Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 15, 2007


Host: Howard Fischer

Journalists Roundtable


  • Don't miss HORIZON's weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Mary Jo Pitzl - Arizona Republic
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Howard Fischer:
It's Friday, June 15th, 2007. In the headlines this week, state lawmakers have tentatively agreed on a state budget. They also changed their minds about a bill aimed at drunk drivers. And, we'll talk about tougher air quality rules for the valley. Next on "Horizon."

Announcer:
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Howard Fischer:
Good evening, I'm Howard Fischer and this is the Journalists' Roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Mary Jo Pitzl of the "Arizona Republic," Dennis Welch of the east valley tribune and Matt Benson of the "Arizona Republic." The state budget. Lawmakers tentatively approved one this week. Mary Jo, 10 point billion dollars of what?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Spending, Howie. What's interesting is the dollar amount to be spent was never really in dispute. There were two competing budget proposals but both the house and senate generally agreed on the 10.6 billion. Some of the highlights, money for teacher pay raises, money for state employee pay raises, a little bit of money for the vet home which we heard a lot about in the middle of the session, an agreement to bond for more time will give them more money for roads. And they're bonding for schools for cash.

>> Dennis Welch:
That tax cut package, where they had been purchasing like a $60 million plus tax cut package they had to settle for about $11 million which was part of the senate plan with a couple extra things thrown in there.

>>Howard Fischer:
Sure, Matt, some of the things thrown under the bus, one was corporate income tax cuts which had been $28 million. It proved to be a nonstarter.

>> Matt Benson:
Clearly the house, I don't want to say they got rolled on this budget but they definitely didn't get a majority of what they were asking for. The coalition with the governor basically held up, which included the house democrats. In the end in a couple of weeks that's what prevailed.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
The argument was with the two competing tax proposals for the house and senate, they were saying, we don't have that much money to give away in tax cuts was their approach in the senate. The house said, wait a minute. The government should be spending less. We could make room for more tax cuts. But the prevailing sentiment apparently is that you need to put some of this money back into roads, schools, the state infrastructure.

>>Matt Benson:
It's worth mentioning we've had hundreds of millions, almost $1 billion of tax cuts in the last several years. That weighed in heavily.

>>Howard Fischer:
Clearly we have another 5 percent cut in income tax cuts. One of the things the house approved they said didn't cost us anything was making it easier for people to contribute to organizations which provide scholarships for students to attend private and parochial schools. Again proved a nonstarter here.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
Right. This is sort of an incremental strategy that's been used by proponents of private school tuition assistance as well as after school. I think this might be the first year in a couple of years it hasn't gone anywhere.

>>Dennis Welch:
The 529 stuff and that stuff the speaker had pushed pretty heavily. When you were talking to his folks they were happy it was allowed to be put into the plan.

>>Matt Benson:
It was much less than they were seeking. They were asking for 10 million, got 3 million.

>>Howard Fischer:
The 529 as I understand them, Dennis, this is the federal tax code which says you can take your money, put it aside, it grows tax free. Now we're going to provide a state tax incentive for putting money into it?

>>Dennis Welch:
Yeah. It's tax free as long as you use that for education purposes. The interesting thing with this is, you can put that in other state 529's because each state has their own 529. You can put that in and it's still tax free, basically, as long as it's used for college education purposes. That means not just college but like vocational, trade schools, anything like. That.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
As I understand it, it's a budget package you can deduct up to $750 for a single filer and double, that 1500 for a joint.

>>Howard Fischer:
There was one tax cut that did make it that kind of got my attention, given to what they did to our phoenix suns. The NBA is going to get a tax break for bringing the all-star game here? Matt, do you want to grab that one?

>>Matt Benson:
Basically, what this is the state won't impose a sales tax on the tickets sold for the all-star game and the other attractions as part of the 2009 all-star game which they're trying to lure. This basically would save the people buying those tickets 3 to $400,000. Basically it's a savings for the NBA and their sponsors because they buy all those tickets for this game.

>>Dennis Welch:
Why would you want the NBA to come to phoenix and the all-star game after that atrocious finals? This is just awful.

>>Howard Fischer:
I guess my question, Matt, it seems to me the people who want to go to these all-star games have plenty of money.

>>Matt Benson:
Sure.

>>Howard Fischer:
5.6 percent sales tax is not going to keep them from coming. Yet it seems like they kind of blackmailed the state?

>>Matt Benson:
Well, this is basically a lure for the estimated $100 million in economic impact that's believed would come with the game. If the game doesn't come it doesn't cost the state anything. If it does come, look at all the economic impact you get from it. That's the argument in favor.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
And this is the way the game is always played. We'll go someplace elsewhere they'll waive the tax for us. So you better pitch in or we'll take our game elsewhere and you'll be out. You know, though some people have questioned how much more tourism and business the phoenix area needs in February when it's beautiful and not 111 degrees. But this would just be, you know, more icing on the cake.

>>Dennis Welch:
Well, yeah, more business certainly isn't going to hurt. It's not like you don't want any more business or tax revenues coming here. As Matt pointed out, you get that all-star game will bring a lot of people who wouldn't normally be here.

>>Howard Fischer:
But it's going to put people on the street who are going to make it harder for us Arizonans to travel.

>>Dennis Welch:
Light rail construction hasn't done that to us, already.

>>Howard Fischer:
One of the other side of the equations, the limited number of tax cuts in this bill. I know Russell Pearce was complaining the other day, saying it's because we have too many social programs. One of the things in the budget, Mary Jo, is the fact we're going to make it easier for the state tone roll children in this kids care program. Is that what Russell Pearce would call "them social welfare program requests.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
The governor asked for two things on kids care. One is to make it easier to advertise the state subsidy exists for child healthcare. She also wanted to increase the eligibility requirements. To give and trade a little bit, and they dumped the increased eligibility and they will now go out and advertise. And you've got to figure that if they're pushing this in schools, especially in certain targeted socio-demographic areas, they're going to get more kids in kids care.

>>Dennis Welch:
I think it's worth pointing out with, that too, when you look at the overall budget it wasn't just house or senate republicans that didn't get what they wanted. I guess you could say the governor didn't get all she wanted. One of the big things she didn't get this year was the school facilities board. She wanted more money, wanted to build schools and what not and to bond for, that 4 or $500 million. She didn't get, that she didn't expand the kids care program to 300 percent of the poverty level. So it's not everybody. She didn't win everything.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
It's like a lot of lawmakers say, senator bob burns the appropriations chairman says if he was king the budget would look different. This is not the way it's played. Everybody gives up a bit. The governor gives up on school bonding and expanding kids care but she gets advertising kids care and she gets expanded bonding for roads.

>>Dennis Welch:
Truly bipartisan. Everybody hates it a little bit.

>>Howard Fischer:
I like that.One thing originally in the house budget package, matt, has to do with that wonderful issue of photo radar that isn't there now. As I recall the house said, we'll pass a budget if you ban photo radar. That didn't seem to sell well out in the senate.

>>Matt Benson:
It didn't sell well. And the governor, I believe as well, the governor wants to put photo radar to allow it to go up on other state highways, outside of the 101 in Scottsdale. The house provision fell off as it was expected to. And it was kind of viewed as a nonstarter. In fact, many house republicans viewed it as sort of a last-minute add on to the budget that a lot of folks wondered about.

>>Howard Fischer:
Is there going to be in anybody's opinion any last-minute glitches in this thing? That may be the rule rather than the senate. Are they going to be able to get the votes in the house and senate and the governor's signature?

>>Dennis Welch:
I think so. It's a bipartisan deal. You're going to lose people on the far ends of the left and right there, but I think it will be a lot easier -- it would be a lot harder if they were trying to get the republican-sponsored budget or what not. I don't think they'll have much of a problem.

>>Howard Fischer:
One of the things sort of budget-related, Mary Jo, in the bills over at city hall and A.P.S., the apparently the house is not good at paying their bills.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
There was speculation if A.P.S. pulled the power on the delinquent power bills it would get them going home. But there is a stack of delinquent bills. The State Department of Administration which serves as a landlord for a lot of agencies says, we've had some delinquent notices from A.P. -- Phoenix war. What really triggered it was a letter late last month from the director of that agency a letter saying we need an extra 1.1 million to meet these bills.

>>Howard Fischer:
But as I recall, Russell Pearce from the appropriations committee said, wait a second. Why are you telling us this now?

>>Dennis Welch:
First of all, Representative Pearce made it clear, like, nobody is going to turn the lights off in any of these facilities. But he said, why are people coming to us and saying this as a budget problem? This is a management problem, how they're managing their agencies down here. He may have a point there, but if they're short of money it ultimately becomes a budget product.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
I will say the D.O.A. director pointed out that legislature gave the state less for utility expenditures in this year than they spent last year. Normally with your normal household budget you probably figure your utility bill will go up a little bit. We know there have been rate hikes.

>>Howard Fischer:
Turn off the lights, the last person who leaves.

>>Howard Fischer:
Dennis, as you know, a month ago the legislature passed a bill to require admission interlocks in the convicted drunk drivers. Kind of thinking of coyotes ugly, where somebody gets drunk the night before, wakes up, messes -- tries to chew their arm off. Is this what happened with state lawmakers?

>>Dennis Welch:
Maybe they were drunk when they passed this a month ago, to use your analogy. But they came back and rethought the whole idea. They said, listen. The punishment doesn't really fit the crime. There's no evidence this thing actually deters people from continuing to drink and drive.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
Didn't they get a nudge from lobbyists who were concerned about what this might do to the rate of buying drinks and inn bars?

>> Dennis Welch:
The food and liquor industry? Politics lobbying that kind of thing doesn't happen.

[Laughter]

>>Matt Benson:
I think it's one of those issues that catches fire, has emotional appeal, who could be in favor of drunk driving and just steam rolls throughout legislature. And then before you know it, people kind of turn around and say, geez, what have we done? And they take a second look. And luckily with the legislature, we're able to do. That in fact, they do it every year.

>>Dennis Welch:
And they took a second look with the help of the food and liquor industry, I think I was helping them take that look.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
The other thing we haven't figured out is, did anybody among those 90 get a little ticket there in the interim.

>>Howard Fischer:
Well, there was one but we've written about her before. An interesting question, matt, does it deter. The argument of opponents to say if you've got one drunk driving arrest and you have to install the interlock, at least for a year we will know you'll not be driving drunk again because you wouldn't be able to get your car started. Is that a sufficient reason to say everybody who blows a .08 the legal limit has to have one?

>>Matt Benson:
That's the debate they're having now. The people trying to tweak it say let's not have the limit .08. Let's say it would apply with .1. And then for six months you'd have to use it instead of a year. They're trying to tweak this a bit. Some other states have talked about having it at repeat offenders. So I don't know where that level is. I think there's generally a feeling that where they've got it right now with the bill they passed a few weeks ago is maybe not where they want it.

>>Howard Fischer:
Mary Jo, you've been out in the capital for awhile. Every year we seem to see another drunk driving bill. This is the answer. The answer is mandatory jail. The answer is interlocks. The answer is larger fines. I mean, are they just going to keep throwing things at it and hopefully something will stop people from drinking? Or is this really a disease and you're not going to stop them?

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, I think evidence shows you can treat alcoholism if people want to be treated for that. And sometimes things like not being able to drive your car might be an inducement to get you to take that message seriously. But I think this is one of those social issues that people will keep throwing things at it. Just like water runs downhill, people will find a way to [indiscernible] these lay these laws.

>>Howard Fischer:
Representative Olivia Bedford stood up on the floor and said, this .08 standard discriminates against women because we're smaller than you guys. She called some of them fat. She said, therefore we can't drink as much. Are the drunk driving laws discriminatory, Mary Jo? Do you feel speaking as a woman who has a fair share of body targets I am not a petite little thing like Representative Bedford; in fact, I think statistically women have more body fat as a percentage of their overall body composition.

>> Dennis Welch:
It doesn't matter. .08 is .08. Impaired is impaired. It doesn't matter whether it took you three drinks to get there or 30 drinks to get there. If you're impaired you shouldn't be behind the wheel of a car.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
When you hit .08 that varies depending on your body type.

>>Howard Fischer:
Sure. We were talking earlier about lawmakers voting and everything else. Do we really need perhaps an interlock on the voting machines that the lawmakers use to keep them, to make sure they're sober or whatever before they pass these laws?

>>Dennis Welch:
There was a movement a couple of years ago, some lawmakers said, listen. These voting buttons should be attached to the same types of devices to make sure these lawmakers aren't drinking when they're voting.

>>Matt Benson:
Don't forget Senator Harper's proposal earlier to have those running for office take drug tests.

>>Dennis Welch:
They're staying away from the lie detector tests. I'd rather have them hooked up to that.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
Senator Ron Gould said, let's have a driver legislature. It's a long haul to drive into the city of phoenix and sit and wait to take some action on legislative bills. He said, I could do this from my kitchen table and save a lot of driving and a lot of time.

>>Dennis Welch:
That would end up hurting in the end the lobbyists. Again we come back to the lobbyists. We'd have to drive a long way. It would hurt the journalists.

>>Howard Fischer:
I like the thought of Ron Gould at his computer standing up for the prayer and the pledge in his kitchen.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
A web cam could solve all. that.

>>Howard Fischer:
I like it. Mary jo, one other big thing left here. The valley is under an order by the EPA to get rid of or at least start getting rid of our brown cloud by the end of the year. A conference committee took some action this week. What did they do and does it get us there?

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
This is actually -- a lot of the brown cloud isn't going to be addressed by this legislation or by -- that's formed by other pollutants. This is an attempt to cut down on dust, the stuff dragged up by car tires or construction activity, by tilling in agriculture fields, by unpaved roads. They have been at it all session fighting and arguing and trying to come to a compromise over this. We finally saw the compromise on Wednesday. And Senator Carolyn Allen who shepherded most of this through wasn't too happy with the outcome. But the proponents say this gets us to about 80 percent of where we need to meet the federal guidelines. It calls for restrictions on leaf blowers. So guess what. You won't be able to blow your leaf blower debris into the street, which never made sense, to begin with. They're going to require instructions that will be written with leaf blowers.

>>Howard Fischer:
Wait a second here. Instructions for leaf blowers?

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yeah.

>>Howard Fischer:
Am I just the slow one? I mean, you plug it in or you start it up and it blows. Tell me about these instructions. I got to hear this.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, I think there's some concern about in which direction you point the leaf blower. Some of them operate in a vacuum mode which would be preferable because it would pull up all the debris.

>> Howard Fischer:
This sounds like the instructions on electric radio. Do not use in tub.

>>Matt Benson:
I think the question here is: are we going to end up with a lot of ineffectual changes which won't have an impact on the brown cloud? Are we going to nibble around the edges of this problem? In the past that's what we've seen.

>>Howard Fischer:
It seems, matt, that leaf blowers and some paving notwithstanding, that nobody is saying to developers, you can't, you know, plow the fields and tear up the fields and leave them there for awhile. Nobody is saying to farmers, you know, you have to do a lot more. You have to wet down the fields. So I don't know. Are we getting an effective bill here?

>>Matt Benson:
I think that it's impossible to say at this point. And I think it depends on how it comes out of the legislature and for that mart how it's implemented and enforced.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
I must say the construction industry has been under the gun for a long time. They are required to tow the line a lot on dust controls, far more than the agriculture industry. It was a constant source of complaint. So the home builders who already feel that they're being pressed on too much have been pointing to everybody else saying, what about cities and towns? They should pave?

>>Dennis Welch:
Like a lot of other big decisions for the legislature they've left this to the end again. It's taken 160 some days with this legislature and we're still arguing on how to use a blower. It's kind of ridiculous when you think about this whole thing. Lots of other things are left on the table. Employer sanctions. Everybody when you come into the session, we're going to do something about employer sanctions. Here we are. We still haven't dealt with it.

>>Howard Fischer:
Yeah. One of the other things that was a big fight in the bill is, we're now going to require some Pinal County residents to buy cleaner-burning fuel, but only in the center. Carolyn Allen in the health committee thinks maybe she smelled some big oil in there.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
Senator Allen is very unhappy with the half year compromise. This is the part of the deal dealing with particulate pollutions. Ozone pollution we'll get in trouble with. But let's get this cleaner-burning fuel and impose it on the faster growing parts of Pinal County. And some of the oil interests came in and said, well, you really don't need to use it in the winter. It's not going to clean anything up. To which the clean air types said, well, you know, it will get rid of a lot of toxins and other things. We don't have wintertime pollution problems but it will get rid of other things and why not do it. Most of the big oil, as Senator Allen called them; they were successful in lobbying and getting industry agreement a half year, just for the summer.

>>Howard Fischer:
Sure. Now, one of the issues here is as matt mentioned, you know, how do we get there. We have this year-end deadline. Everybody admits this bill won't get us there. What else do we do and what happens if we don't hit that deadline?

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, they are hoping that Maricopa Association of Governments which encompasses the cities and the county here will come up with a couple more measures. So we'll see things out of Maricopa County and out of the cities that will bring in that extra theoretical 20 percent. If we don't do it, the feds can withhold -- they can do all kinds of nasty things. There's always the threat of withholding highway dollars and maybe putting restrictions on development.

>>Howard Fischer:
We're not getting the highway dollars for something else, I think it has to do with English language learners but another story.

>>Howard Fischer:
Dennis, there's a bill that tightens the laws on child prostitution which seems to have generated a little bit of heat. Did I know she was under 18?

>>Dennis Welch:
Yeah. There are a couple of proposals out there. This bill had been stalled earlier in the session as it passed through the senate and went over to the house judiciary committee with Representative Jerry Farnsworth basically held the bill because he didn't like a certain provision in there that said you can't use the defense, I didn't know the prostitute was under 18, which adds additional penalties to that crime.

>>Howard Fischer:
So do we get this bill out? Any thoughts? These are those things that like I say are left to the last minute. Do these fall off the table or do you think they can get out?

>>Matt Benson:
This time in the session the final days it's really anybody's guess.

>>Howard Fischer:
Okay.

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think this one, though, isn't it on its way to the governor?

>> Howard Fischer:
Not quite yet. Another bill, matt, we still have a couple of immigration bills out there. Employer sanctions as Dennis mentioned. And the question of bail for illegals. Both still sort of out there, kind of moving?

>>Matt Benson:
Bail seems to be moving more than the employer sanctions measure. Basically the bailable offenses deals with what level of proof do you need to show that someone's in the country undocumented, here illegally, and they shouldn't be given bail if they commit a serious offense. That was what voters approved in November and we've had judges in Maricopa County not applying that law. With regard to employer sanctions, we were kind of having the same discussion a year ago where we expected that some sort of a bill was going to get out of the legislature. Last day comes around and lo and behold it doesn't happen it, doesn't get a vote and it falls by the wayside. We may see something very similar happen this year.

>>Howard Fischer:
Dennis that said, we've seen this before. At what point does Russell Pearce say, look, I don't need you guys. I'm just going to pull the plug.

>>Dennis Welch:
He's already done. That I mean, after last year, he's got that threat out there, the initiative. If they want to take that risk and take the gamble of throwing something up there for the voters to approve, which they will, I mean, if you get it on the ballot they will probably approve this thing, then that's the risk they will have to take.

>>Howard Fischer:
Quickly, Mary Jo, business community doesn't like the bill, doesn't like the initiative. Do they decide to take the lesser of two evils?

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
Nope. Most of the business community is holding steadfast saying this is a federal issue. Let congress deal with it. The state should stay out of it because we'll create an uneven playing field.

>>Dennis Welch:
Do you think they can defeat that bill when it goes about?

>> Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yeah. I think sticking to their guns.

>>Matt Benson:
Taking their chances the group won't be able to get the signatures to get it on the ballot.

>>Howard Fischer:
Thanks very much. Great discussion. We'll be right back.

>>Announcer:
Have the Democrats and Rpublicans come to an agreement on a state budget? What about the house and senate? What's the impact of immigration reform? Just a few of the issues bubbling up from the state legislature. Two political types go head-to-head in our regular Monday feature, One-on-One, Monday night at 7:00 on channel 8's horizon.

>>Howard Fischer:
Tuesday we'll tell you about a new provider of mental health services for Maricopa County. Thursday a "Horizon" special about military affairs in Arizona. And Friday we'll be back for another edition of the "Journalists Roundtable." Coming up next on now, is this time last chance for immigration for years to come? That's next on now. Have an incredible weekend. Good night.

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