Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

January 5, 2007


Host: Michael Grant

Journalists Roundtable


  • Local reporters review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Dennis Welch - The East Valley Tribune
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Michael Grant:
It's Friday January 5, 2007. In the headlines this week: at the state's capitol Thursday, Arizona's top elected officials were sworn into office by retired U.S. supreme court justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Governor Janet Napolitano delivered her inaugural address, giving a preview of what to expect in next week's state of the state speech. And Senator Robert Burns proposing the state use $450 million from the rainy day fund to help speed up construction on transportation projects. Those stories next on Horizon.

Announcer:
Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Michael Grant:
Good evening, I'm Michael Grant and this is the journalists' roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Dennis Welch of The East Valley Tribune, Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic and Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services.

Michael Grant:
On Thursday, Arizona's top elected officials took the oath of office in a swearing-in ceremony conducted by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Michael Grant:
Dennis, was this the tendency to say no or none to this question? What were the highlights of the day?

Dennis Welch:
I guess the highlights of the day were Sandra Day O'Connor swore in Janet Napolitano for her second term. I mean that's what this thing was really all about. She was kind of the star of the whole event.

Howard Fischer:
and the fact is that the governor -- because this happens every four years -- the governor has her state-of-the-state of money. We'll talk more about that in detail later. So the governor didn't want to kind of blow what her program is. So she sort of glossed over a few things. We're going to deal with growth. We're the fastest-growing state in the nation. Take that, Nevada. We're going to deal with education. We're going to deal with healthcare. We're going to take care of the needs of a growing state. And thank you very much and come back Monday and I'll give you the state-of-the-state then come back next Friday and I'll give you my budget. So there wasn't a lot of there.

Michael Grant:
Did I understand correctly that justice O'Connor kind of had to sort of organize, okay, you stand over there to take the oath of office? You need to raise this hand?

Dennis Welch:
she was really aggressive and took the lead in a lot of that. I guess in one way she was kind of cantankerous at some points where she was saying, stand over here. No not that hand, this hand. Let's get this thing going.

Michael Grant:
the governor had this theme of one Arizona?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
One Arizona. Which was on little buttons that were handed out to everybody that attended. And she weaved it into her speech. Her thought is that you can take all these disparate elements in Arizona, make them work together towards common goals. Innovation was a word that I think one of my colleagues counted she used ten times in the five-minute speech or ten-minute speech. And with education being the foundation. So we're going to build a strong one Arizona from an education foundation.

Howard Fischer:
and there was a specific point she uses. Four years ago we're sitting around the table talking about the first inaugural. The theme was many lands, many people, one Arizona. And remember, she squeaked in by what, 12,000 votes or something like that. So this was sort of a uniting thing. This time the theme was reflecting on our past, building on our future, one Arizona. That goes to her belief that she has a mandate now that she won by like 28 points that now I get to go ahead and say what I'm going to do and how I'm going to go ahead and change the state and you people out there in the audience, including you pesky legislators that had darn well better listen to me.

Michael Grant:
Tom Horne is sworn in as superintendent of public instruction. Mary Jo, I understand that he and Dean Martin had something of a set-to.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, they certainly had contrasting messages. Horne is sworn into a second term as superintendent of public instruction, wanted to remind the crowd that Arizona students perform above average. And he reiterated it to make his point, citing some recent studies on how students do on standardized test scores. And I thought it was noticeable the lack of reactions from the audience. Even after he repeated his point. It's like, no, this ain't selling with this crowd. But he went out and gave his speech about education, inauguration or two swearing in or two later along comes Dean Martin the new state treasurer, and he talks about what he's going to do with the treasurer's office which has had a bit of scandal. And then he says we need financial literacy in the state. Because we have students who can't even count out change at the cash register. Well, that didn't sit real well with Horne's message. As I recall those two were sitting right next to each other on the dais.

Michael Grant:
A little tense on the dais.

Dennis Welch:
I thought it was a strange place to deliver that type of message if you're Horne. Here he is on the big stage. For the superintendent of all schools to go up there and drill it into people's head, "we are above average."

Howard Fischer:
Well, what he had and what he wanted to do was earlier that week, education week had come out with a report comparing all the states. And they use -- like any survey it's sort of whatever your components are is what you score. We were pretty much at the bottom. Now, Horne's point was that we are above average in test scores. Where we fall down is we are right at the bottom in terms of the amount the state spends per pupil in educating. He says, look, if we are above average with spending that really sucks in his viewpoint, if we could actually get the spending up to where it should be - and this was the message for his own republican legislature -- we could actually be in the top ten. So this was his chance to sort of rebut that whole education week story.

Dennis Welch:
But just from like a P.R. standpoint, why not come out and say on a dollar per dollar basis Arizona students are ex accept excelling in school rather than saying we're average, we're b minus, that's what I want to know.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well didn't it give a good opening for Sandra Day O'Connor to comment this was like…

Howard Fisher:
Lake Woebegone

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Lake Woebegone where all the children are above average?

Michael Grant:
Speaking of spending and cost and stuff like that, who picked up the cost of the inauguration?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
This was private fundraising by the governor's inaugural committee as well as some state tax dollars. And they transformed that court yard, I'll tell you they dug up rose bushes, moved them out, put down platforms.

Michael Grant:
Well attended, how many people?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
You know..

Dennis Welch:
There was a lot of empty seats I think up on the bleachers there.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
There was room to grow.

Dennis Welch:
There was a lot of room to grow down there.

Howard Fischer:
That was the funny thing. They were saying we were expecting 2,000 people. They set up chairs with TV screens on the side of the senate out of view. And nobody was sitting there. I don't know whether nobody cared to come out or whether they didn't advertise it or everyone figured why would I want to go listen to five politicians speak?

Michael Grant:
Second question -- because I'm really in need of them -- what did they do with the rose bushes?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
They hauled them off to a northwest valley location after wrapping their roots in burlap. I interviewed the guy who did this. This and they were back at it this morning digging them back into the ground so that they'll all be in place for the opening of the legislative session Monday.

Howard Fischer:
Like Dick Cheney they were being held in an undisclosed location.

Michael Grant:
Oh. Now speaking of Monday, state lawmakers get sworn in on Monday right?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
They do and Sandra day O'Connor will be back again to do the honors.

Michael Grant:
All right. Well, State Senator Bob Burns has an idea to improve the valley's congested freeway system. Burns wants to take $450 million from the state's rainy day fund to speed up construction on freeway projects. Mary Jo, is it raining?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
According to senator burns, it is. I think his statement was that it's raining cars and people. I don't know any kind of umbrella that can protect you from that kind of stuff falling from the sky. But his point is that we need to further -- the state needs to accelerate its funding for transportation. There are plans, though, that are still being crafted in terms of what goes where. But it's widely believed that we're going to need -- the state will need mostly more lanes, more capacity as opposed to carving out new freeways. But the big question is, where do you get the money to do that?

Howard Fischer:
This comes down to the question of the whole rainy day fund. We drained the rainy day fund after the whole alt fuels debacle and some of the healthcare needs.

Michael Grant:
Slow down. Finally fully funded.

Howard Fischer:
We're finally up about 650 million and in fact what's funny is today Senate President Jim Bee said we have a commitment to contain and contribute to the rainy day fund. And here's Bonsai Bob out there saying well except for my 450 million. I talked to him and I said if the purpose of the rainy day fund is to deal with a cyclical economy this is not a slowdown year. Last year was a boom year. This is an average year. What happens when things really get bad? His argument is that we need to stimulate the economy with all this construction money, which makes him sound quite frankly like Franklin Eleanor Roosevelt, this is the new deal. Somehow we're going to spend our way out of this.

Dennis Welch:
If Bob Burns thinks it's raining cars and people then Jack Harper thinks it's raining students and schools because he's also going to be introducing a measure that's going to take the rest of what's left in the rainy day fund and put that into accelerating school construction.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
You know, this reminds me years ago when Sam Steiger was running for governor. He is not a fan, or was at the time was not a fan of the rainy day fund. Because as he loved to say, a great applause line with audiences, once you have a rainy day fund it will rain every day. But this is as Howie's pointing out, setting off a nice debate about the rainy day fund and its purpose.

Michael Grant:
Now, on the other hand, Mary Jo -- certainly -- and they just followed through on it the past couple of weeks, that one time infusion that's going to bring three lanes to the I-10 what 14 years faster-- or three lanes to I-17, 14 years faster. That's been pretty popularly received. So you can't just be riding the wave. If that worked let's pull 450 from the rainy day fund and do it all over again.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Again, most folks don't disagree with the need to expand the capacity. But when it comes to how to pay for it we're going to have the debate.

Howard Fischer:
That's the key. That sort of segues us into the whole issue of the governor and the state-of-the-state. She too wants to accelerate funding. But she has a whole different idea that involves shock -- we say we need the money now. We know that gas tax revenues will be coming, in vehicle license tax fees will be coming in and revenue bonds. State law limits borrowing right now to 20 years. Which means you can only borrow so much up to the limit of your debt service. What Janet wants to do is like somebody who wants a house more expensive than they can afford. I won't take a 20-year mortgage but a 30-year mortgage and that will get me under the payment. That's exactly what she wants to do with the highways so that we can borrow more money, accelerate the construction. The other side of the equation is to the extent you're taking a 30-year note, paying more back in principal and interest and dragging it on which means that my great grandchildren will be paying this off.

Michael Grant:
Now, obviously getting to the state-of-the-state address, because Howie segued quite nicely. [laughter]

Michael Grant:
Growth is generally going to be a theme, right, Mary Jo?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The governor has been signaling that I think since election night and since the campaign that growth growth growth. And all the different dimensions it takes on. To listen to her inaugural speech, brief as it was yesterday, she sees that playing out in terms of transportation, education, the need to innovate. And we'll see how that gets interpreted but I know that part of that goes to this whole push to build up the biotech sector and better-paying jobs, higher-wage jobs that attract a better job base.

Howard Fischer:
And all this stems off of what we talked about a couple weeks ago on horizon when the census bureau came out with the fact that we are now number one in growth in the nation. That leads a whole bunch of issue, freeways being certain of it. Schools being some of it. You have other issues in there. We have developing rural areas which are not governed by the same rules as urban areas where a developer can come in and no requirement to show there'll be water for those homes 50 or 100 years from now. We have situations where folks are going in and doing this leap frog development without access to the roads. We have questions here as far as how do we fund all the infrastructure, the parks and everything else. And you're going to get into a question here of how do we do it. Now, you can do some with innovation. Technology certainly means something. Affordable housing. You have people who work for Flagstaff as municipal workers and firefighters who cannot afford to live in Flagstaff because there's no affordable housing. That's part of the issue.

Michael Grant:
Specifically on water how aggressive do you think the governor will get? For example, a large rewrite of the 1980 ground water code? Because that brings a whole lot of factions out of the woodwork.

Howard Fischer:
If you remember -- I think we were sitting around this table in 1980 talking.

Michael Grant:
Very close to it.

Howard Fischer:
About the ground water -- I wasn't going to ask how old you were in 1980. [laughter]

Howard Fischer:
But as you recall, that took years to pull together. And it took some people, some larger than life people like a Bruce Babbitt, Sam Acres, Fran Kelly. No, she wants to do tinkering around the edges. Remember, the ground water work deals with the ground water management areas, Phoenix, Tucson, Pinal, a sort of A.M.A. around the Prescott area. She wants to deal with the rest of the state where there are no restrictions now. She asked the legislature to start tinkering in that area. They not ready to do that. This will be the battle between the growth people and -- the developers.

Dennis Welch:
When you look at this term of hers as opposed to her first term, she's going to be a little bit bolder when she comes out. She's got a clear mandate this time. And as some people have said, this is her legacy term. I mean, her first term she was going to be cautious to make sure she didn't screw it up so she could get re-elected. Well, she's termed out this time and she's eyeing a bigger office out there so she may be more bold.

Michael Grant:
And what other areas do you expect her to be bold in on Monday? On growth and --

Dennis Welch:
I think healthcare will be an issue out there. We heard some talk about her expanding the kids care program out there to cover more children of low income families. I think another issue out there that she's going to highlight as well is going to be a victim's rights package out there where she's going to get $3 million more for beds for victims of domestic violence.

Howard Fischer:
This kids care thing will be really interesting. It was during the Jane Hull administration we got into this. Arizona covers everyone up to 100\% of the federal poverty level, $27,000 for a family of four. This kids care program is part of the S Chip program of the federal government says you can go up to 200\% of the federal poverty level and the federal government will pick up 75 cents for every quarter the state puts. In that's nice but it does involve some state money. We have about 53- 54,000 kids in kids care now. The governor thinks more kids should be in there. I think if the governor had her way she'd cover every kid under the age of five for everything. I don't know that they're willing to go that far. The question is how much more money are they willing to put in under the assumption the feds will pick up most of the bill?

Michael Grant:
Mary Jo, what about illegal immigration? Obviously that was a dominant issue last year for immigration-related proposals on the ballot, clear, very comfortably, more of a mandate than the governor got in that result. I mean, what do we see on that front?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, what's interesting is we haven't seen an agenda yet from the Republicans who control the legislature. They're still working on it. They appear to be a little disorganized this year. They say they got sidelined by the elections and they have a little more difficult coalitions to put together. And that's part of the problem is that even within the republican caucus there are competing views on what to do about illegal immigration. Certainly there will be -- I'm not quite sure what the majority will come back with but today President Tim Bee president elect Bee signaled that they will be doing something on employer sanctions but not to penalize the employer who unwittingly hires someone --

Howard Fischer:
Very surprising how many employers unwittingly hired the 500 thousand illegals here. This is going to be a tight fight in the Republican Party. I talked today to Russell Pierce. He's going to come back with what he thinks is a real employer sanction bill which says to any company, you will use this federal database to check your employees and to have what they call anti-sanctuary policy to say cities can't tell police not to enforce the law. The business community and Tim Bee and the moderate Republicans say, well, we want to say we'll do something about employer sanctions but that means only you can prove that somebody knowingly went out and solicited undocumented workers. You'll never be able to prove that.

Dennis Welch:
How effective is pierce really going to be this year? Here's a guy who really shot himself in the foot.

Howard Fischer:
A little higher this time.

Dennis Welch:
In a few areas there. I mean, he got into some trouble, you know, by calling for 50's style roundup program of illegal immigrants.

Howard Fischer:
You know how effective he's going to be? He's going to be effective. Because if he doesn't get it this session he's going to be to the ballot and we will see employer sanctions on the ballot in 2008. And the republicans have to figure, are we better off doing something moderate and shut Russell up for our friends in the business community, or if we do nothing then we're going to be having something that they don't want on the ballot.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
One other problem on illegal immigration is the changeover in congress and the democrats in control, they seem to be pretty intent on doing meaningful immigration, comprehensive immigration reform which would include a guest worker program. And how that will play out with different factions in the legislature could be interesting. I think that will lead to the governor sort of taking a -- going back to the wait and see and let's let the federal government do their job and take care of immigration.

Michael Grant:
How do the dynamics generally of the legislature play out, Mary Jo, you think? It's 33-27. The democrats picked up six seats house, picked up one seat senate. What do you think?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, first of all in the house at least for awhile it's going to be 32-27 because republican Jonathan Payton a republican from Tucson serving in Iraq right now.

Michael Grant:
Oh, that's right.

Michael Grant:
And he's not due back -- trying to figure out if I recall correctly how he gets sworn in.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
That's a good question.

Michael Grant:
When you're overseas. But in any event.

Howard Fischer:
Actually the funny part is the way the constitution works is if you're a current legislator you serve until your successors have qualified. Since he's succeeding himself it will be the old Jonathan Payton on paper serving until the new Jonathan Payton comes back to get sworn in.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
That technicality aside - This narrows even more the Republican's majority.

Michael Grant:
How long will that last, Mary Jo?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The Payton?

Michael Grant:
Yes.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, they talk about February but I don't think there's any guarantee. There's no contract.

Dennis Welch:
But back to the original point, I think what this does is you've got more democrats down at the legislature. I mean, it really gives the moderates, particularly in the Republican Party, a lot more power. A good example of that would be
who ran for senate president and lost, was kicked out of leadership. Now he gets to head the rules committee but he's going to be down there and a lot of people coming into his office courting his vote.

Howard Fischer:
You have other issues that are sort of fallout from this and that is the makeup of the house committees. The committees is where the real work is done. Committee chairs get to decide what bills get heard. Guess what? Not a lot of democratic bills get heard. But what does happen is if you have the committees the way the 33-27 split would be, the demes only need one republican to come over to get their bills.

Howard Fischer:
So Jim Weiers is saying, I don't want that. He wants a 10 member committee -- and basically I talked to him and he said, hey, why do you think they call this politic?

Dennis Welch:
Phil Lopes had something to say about, that didn't he?

Howard Fischer:
What was funny about that, we were at this meeting in the chamber of commerce as Jim Weiers got up and gave sort of a non-speech speech and Phil Lopes gets up with Weiers sitting probably ten feet from him and basically says, "somebody in this room, we won't say who, is being unfair and partisan." now, what's really interesting about Phil Lopes claiming partnership is -- partisanship last year Weiers managed to negotiate a contract with the governor that Phil Lopes wouldn't vote for because of his partisanship.

Dennis Welch:
Chilly between the two.

Michael Grant:
Did you sense that a little bit?

Dennis Welch:
I did.

Michael Grant:
Incredible reporter instinct final honed. Howie, let's go down to Tucson. Well, not literally. But the English language learner case? It's supposed to start on Tuesday?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It's back.

Howard Fischer:
On Tuesday. Tuesday's always the answer here on Horizon. This is the other 800-pound gorilla in the budget. As you may remember, I just had this wash and I can't do a thing with my tongue -- back in 2000 the federal judge said the state's not complying with laws that ensure that children have an opportunity to learn English. After a couple of threats and some sanctions, the legislature enacted something last year which the federal judge said wasn't good enough, went to the ninth circuit. The ninth circuit said you've got to go back and have a hearing on the conditions in 2007 about whether school districts are doing the right job. That's the hearing that starts on Tuesday. Lawmakers and state school superintendent Tom Horne hope to that with the current funding, which is about $360 extra per child above basic state aid, school districts can do well. Of course, Tim Hogan is saying, well, yeah, they do well by stealing money from other programs. No child left behind, from additional capital money. And he wants the judge to say, no, the state's still not complying with the law.

Michael Grant:
And Howie, that's going to be I think one of the pitched battles. Because the state wants to take a more global approach to responding to that question, to say, no, don't just look at the E.L.L. funding, be it 350 or 425 or whatever. Look at all the other things we have done in the intervening time frame in relation to education, increased teacher salaries and a variety of other things.

Howard Fischer:
And what Tom Horne's going to use to prove that point are the test scores. He cites the Nogales school district. This was the original plaintiff school district in the original 1992 lawsuit. He said kids there are testing better on AIMS, reading, writing, and math than the general population and their doing it with the current funding-- therefore we don't need to start worrying about how much is extra what they call group b rates are. From Tim Hogan's perspective, all you're doing is taking money that does belong in other programs, programs for the poor, programs for capital, and using it where it shouldn't be used.

Michael Grant:
All right. Well, panelists, we are out of time. I guess we'll see how the state-of-the-state address and other things come down next week. Thank you very much.

Announcer:
Janet Napolitano is sworn into office for her second term as governor in her speech following the oath she promised to focus on education in our state on Monday. She will likely continue that theme in her state-of-the-state address. We will have it in its entirety plus commentary on an hour long edition of horizon Monday at 7:00.

Michael Grant:
Tuesday we will be chatting with republican legislative leaders about the state-of-the-state address and their legislative agenda. On Wednesday you can hear from democratic leadership about their plans for the session. Of course Friday we'll come back here and repeat this whole darn thing. Thank you very much for joining us this evening. I'm Michael Grant. Have a great weekend. Good night.

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