Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 12, 2006


Host: Michael Grant

Journalists Roundtable


  • Local reporters discuss the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Howard Fischer - Capitol Media Services
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Michael Grant:
It's Friday May 12, 2006. In the headlines this week, republican legislative leaders have released the details of their proposed state budget, which totals nearly 9.9 billion dollars and includes a series of tax cuts. State lawmakers also want to spend 160-million dollars to crack down on illegal immigration and beef up border security. And republican gubernatorial candidate Len Munsil talks about his campaign while picking up the endorsement of a number of state lawmakers. That's next on Horizon.

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Michael Grant:
Good evening, I'm Michael Grant and this is the Journalists' Roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Robbie Sherwood of the Arizona Republic, Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services and Paul Giblin of the Scottsdale Tribune. Republican legislative leaders this week released the details of their proposed $9.9 billion state budget proposal. It includes both tax cuts and increased spending for things like education and freeway construction. Robbie let's start on the tax cut side. Two main components there, income tax and the state property tax?

Robbie Sherwood:
Yeah. Two-year income tax cut, 5\% next year, another 5\% on top of that, equaling about $250 million at the end of two years. Then a reduction in the-- a state levied county property tax rate for education. They had wanted to eliminate it. Instead they're taking it down by more than half over two years. All told about $500 million at the end of two years.

Howard Fischer:
The interesting thing about it is if you look at it from the perspective of individual taxpayers while that $500 million looks like a lot. For individuals, for example, somebody with $150,000 home on that property tax reduction after two years would save like $42 a year. The income tax reduction if you're making between I think it was 25 and $30,000 you'd end up with a $38 tax break at the end of two-year. $118 tax break if you're making between 50 and 75. That gets to the whole argument that the governor and some of her political allies are pushing, which is would you rather have a tax break or rather make quote permanent investments in Arizona.

Michael Grant:
It sounds a little like the tax cuts of the 1990's Howie, if I recall correctly. We paste those with food items.

Howard Fischer:
During the initiative we had a Big Mac tax cut.

Michael Grant:
A chicken dinner, didn't we?

Howard Fischer:
Yes. At one point we actually got the fries and coke in there at one point. This one obviously is a little bigger. For a lot of lawmakers it's part of the message. They want to go ahead and use the fact that we have extra money this year to cut the base of government. Because when you reduce taxes it only takes a simple majority. To bring them back it takes two-thirds. So if the revenues go down in the future they can starve the beast.

Robbie Sherwood:
That really is what it is about because of what lost out in this argument, which was an argument for rebates. We have extra money. Why not give it back in a rebate? It might actually even have a larger impact on the economy because you would get a check that you might run out to Wal-mart. If your income tax return is $38-- has an extra $38 in it next year, you're probably not even going to notice it because you can't remember what you had last year.

Howard Fischer:
Well, the other piece behind the rebate is political. Can you imagine all of a sudden let's say in September getting a $150 check with Janet Napolitano's name on it? Who do you think you're going to vote for come November?

Michael Grant:
I understand that they toyed with that proposal and they were going to require that someone other than the governor send it out but they couldn't quite figure out that.

Howard Fischer:
Actually, Michael, they were thinking of using your name as the neutral third-party.

Michael Grant:
Yeah, that's right. [Laughter] Now, let's move to some of the major spending things. Robbie, one of those is about 345 million for some increased freeway building. And that's in part to counter the argument that Howie talked about which is, well, don't do tax cuts. Do something that people would appreciate more and legislature really saying, oh, hey, let's do both.

Robbie Sherwood:
The legislature believes that a large chunk of the $1.1 billion surplus is a one-time windfall, I guess you would call it. So therefore something like freeway construction which is a one-time thing is acceptable place to put that. So they're putting a large amount of money in there. We would need to see the details on where-- how they're going to figure out the formula of where it's going to go. I can't imagine that it's not going to somehow wind up being the districts and the congested trouble spots in the north valley, southeast valley, Pinal County, that had made headlines of some of the lawmakers who fought the hardest for this. However, that might anger everybody else. In the rural areas would feel like their roads would need the help, too.

Howard Fischer:
Jake Flick already has a tiny little road in mind. He wants his.

Michael Grant:
Now, education, Howie. We've got 105 million additional bucks allocated K-12, which interestingly enough would fully implement all day k but it's not earmarked for all day k.

Howard Fischer:
Oh, this is a nasty gram, if you will, for teachers. The governor's budget had sought money for teacher pay hikes to basically boost everyone up, get the starting salary up near 30,000, boost everyone up, a rising tide raising all boats. She also wanted to continue the implementation of full day k. This does it. But it says to schools, well, if you want to use it for something else like teacher salaries since we're not going to give you anymore you can use it for that, basically putting the teachers in opposition to the question of whether children should have full day kindergarten and setting up a fight in over 200 school districts around the state.

Robbie Sherwood:
The no holds barred cage match. Two go in, only one comes out.

Paul Giblin:
Teachers versus kindergartener. That's an ugly fight.

Robbie Sherwood:
It's sort of divide and conquer because that's one of the governor's strongest constituencies. And so to the extent you can pit them one against the other you might have a political win. What I see happening here if I can gaze into my crystal ball is that you might see the governor give up on full implementation of all day k this year, take a portion of that money, convince them to somehow give the rest to teacher pay. Then she will still have the-- if she wins the election, she'll still have something to argue with them about in coming years. And she can campaign in their districts because they're the ones who are not going to get this all day k money and say, look, I tried. They wouldn't let me.

Michael Grant:
Because actually, Robbie, if I recall wasn't this supposed to be year three of a 5-year implementation plan on all day k?

Robbie Sherwood:
Right. She came out in her state-of-the-state and said we have a surplus. Why not go all five years this year?

Michael Grant:
Now, sticking with the education subject, Paul, $30 million for ASU polytechnic. What do you think about that? [Laughter]

Paul Giblin:
That's right, Mike. That would be the east valley-- [laughter]

Robbie Sherwood:
Maybe we should explain why Paul is laughing.

Paul Giblin:
No, no, no. Seriously that would be the east side's cut of that money. But it's a tough portion of money for them to get because there is likely to be opposition from other universities, say U of A, say NAU, will want to get at least that amount of money for their campuses.

Howard Fischer:
This is what they call 2-2 - 1 formula. And universities--

Michael Grant:
That formula does not exist.

Howard Fischer:
So I've been told for let's see how long have I been covering legislature? '82? Universities will pretend to argue about everyone else's money but they're secretly hoping everyone else gets money because the rule has been if ASU gets 30 million, U of A gets 30 million, NAU gets 15. It's part of the game. The argument here is this is a new campus and shouldn't fall under the form last well, I have news for you. I've talked with lobbyists from the U of A and NAU and their constituents from Tucson who may hold sway of whether republicans have majority of the budget it ain't gonna happen. If you're going to give 30 million in cash to the polytechnic campus at ASU east you better come up with additional money for the U of A whether it's for U of A south and more than the $1 million that's gotten there and of course NAU will come up with something they need.

Paul Giblin:
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Behind that 30 million they're envisioning another 78 million that could come in future years to bolster what they get with the first 30.

Michael Grant:
Big puppy. Veterans. Veteran counselors. More veteran counselors. Not as many as the governor had asked for but still a fairly good chunk.

Robbie Sherwood:
Enough to avoid a potential P.R. problem that would have hurt a lot more than the $2 million that they wanted. Because these are veterans' counselors who need-- what they do is they help veterans navigate this horrible bureaucracy in the federal government to get their benefits. And 600,000 veterans and there's 19 counselors now. It's not enough to do the job. They wanted 35. They get 24. It's not exactly what they wanted, but in addition they also get a $12 million-- or a $10 million for veterans home in Tucson all set to go, it already has its private property and federal matching funds and they get some cemetery funds for northern Arizona. So they're pretty much getting what they wanted. They would have liked everything but I don't think that they're going to be picketing the capitol, which would have been awful.

Michael Grant:
Well, okay. Those are some of the key details, Howie. Now, this is leadership's budget. They are currently in the process of determining whether or not they have followers?

Howard Fischer:
Well, think of Jim Weirs as House speaker and Ken Bennett as used car salesmen. Saying to the members of the small groups, what will it take of to get you into this budget today? What can we do for you? What if we finance this, what if we just add a little something? Now they did add some sweetness. Robbie and I have been going through these papers here. There's money for autism research, money for e-learning, for teach America, Navaho senior centers. They're trying to give enough little plums in there so everyone in an election year gets something.

Robbie Sherwood:
There's also vouchers and expansion of the tuition tax credits which is obviously trying to get conservatives on to the budget. Gets Napolitano off but it gets conservatives on.

Howard Fischer:
The question will become, what is it going to take? Will this budget as it stands now in this tax cut package pass as it stands now? No. Because there are enough moderate republicans who want additional spending, plus the governor is of course-- because she's the governor, is going to say, well, that's nice but it's not enough. The problem that the leadership has is to the extent that you put in more spending you lose the right wing of your own caucus. Now, I don't know how many of these guys can vote for.

Michael Grant:
More in tax cuts.

Howard Fischer:
In fact, they want a three year, $800 million tax cut plan. So at what point do they perhaps need to go to democrats and say, look. We will build a coalition budget here.

Michael Grant:
All right. Now, one item, Robbie, we did not cover but it's an important one. 160 million for border security. The governor had proposed 100 million so they're taking that up by 60 million. But placing the funding to one side, I mean, the real struggle there is what a lot of other provisions are in that package.

Robbie Sherwood:
Right. It's all in one bill. So there are some proverbial poison pills for the governor and even really for members of the republican caucus it will take to pass it. But it's in there. Just to identify that one of the key sticking points there would be the trespass law making the simple act of being on U.S. soil or on Arizona soil illegally a misdemeanor trespass, second offense: a felony. What they've done to try to make it more palatable was to call it a second offense like seat belt. You cannot pull somebody over for not wearing a seat belt but if you pull somebody over for something else and they're not wearing their seatbelt, they can get in trouble.

Paul Giblin:
That can get a little more strange. On Monday, when the president has his speech and he's going to suggest to put the National Guard troops down on the border, anyway.

Robbie Sherwood:
Absolutely. The president's speech provided it gets support could either augment or undo a lot of what's being talked about here. It could overwhelm it anyway if they're actually going to put real resources on the border.

Michael Grant:
But the president is suggesting that they train the guard along the border?

Robbie Sherwood:
As I understand it, in an effort to essentially put troops on the border, not to necessarily militarize it but to have troops here doing something, he would require that other states' national guard units train-- do their like two weeks training here instead of in their own state, down in and around our border area. I'm told that time reaction to that from other states has been cold, but we'll see how it plays on Monday.

Michael Grant:
Schwarzenegger saying, not in my state.

Robbie Sherwood:
No way. [Laughter]

Michael Grant:
So give me a reasonable shot, Howie, at timing on this. Do they spend most of next week trying to get their own, if you'll pardon the expression, House or Senate as the case may be, in order?

Howard Fischer:
I think that's exactly what's going to happen. The governor has first of all said to them, I won't negotiate with you until I see an actual bill. In other words don't give me these fact sheets. I want to see actual legislation. They're going to be working on this weekend to come up with the legislation. They still are going to need to tweak it. As Robbie and I are going to be monitoring who's on, who's off, how many votes they have and then going to sit down with the governor and see what she's willing to do. On a theoretical basis you could have a budget done by the end of next week. I'm not laying money on it that if we're sitting around this table next week we'll say we just adopted a $9.9 billion budget.

Michael Grant:
And the political strategy here, Robbie, do they get one that they can get 16 and 31 for and then move it to the governor, not really caring at this stage what she's going to do or not?

Robbie Sherwood:
No, they don't. If they're smart. And then they haven't seemed like that's what they're going to do at all. They are going to try to get conditional support from at least that many members and then go to the governor and negotiate. Last year they asked the governor to negotiate after they had already passed the budget, then got it vetoed and added six weeks to the session. If they add another six weeks now I don't think I can handle it. Hopefully that's not what they going to do.

Michael Grant:
You and the rest of the population of Arizona. U.S. Senate race between incumbent senator Jon Kyl and democratic challenger Jim Pederson heating up. Republican operatives have been targeting campaign signs put up by the Pederson campaign. Paul, I love these stories about campaigns. I really do. You put up your sign and then another guy puts up another sign that points towards your sign. I love this stuff.

Paul Giblin:
Right. The Pederson sign has the message that says, nobody's senator but ours. And that line really chafes the republicans. They hate that line because they say, this guy was a Republican Party chairman and he funded a lot of democrats. The republicans put their sign up and said, liberal agenda supports amnesty. And sometimes they put their little signs above Pederson signs, sometimes below Pederson's sign, sometimes in front of Pederson signs obscuring some of it. Which is kind of weird. Especially supports amnesty part because it's an out and out lie. And I'll tell you it's a lie. If you go to Pederson's website you will see he doesn't support amnesty, at least the way it's been described. The republicans know this because they should be looking at his website. But they put out this lie, anyway, and they claim based on a statement that he made a couple weeks ago that he supports amnesty.

Howie Fischer: Here's part of the problem. You have J.D. Hayworth insisting the McCain bill is amnesty. It's a conditional problem you have there. They did polling and tried to figure out, what is he vulnerable on? Liberal is always a word you can use to attack people in the state. And given the immigration stuff we just discussed amnesty also becomes a buzzword. Much in the way Pederson did his polling and figured out, drug prices, war in Iraq and whether in fact Kyl is bought and paid for by lobbyists.

Robbie Sherwood: I'm not going to solve this amnesty debate but I will tell you this little trick with the signs is not legal. But there's a loophole that the state law that I looked at says that it's illegal to obscure another candidate's signs especially in a way that changes their meaning 45-days out from the election. So I think we're out of that window. So as long as they take those signs down.

Michael Grant:
In taking them down they actually were breaking that law if I'm understanding.

Robbie Sherwood: No. By putting them up they breaking that law because they are changing the meaning of Pederson's signs.

Michael Grant:
But more than 45-days out from the primary. Or did I miss understand that?

Robbie Sherwood:
No, you're okay to do that under the law. But when you get within that 45-days better not have any sign in front of a candidate's that changes the meaning. This was brought out during the Harry Mitchell Senate race a couple of years ago. He's still getting heat for "stealing signs." But I'll tell you. He beat that rap. What he was doing was taking down signs that says voted for alternative fuels in front of his. It impinged on his free speech. If the candidate wanted to put up a sign next to it that says "Harry Mitchell did xyz" that's okay but as long as you're not in front of his and impinging on his free speech rights.

Michael Grant:
Okay. Well, in sticking with the Senate avenue, John Verkamp officially jumped in this week.

Howard Fischer:
Into the great tears of everyone who went to his a 50 minute press conference where he proceeded to read his entire life story in every issue. What part of sound bites do these people of not understand?

Robbie Sherwood:
We usually complain about sound by the reporting.

Howard Fischer:
This was the other extreme. 50 minutes.

Robbie Sherwood:
In 95-degree heat.

Howard Fischer:
Yes. And I always wonder about candidates who do that. John has decided he's going to jump in. Now remember he was a republican legislator from Flagstaff who has moved down here and is now a democrat. He recently went to independent, now he says he's a democrat. He has two big issues. The war in Iraq, he says neither side, neither Pederson nor Kyl is addressing that properly and he said there's a secret plan by the Pentagon to use tactical nuclear device to take out Iran's nuclear research facilities. And as proof, and there is something to be said for this because Sey Hersh has much has written about this, from the New Yorker, the Pentagon is going to be conducting a test next month in the Nevada desert where they're going to take six tons of fuel oil and see how much of a bunker you can bust into. That's about the size of a tactical nuclear device. So John is convinced this will get him elected.

Robbie Sherwood:
He said he jumped in. If he doesn't get some miraculous help and volunteerism and maybe some money he's going to jump right back out. Because he has only about four weeks until June 14th to get 4,500 qualifying signatures. It's a hard mountain to climb even if you take all year to do it.

Michael Grant:
Well, and that's a little misleading because you obviously need more than 4500. You need 6 grand.

Howard Fischer:
And that's even leaving out the fact the guy has an extreme dui conviction and more recently he got convicted in Scottsdale where his girlfriend was driving he got out of the car, mouthed off to the cop. We have this wonderful picture of him in the press in this booking photo where he looks like that Nick Nolte photo we've all seen and he got a disorderly conduct out of that. He says he's learned a lot and that those issues don't really matter. I'm not sure the voters buy it.

Paul Giblin:
But until he does bow out of the race, assuming that he will, he could change the tenure of the race. One is calling the other a republican, the other one calling the other a democrat, and then immigration; those are the only two issues.

Howard Fischer:
You need money to get involved. He doesn't have money. Unless he comes up with a lot--

Paul Giblin:
He can show up and start talking about it.

Robbie Sherwood:
These two news cycles his announcement and press conference he got people talking about the war which neither Kyl nor Pederson has done.

Michael Grant:
Next Tuesday, Paul, we have a couple of local elections. Sort of a strange juxtaposition between what's in the ballot in Mesa and what's on the ballot in Scottsdale.

Paul Giblin:
Right. And in Mesa that's a city that would like to spend some more money but they don't have it to spend. Scottsdale has the opposite problem. They have the money but they can't get at it because of spending limits. So they're both trying to do what they can to spend more money.

Michael Grant:
The Mesa proposal is both an increase in the sales tax and to institute a property tax in that city for what? The first time in like 60-years or so.

Paul Giblin:
Right. And that's not going over very well. People in Mesa like the idea of not paying property tax and they're certainly not looking forward to that in the future. They say money is being misspent, things like the Mesa Arts Center, which is downtown. Looks beautiful. A lot of people would rather not have that if they could get away with not paying taxes.

Michael Grant:
In Scottsdale, they're often more tolerant up there. Do you rank the chances of the expenditure limit being increased maybe a little better than a property tax clearing the runway in Mesa?

Paul Giblin:
Yeah. I would say that's a pretty safe bet. Scottsdale. You're right. Scottsdale likes to spend their money. They bought a lot of property for those desert preserves, which was kind of unusual.

Michael Grant:
All right. Well let's cycle back to the governor's race. What did Munsil have to say this week?

Howard Fischer:
Munsil brought out a majority of the republicans in the House and Senate to show that he has the support preprimary of a lot of folks and it seems to have had its effect. One of the things we'll talk about is Janet Smith Flores, who is a former Court of Appeals judge, former Santa Cruz county attorney, dropped out of the race. He's trying to muscle everyone else out. Part of what's interesting what he said which wasn't part of his message. Len was in fact the editor in the 80's of the State Press in Arizona State University. He said, I'm not going to run meeting notices from gay and lesbian groups. And he said at the time that he wouldn't participate in them because it would make him complicit quote "to the ultimate self destruction of its members, bodies and souls." So of course here's Len running for governor 20-years later. We say, how do you justify making that kind of decision and basically shutting someone out of the press? He said, look, as a reporter you guys should know. It's a first Amendment right and I wasn't going to list any clubs where sexual orientation was the issue.

Michael Grant:
And Robbie, as Howie mentioned, Jan Flores pulls out of the race for governor. She says it's a clean election staying in 5 buck increments is kind of tough if you don't have an organization.

Robbie Sherwood:
She blamed clean elections. I'm not sure that's the fault of that system. That's the fault that she's not more popular, I think, and can't get the support. It is meant to test the legitimacy in the organization as a candidate before they hand over $400,000 of public money to her. She was pretty clear she wasn't going to meet that test in time to make a race of it so she bowed out.

Paul Giblin:
How many republicans do you think will actually make it?

Robbie Sherwood:
I think it could be maybe two or three, one privately funded and two clean election.

Michael Grant:
All right, panelists we are out of time. Thank you.

Larry Lemmons:
Immigration rallies and marches and a day without an immigrant all have impacted Arizona and the nation. In a Horizon special edition we look back at the significant events that forced the immigration issue to the forefront. Also a look at the legal immigration process Monday night at 7 on channel 8's Horizon.

Michael Grant:
Tuesday the anniversary of Arizona civil war battle recently passed. Learn the history of the battle at Picacho pass. Wednesday many people used adjustable rate mortgages to get into a home. Those are starting to cause problems for homeowners. Thursday we'll tell you about a new hospital opening in the east valley. Thank you very much for joining us on this Friday edition. I'm Michael Grant. Have a great weekend. Good night.

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