Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

January 14, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Democratic Legislative Leaders


  • state Senate Minority Leader Jorge Luis Garcia and House Minority Leader David Lujan discuss the new legislative session and the challenges they face in these rough economic times.
Guests:
  • Jorge Luis Garcia - State senate minority leader
Category: Legislature

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Tonight on "Horizon" -- how Democrats hope to solve the state's budget problems and work with a new Republican governor. Plus the C.E.O. of Metro Light Rail is here to give us an update on the first two weeks of travel by train. That's coming up next on "Horizon."

Ted Simons:
Hello, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. State lawmakers are in search of ways to balance the state's budget. The current year deficit is about $1.6 billion. Next year, lawmakers might face a $3 billion shortfall. Yesterday I spoke with the newly elected Republican leaders of the Arizona state legislature about fixing the state's budget mess. Tonight we hear from Democrats. Joining me is senate minority leader senator, Jorge Luis Garcia, and house minority leader, Representative David Lujan. Thank you for joining us on "Horizon."

David Lujan:
Thank you.

Ted Simons:
What's the mood of Democrats right now?

Jorge Luis Garcia:
I think it's looking forward with optimism that we can resolve the problems.

Ted Simons:
Is there a feeling it's going to be difficult for Democrats to be relevant with an incoming Republican Governor?

Jorge Luis Garcia:
Not at all. I believe -- some democrats believe that it's incumbent on us to present the alternatives that can resolve the problems that face Arizona and that's the road we're taking.

Ted Simons:
How about the house? What is the mood over there?

David Lujan:
Well, I think it's a wait and see attitude. I think it's going to be up to the Republican majority to see whether they're going to live up to what they've been saying publicly, they want to work with us and engage in bipartisan talks. I hope they do because I think that's what the people of Arizona want. They want us to work in a bipartisan fashion and come out of these times stronger for the future.

Ted Simons:
How do Democrats remain relevant with Napolitano gone and Brewer coming?

David Lujan:
I think putting forth common sense, reasonable solutions, making sure we're advocating for a balanced budget and doing a budget that puts Arizona children and families first and that's our priorities as a caucus.

Ted Simons:
Are you sensing a change in style from Republican leadership right now? Too early to tell?

Jorge Luis Garcia:
Too early to tell from my perspective.

Ted Simons:
Are you anticipating a change?

Jorge Luis Garcia:
Not really. I think, you know, Senator Burns -- President Burns is going to be as accessible as a president can be. At the end make decisions that are in the best interests of Arizona, rather than being the ideological interests.

Ted Simons:
Seeing the same as far as in the house? There's got to be a little bit of change from what I think.

David Lujan:
There is. I have a good relationship with Speaker Adams and he has expressed publicly a willingness to work with us and so it's going to be, as I said, a wait and see attitude. I hope he does fulfill that promise. That's what the voters want to see us do.

Ted Simons:
Republican leaders saying last night it's not a matter of ideology but a matter of mathematics. Do you agree?

David Lujan:
I guess it depends on how they reach the balanced budget. I think in terms of what Democrats want, we believe as we go through the difficult times we have to make cuts in a strategic fashion and I think that starts with making sure we protect education as much as possible because when we do come out of these difficult time, and we will, education is going to keep us strong for the future. We have to make sure we're maintaining the investments we've made in education and healthcare and so I think those are going to be some of our priorities.

Ted Simons:
Do you as well see, as the republicans say, it's mostly 2 + 2 equals 4, not the ideology behind it?

Jorge Luis Garcia:
What comprises the two? Right now, the discussions we've had, none of the discussions I've heard, the Republicans aren't even talking about what's coming down from the feds. In terms of economic stimulus. Last week the legislative budget director, we were hearing a figure of $900 million coming to the state. For this year. Fiscal year 2009. This afternoon I received an e-mail from congressional news that the Arizona estimated -- I guess, assistance to the state, was $1.6 billion. Primarily targeting healthcare and education.

David Lujan:
What's interesting too, we had budget briefings yesterday, some bipartisan budget briefings and there were comments by the Republican legislators asking whether we had to accept the federal stimulus money and I think that's a short sighted approach. I hope that's not the prevailing opinion because we're facing one of the biggest short falls in the state. We're going to need all the help we can get.

Ted Simons:
I know I asked Republican leadership about this yesterday and they were saying they didn't want the money if there were strings attached. Your thoughts.

Jorge Luis Garcia:
It's not going to be up to the legislators. It's up to Governor Brewer. This legislature has little control over the federal funds. I suspect right now Governor Brewer is going to accept those. Because she doesn't want to see a million kids out of healthcare and she wants to make sure that education, k-20 is fully funded.

Ted Simons:
I want to get to education. You talked about healthcare in general. And Senate President Bob Burns had an interesting comment regarding AHCCCS. Here's what he had to say.

Bob Burns:
I just have a real difficult time believing that one fifth of the population of the state of Arizona has to be on AHCCCS. I think the people in the state are better prepared to care for themselves than that. It just -- I think we really have to take a close look at that area. And in the health and welfare area of our state government spending.

Ted Simons:
Does he have a valid point there?

David Lujan:
No, I don't think he does. The people on AHCCCS are the ones qualified to be on there and the reality is that programs like that, which enable our citizens to be healthy are good for the whole state because if they're not getting this coverage, you know, it's going to be a burden on the entire healthcare system and I don't see that's ever been an issue in terms of having too many on it. Particularly when you have a number of employers in the state that don't provide health insurance.

Ted Simons:
Is it possible that AHCCCS is going to be cut back?

Jorge Luis Garcia:
No, because the voters have protected that. Legislators are not going to cut it. We have no authority to cut it. I'm sure the Republican majority would love to cut it, but they realize they would be slapping the Arizona voter in the face if they carte blanche cut it.

Ted Simons:
The interesting point about our discussion yesterday was the two leaders seemed to say someone is going to get slapped in the face. A whole bunch of people need to be slapped in the face because the situation is so dire. Are Democrats on the same page how serious the situation is?

David Lujan:
Yes, we recognize how big the shortfall is but this isn't a case of too many people or AHCCCS. The reason we're here, we're not the only state. There are 43 other states facing similar situations, but we're a growing state and that means we have more people that need healthcare coverage. We have more people that needed and law enforcement. That's the reason we have increased in spending to keep up with the infrastructure that a growing state needs.

Jorge Luis Garcia:
The state was in such dire need, why is it a Republican priority to continue the suspension of the property tax rate? I don't understand that.

Ted Simons:
I asked that question last night and they're saying that tax would be the greatest increase in the history of the state if it returns, a, and b, it would hurt the business climate.

David Lujan:
You know, you hear a lot that they say the Democrats spend too much, but what we don't do is take a comprehensive look at the situation and for every dollar we've increased spending over the years -- spending, we've had a dollar's worth of tax decreases and so we have to look at the whole picture and say it's not just about spending, but if we down to cut taxes in a growing state like ours, how do we expect to keep up with the infrastructure needs that we need as a growing state?

Jorge Luis Garcia:
It was an agreement that Governor Napolitano rightly or wrongly entered with the republican leadership back then. President Bennett and Speaker Weiers said that we want permanent tax cuts and all-day kindergarten. It was a shake of hands. Now that Bennett is returning to public life, I'm going to make sure that he owes -- owns up to the fact that there was a agreement and as political agreements of the state of Arizona, we should stand to the agreements we make.

Ted Simons:
I want to get to education in a second. But before we do that, regarding the Governor's state of the state address. I want to get your impression on that. Here's what speaker Adams said last night regarding the Governor's address.


Kirk Adams:
Her speech was the political equivalent of jumping the shark. It was the same things over and over again. And the same type of Pollyanna lookout. That's why we're in this mess today. An unrealistic look at where we're at and instead of attacking the overspending.

Ted Simons:
Why is he wrong?

David Lujan:
Because what she said was the same thing we're heard over and over again, yes, but it's the same leadership she's displayed over the last six years which resulted in her winning re-election by 65\% of the vote and having 70\% job approval rating as recently as a couple weeks ago. The people liked her leadership and even as she leaves to take this position in Washington, D.C., she still has the ability to provide that leadership in the legislature and I hope we follow that advice because the people of Arizona like her leadership and the direction she's taken us as a state. And I think it's in our interest to continue and follow her advice.

Ted Simons:
And yet the word "irrelevant" pops up more than once coming from the Republican leadership and rank and file regarding the governor's plans. Let's get back to education. So many people want the spending for education, but G.O.P. Leaders are saying they want the spending for education -- at least some are saying that. There's no money. How do you pay for it?

Jorge Luis Garcia:
There is money. Governor Napolitano submitted back in November a plan to both the -- to the old and new leadership of the house and senate, how we could balance the budget without borrowing, without any tax increases. She laid down on the table --

David Lujan:
Just two months ago.

Jorge Luis Garcia:
Just two months ago. My counterparts didn't want it, didn't want to listen to it.

Ted Simons:
But what we hear from the Republicans is that's just kicking the can down the alley. All you're doing is postponing the inevitable.

David Lujan:
I think we have to look at what we value in the state. If education is something we value, we need to value it in good times and bad. We can't invest in it in good times and kick it out in bad times and so our challenge is to figure out how we fund these in good times and bad if we truly believe this is where our future lies. It's what I believe and it's what will keep us strong in the future if we invest in education.

Ted Simons:
If it takes money borrowing or money shifts, delay in payments -- what critics call gimmicks and slight of -- gimmicks. Do it until -- when? Two, three years when things get better?

Jorge Luis Garcia:
That's correct. As long as you have a mechanism to pay for it, then you -- we ought to take that -- advantage of it.

David Lujan:
Or at the least, let's see what the federal stimulus package is going to be. So one of the things -- one of the first things that's come out of Nevada that we're going to cut is education and full-day kindergarten. I think it's funny that we're trying to balance the budget on the backs of 5-year-olds. That shouldn't be the first thing that should be the last thing we do.

Ted Simons:
We're going to have to stop right there. Hope to have you back on "Horizon". Good conversation. Thanks for joining us on "Horizon."

Ted Simons:
Metro light rail started passenger service at the end of last month. The company's C.E.O. Is here to tell us how it's been working out. But first, Metro's Hillary Fosse shows you how to get a ticket, if you still haven't taken the train.

Hillary Fosse:
These are our fare vending machines. There's a minimum of two per station. There's where your fare transactions need to occur. Different from getting on the bus. All of that now needs to occur on this machine. This is the home screen you'll come to. Which type of fare you'd like to purchase. Whether it's a single ride. $1.25. And all-day. $2.50. A three-day -- and whether you would want to buy for yourself or your family. We'll select two. This is an important step. Whether or not you want to activate your pass. You want to activate and select yes to that question when you're literally ready to hop on board the train. This system allows you to prepurchase. You can say no to activation and carry the pass with you and validate it by sticking in the slot when you're ready to use it. It will ask your method of payment and the pass comes out of this drawer down here. A single ride, $1.25. It's one ride on the train. And because we work on a proof of payment system this is what you need to present and keep with you in the case you encounter a fare inspector. The all-day, the three-day, the seven-day and 31-day all look like this. And then lastly, the third type is the transit pass, the smart card. Or platinum pass. There's several names for it. But this is the employer-based program you can look to your employer for, hopefully. A lot of the city and local and government entities offer it to their employees, but this is what you take and tap this orange validater to make sure you're validated. It's a pay-as-you-go program. You do need to tap it every time you go on board. I've got my pass and ready to hop on board.

Ted Simons:
Joining me now to talk about how the valley's newest mode of public transportation is working is metro light rail C.E.O. Rick Simonetta. Good to have you back on the program. You're smiling. That's a good thing, right?

Rick Simonetta:
Yep.

Ted Simons:
How are things going?

Rick Simonetta:
I think they're going very well. We're seeing ridership build and the operators get more expensed and so we're getting more consistency in terms of meeting schedules and the public is learning how to use the fare media machines and we've got a lot of ambassadors trying to make it easy for the riders.

Ted Simons:
Ridership levels, what did you expect and what did you get?

Rick Simonetta:
We've got a technology that counts passengers and we want to make sure it's absolutely working and giving us valid information, so right now, we're doing estimates based upon what we're able to visualize. We're saying we're carrying on an average weekday, between 20,000 and 30,000 passengers. That's about in the target we should be several months from now. So to have ridership at that level within the first couple of weeks, I know it's a novelty in some aspects and we're anxious to see what happens next week when A.S.U. comes back into session.

Ted Simons:
It sounds like folks are using this thing more than expected for Sky Harbor.

Rick Simonetta:
Yeah, the connection at 44th street to a shuttle bus provided by the sky harbor airport, free of charge, is carrying somewhere near 1800 passengers per day. About twice what sky harbor estimated the ultimate ridership would be. So we see a lot of people riding the train, pulling their luggage. So obviously they're going to be connecting to the airport.

Ted Simons:
Let's talk about safety issues. How many collisions so far?

Rick Simonetta:
Three since we started regular service. And we had one that was -- that occurred during testing. Thankfully, no one has been injured. There hasn't been much damage. But the safety message is one we still want to really communicate. Make sure that you are aware of the traffic signals. If you're a pedestrian, make sure you stop, look and listen. Don't cross unless you get a pedestrian crossing signal. All four of the accidents have been caused by someone violating the signal.

Ted Simons:
We're looking at the one that happened on University, just west of Rural, what happened here?

Rick Simonetta:
What happened was the communication between the train and the controller for the gate arm somehow -- there was a gap in that communication. One train was coming in an eastbound direction and it closed the gate and when it passed through the circuit, the gate should have remained down because the train coming in the other direction involved in the collision, should not have experienced the arm going up. It hasn't happened before, it hasn't happened since. So, you know, what do we do about it? We're going to try and simulate exactly what happened and see if we can replicate it. Because if we can replicate it, then we'll have an idea of what it is we need to fix and in the meantime, we're operating slowly through that intersection to make sure the gates are down before a train passes through.

Ted Simons:
Did the driver of that vehicle, did that guy jump the light a little bit there?

Rick Simonetta:
Well, the gate was going up and the law says you have to wait until the gate is completely up and the flashing signals are done. The flashing signals and the bells were still going. The gate went up and immediately came down. The gate controller did restore communication with the train, but we don't know what caused that gap in communication to occur.

Ted Simons:
If there were another accident and passengers on the train, the train was incapacitated in some way shape or form, what happens to the passengers? What's the plan of escape? More the second opportunity to get where they want to go?

Rick Simonetta:
A couple of things. We have the ability to work around any kind of breakdown. We can do single tracking and do what is called bus bridging. Where we take people around the incident on buses. Working either with the city of Tempe, Phoenix or the regional public transportation authority and all of those arrangements are this place and we have used bus bridging and single tracking around incidents in order to make people -- to get people where they need to go.

Ted Simons:
So buses are scrambled if need be?

Rick Simonetta:
Yes.

Ted Simons:
Rate hikes. Hearing word there might be rate hikes. How soon and how much?

Rick Simonetta:
Well, we're part of a regional fare policy. We want the fares on buses and trains to be consistent. So that the passes you buy on a train can be valid on a bus and -- valid on a bus and vice versa. We're in the process of conducting hearings. It's not a good idea to raise fares shortly after implementing a light rail system. But the economic times are causing cities who have to pay for the operating subsidy, the economy is strapping them. So they're going through a process to objective public input so see what the public thinks.

Ted Simons:
It just seems tough that those who often ride mass transit are the ones who can afford a rate increase the least. And this would not come as very good news for them.

Rick Simonetta:
No, and we've been blessed in this region. We've been able to maintain $1.25 base fare since 1994. So some people would say, it's about time it goes up. But I think that's also led to a significant amount of ridership increase and that helps the quality of life and people getting to jobs and medical services and etc.

Ted Simons:
Changing hours of operation. What's in store? Is it going to run later on weekends?

Rick Simonetta:
It's a budget issue. We did checks this past weekend to see if we could cut service in the early morning on Saturday and Sunday and take that savings and apply it to running later. But we were surprised at the number of people riding it on both Saturday and Sunday morning. So I'm pretty sure we're going to conclude the only way we can run later service is if the cities were able to pay and that's caught up in the economic crisis we're facing.

Ted Simons:
30 seconds left. What surprised you the most so far?

Rick Simonetta:
The excitement of the public. The families, grandmothers and grandchildren, grandfathers and grandchildren. The large number of bicycles that have been accommodated and the fact that everybody has cell phones that have cameras and the number of pictures that have been taken of light rail has to be in the millions, so we're excited. I think it was a great launch. We still have a whole bunch of things we are trying to perfect. We appreciate everyone's tolerance about that. We're on our way.

Ted Simons:
Good to have you back. Thanks for being here.

Rick Simonetta:
Great.

Ted Simons:
Coming up on "Horizon", the grand opening of the state's new archives and history building. See why Arizona's history is safe at last. And experts talk about new tax laws and tips for filing your taxes. That's Thursday at 7:00 on "Horizon." That's it for now. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm Ted Simons. You have a great evening.

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