did this tax hurt Arizona's economy?

Dennis Hoffman: My quibble is any tax hurts the economy. I just don't agree with that. I do agree that taxes can stifle an economy. Overburdening an economy with taxes is stifling. But taxes on small margins, taking those receipts and recycling them in areas of the public sector where there's clearly need, and look, we're nearly last in K-12 expenditures per student. Despite the tax, we've sliced universities on a per student basis more than any other state in the United States. So there are clearly needs, there's infrastructure needs, there's indigent health care needs, as we've talked on the show. So there's clearly needs. On small margins you can take a small amount of money in the form of taxation that's not distortionary, and this one is clearly not. And recycle it back to the economy without doing severe harm. And I think this last three years clearly illustrates that.

Ted Simons: So with that said, for those who say now that the tax is gone, the economy will improve that much more, again, valid argument?

Dennis Hoffman: I just don't see it. I think -- Well, the data suggests the spring has been very robust in retail sales. We've continued to accelerate in March and April, I suspect May is going to show strong numbers as well. I bet if you had retailers in here they would tell you that it was a pretty active weekend with a Memorial Day sales. They were shaving 20 and 30% off prices for Memorial Day. So were folks going to wait a week and save 1% and forgo a 20 or 30% reduction? I don't think so. So the economy is going to improve. Revenue picture will continue to get better. With or without this tax. It would have probably been about the same trajectory had we retained the tax.

Ted Simons: Were you surprised a tax even happened, that voters approved this?

Dennis Hoffman: I was pleased. It took leadership from the governor's office, and I thought that that was a very important signal. It's clear the governor -- The governor doesn't always support tax increases, and she's been very clear in that regard. But when there was a need, when the economy was in crisis, when we needed a fiscal stabilizing force, she took leadership action and I think it was very important.

Ted Simons: Were you surprised that voters said no to an extension?

Dennis Hoffman: Well, voters saying yes originally and then voters saying no, the yes vote was on general fund, it was in a time of crisis, people saw where those dollars were going, and it was very clear. It had very widespread support. Business community, all the education establishment, and the governor's office. And the voters said yes. I think the vote to extend was really very different. Those dollars were going in different directions, they were not going in the general fund. They were setting up separate spending initiatives. People were concerned about meeting the needs in the general fund, and then at the same time allocating some much those dollars elsewhere.

Ted Simons: Bottom line, last question, did Arizona really need this one-cent --

Dennis Hoffman: I think it really did. I'm big into counter factuals. For those people that thought it didn't need it, I would really like to see the tape if we can play the tape, rerun the last three years, without that billion dollars a year roughly that came in from the temp tax. Things would have been very, very lean. They're lean as it is. Oh, my goodness, I can't imagine what it would have been like.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Dennis Hoffman: Thanks, Ted.

U of A Cancer Center

  |   Video
  • The University of Arizona is constructing a cancer center in downtown Phoenix where clinical research will be conducted. Dr. M. Peter Lance, the Chief Cancer and Prevention Control Officer, and Marcia Gruber, Vice President of Oncology Services at the cancer center, will discuss the center, patient treatment and research.
  • Dr. M. Peter Lance - Chief Cancer and Prevention Control Officer, University of Arizona
  • Marcia Gruber - Vice President of Oncology Services, University of Arizona
Category: Medical/Health   |   Keywords: UA, arizona, phoenix, cancer, treatment, research,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The University of Arizona is building a new comprehensive cancer center at the biomedical campus in downtown Phoenix. Here to tell us more about the center is Dr. M. Peter Lance, the chief cancer and prevention control officer for the center, and Marcia Gruber, vice-president of oncology services. Thanks for joining us. Why a new cancer center? Why downtown Phoenix?

M. Peter Lance: Very good questions and very important. I think it's first of all we should understand the scope of the cancer problem. So over half a million people die from cancer every year in this country. 1,500 each day. And in Arizona alone, over 11,000 people die every year from cancer. And beyond that, the number of new cases of cancer is projected to double between now and the year 2050. So we feel our mission is very much deserved, the people of -- Is very much to serve the people of Arizona, and much of what we do has to do with clinical research, and so we need to be where the largest number of patients is, and obviously that's here in the valley with the service area of 4 million people.

Ted Simons: What will this new cancer center offer? What services? What treatments?

Marcia Gruber: Comprehensive, absolutely. It's -- We'll have lots of -- Many of the state of the art diagnostic testing, we'll have chemotherapy, interventional radiology, radiation treatments, we're going to have supportive care and -- In the form of social work, financial councilors, physical therapists. So we can really treat the whole patient from diagnostic until the point at which they are declared a survivor.

Ted Simons: How would that differ, I know there are a variety of ways that cancer patients can receive treatment in the valley. I know there are research entities as well. How will this differ?

Marcia Gruber: Well, it will certainly be the treatments will be available closer to home. The patients won't have to travel to Tucson. It -- It's that -- The word comprehensive. They will be able to get all the care they need right in one place. And also they will have access to all the clinical trials.

Ted Simons: Indeed the word "comprehensive" is in a title of a comprehensive -- That's only of these quote unquote comprehensive centers.

M. Peter Lance: The national cancer institute, the NCI, has 41 designated comprehensive cancer centers in the country. And which the University of Arizona cancer center is one of the oldest actually. So we think that's very important. And just -- Also I think the sort of style of the way that we provide the care to our patients is in multidisciplinary teams focusing on a particular site. So there's a breast team, a prostate team, and so forth. So that is the Hallmark of the way we provide care.

Ted Simons: More research than treatment, or vice versa? What would that ratio be do you think?

Marcia Gruber: Not --

M. Peter Lance: Potentially everything that we do, whether it's basic -- Clinical trials, epidemiology, where comprehensive and research is involved, and the ideal would be that every patient that we treat would be taking part in some form of trial, that's the goal. But in reality 10 to 20% of the patients that receive that care through a comprehensive cancer center are in one form of a trial or another.

Ted Simons: Interesting. There's an affiliation with St. Joseph hospital. Talk to us about that arrangement, that coordination and how that will build, grow, change over the years.

Marcia Gruber: The affiliation I think is very fortunate for the area because it really brings the strengths of both organizations together. And should magnify the both the compassionate care that St. Joseph is known for, as well as bring in the evidence-based care and the access to clinical trials. The growth is going to occur right now we're building the programs at St. Joseph in the medical office building next door. We are going to hire eight physicians this year, all cancer specialists. We'll hire the next year. So when the new building opens on the Phoenix biomedical campus at seventh and Fillmore, we will move in there with about 35 cancer specialists. Ultimately we will get to somewhere around 70 to 74 cancer specialists.

Ted Simons: We're looking at the building right now. That's at 7th and fillmore on a rapidly growing biomedical campus. Really taken shape.

M. Peter Lance: Yes.

Ted Simons: As far as the affiliation is concerned, real quickly, when this new building is operational, will there be an in-patient, outpatient dynamic between this facility, St. Joe's --

M. Peter lance: The in-patient unit is at St. Joe's, and will stay there. And there will still -- There will also still be some ambulatory clinics that remain on the St. Joe's site, but the majority of the clinics will be on the downtown site.

Ted Simons: Will there be other affiliation as far as coordination and --

Marcia Gruber: Yes, I think Dr. Lance can speak to that.

M. Peter Lance: Through the University of Arizona in Tucson, and the cancer center, we actually already have an affiliation with our colleagues in northern Arizona, Verde Valley, Cottonwood and Sedona, and there's an affiliation in the eastern part of the state which is on the cusp of being signed. So we see ourselves as serving the whole state.

Ted Simons: As an oncologist, what is the greatest need right now in cancer research, in cancer treatment?

Marcia Gruber: Probably access to that care.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Marcia Gruber: And screening, and prevention as well.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned more numbers and so many more people being diagnosed. Is that a case of just folks getting older, more cancer being diagnosed -- Better diagnosis? What's going on there?

Marcia Gruber: Combination. Both an older population, or population that's aging, and age is the number one risk factor for cancer. And then we also have lifestyle changes -- Lifestyles that are not in the best interests of preventing cancer. And then access to screening, so that when people are diagnosed they're diagnosed earlier so the treatments can be more effective.

Ted Simons: Last question, when now is this cancer center set to open?

M. Peter Lance: In the summer of 2015. So about two years from now the building will be opening.

Ted Simons: Very good.

M. Peter Lance: It will be transitioning.

Ted Simons: We'll keep an eye on you. Good to have you both mere. Thank you for joining us.