Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

November 9, 2007


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Journalists Roundtable


  • Don't miss HORIZON's weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Paul Giblin - East Valley Tribune
Category: Journalists Roundtable

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Richard Ruelas:
It's Friday, November 9th 2007. In the headlines this week, elections took place in the Valley Tuesday. We'll look at some of the results and how they'll affect you. The latest back and forth on the state budget shortfall. And Senator John McCain moving up in the polls. That's next on Horizon.

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Richard Ruelas:
Good evening, I'm Richard Ruelas and this is the Journalists' Roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Paul Giblin of the "East Valley Tribune," Casey Newton of the "Arizona Republic" and Howard Fischer of "Capitol Media Services." Let's start off with what we could see in Eloy. A rock and roll-themed amusement park. Howie, are Arizonans willing to drive there in July to go to this proposed park? At some point. Not that there's not a lot to see in Eloy now. But tell us about the plans for a rock and roll theme park.

Howard Fischer:
If you believe that people are willing to drive to Eloy in the summer, in the heat, and pay $60 to ride on the grand funk railroad, to get into these little 50's and 60's little deuce coupe sports cars and check in at the Hotel California Cafe, then we've got a theme park for you. A group of investors have decided that Arizona needs a theme park, that somehow an outdoor theme park in the desert makes a lot of sense; we're apparently the largest metropolitan area in the country without a theme park. That's because it's 115 and if you get on the rides you'll burn your hands.

Paul Giblin:
You could have a pink Cadillac, a little red Corvette.

Casey Newton:
It may be the first theme park in the country built entirely on bad puns.

Richard Ruelas:
That's true. Which we were discussing the journalists would be great at helping name the rides. What a long strange roller coaster this will have been.

Howard Fischer:
Well, here's the reason this becomes an issue. They want to do it with private money but they want to use provision of state law which allows them to essentially take this 300-acres, form their own level of government where not only the Eloy city tax the state tax will apply but a sales tax up to 9\% will apply, on the restaurants, hotels, Haight-Ashbury district down there.

Richard Ruelas:
Which is the culture they were going for back in the 60's.

Howard Fischer:
Tourism. If you've been to Haight-Ashbury it's the same sort of thing, aging tourists who look like me. They'll use that money to pay the original investors and -- want to use revenue bonding which is something reserved for the government. A lot of lawmakers started out suspicious of this but saying what's the worst it can happen? If the project fails the only revenues pledged are those from the park. No revenues then the investors get nothing. So since there's also precedent for this. They did these two years ago a park on the way to the Grand Canyon that has yet to exist, I think lawmakers will go ahead and approve it.

Richard Ruelas:
Who is behind it? Have they done any parks like this before?

Howard Fischer:
One of the organizers is a guy named Peter Alexander who used to work for Disney and used to work for a couple of other park operators. And he says, look, I've penciled out the numbers. There are about 5.5 million Arizonans who have the kind of income to do this. And there are about another 16, 17 million folks who come here as visitors, not as on a business trip. Now, assuming we can get, you know, maybe a 25\% penetration on that, we can bring in 6 million visitors a year, $60 a head we can make this work. That presumes a lot of things, that a, people will come here during the summer. He says, well, people do come to Arizona during the summer. They do to hang out at a pool. Because the rates out at the Phoenician and others are great. Will you really ride in a roller coasters? He says there'll be shade, misters and everything else. I got news for you. If you're looking for a place to go on vacation and you know in Eloy in July it's going to be 114 you're probably going to go to Disney World instead.

Richard Ruelas:
Or possibly to Mesa where voters on Tuesday approved a project that I guess the city was saying might be not just a state destination for a -- but a national you surprised that wave yard passed the voters?

Paul Giblin:
I was extremely surprised mesa passed this. They have a history for strike down everything including the football stadium now in Glendale. They supported this by 65\%. It calls for a $250 million resort and water theme park with rapid rides and things like that. About $30 million will come back to the developers as incentives from taxes.

Richard Ruelas:
And I guess it's two for two because they recently approved the shopping center that's just down the way.

Paul Giblin:
That's right. My personal thinking here is that Mesa woke up one morning and said, hey, look, that football stadium got built somewhere else and all the people are going there. What is left over? What's left over is a shopping center and a wave park.

Richard Ruelas:
It's difficult to know that, I mean, mesa was talking about cutting services like libraries earlier. Not being able to approve roads. Does this butt heads with that idea?

Paul Giblin:
This one talks about tax increment financing which is how a lot of these projects are talked about. Tax you raise on the side will go back into the site. So that's the thinking there.

Howard Fischer:
I think the thing that arranges lawmakers about this kind of financing is only the big developers get this. If you're a small company and say, I want tax increment financing. If I don't come here you won't have the revenues and therefore you should let me keep some of it. They say no. But these big projects seem to do it. It's not a question of whether tax increment financing is a good idea. The question is why doesn't everyone get it? Somehow why did wave yard get it but if I want to put in a swimming pool for the neighborhood, I'm not going to get that.

Paul Giblin:
Or put up a sandwich shop you can't get it either or anything else. That's a good point.

Richard Ruelas:
Staying on Election Day with things that are surprises, it seems, Casey, that the district a race law [indiscernible] got a lot of people by surprise.

Casey Newton:
Absolutely. It was a stunner. Michael Nowakowski general manager of a radio station took on Laura Pastor, daughter of Ed Pastor. She entered the general election on Tuesday 8 points ahead. That's how much she finished ahead of Michael in the primary election. He managed to turn around almost 20 points in a six-week period and will be the next councilman.

Richard Ruelas:
What does his camp say he did directly to make this swing?

Casey Newton:
He says it was all about grassroots support. I think there's a little bit more to it. There was a lot of negative campaigning that went on in this case.

Howard Fischer:
I'm shocked to know there was negative campaigning in the city. Can you imagine?

Casey Newton:
Not only did saying that she was too close to the pay day loan lobby but an independent union from New York called unite here targeted Pastor with a lot of harsh comments over the past weeks saying she was too close to lobbyists. She was never effectively able to counter the criticisms in those mailers. You can't overestimate the having boots on the ground. He had everybody out there every day knocking and talking to votes. If you talk to them, they'll tell you they got four or five visits from his campaign just between the primary election and Tuesday, whereas in the same period they didn't get any visits from Laura Pastor.

Richard Ruelas:
Has anyone spoken with Laura Pastor to get her word on this?

Casey Newton:
She's been less willing to talk. But the people I've spoken to in her camp, they say she's doing okay, that she blames her loss almost entirely on negative campaign. But she says she's proud of what she accomplished during the campaign. She's happy that she didn't go negative against Michael.

Howard Fischer:
Well, one of the other issues comes down to sound bite politics. If you have signs that say, I'm going to enforce the law, not which law, you know, drunk driving, running red lights, illegal immigration, given the current climate, you know, the stuff we'll talk about later even on immigration, that sells even if you don't know anything. That makes a difference. The other piece of its, I think there were people who thought Laura was going to get there because dad is a congressman. While it certainly helped with the name ID out of the box, there were other people saying, so what sort of dynasty is this?

Richard Ruelas:
Although I guess we've definitely seen other name dynasties. Flakes in Mesa being one, where people don't seem to mind a legacy. But do you think her name might have hurt her, Pastor, in this campaign?

Casey Newton:
I think it hurt her because she wasn't able to effectively respond when people said she was being installed into the council seat, that she didn't have the resume' to back it up. Michael said I'm a long time community activist, been on the Police Chief's advisory board for 16-years. Laura didn't have the same roots in the community she was able to point to. Michael was able to capitalize on that.

Richard Ruelas:
With election night again, usually these school elections are ho-hum affairs and don't generate a lot of excitement. But the results showed most of these went down to defeat. Why do you think?

Howard Fischer:
A couple of facts. First of all, even though it was in November -- turnout is always higher in November. School boards love doing this stuff in March and May. Why? Because only the people -- they only tell the people it's happening that they know are going to support things. But this deals with a much larger issue, which is all the run-ups in the profit values have resulted in people getting their little notices in October. I owe how much? And even with the state property tax disappearing for three years, they're looking at this and there's a sticker shock there. And they recognize that one of the largest items if not the largest item for many taxpayers is in fact the school districts. So they're saying, wait a second. Even if this was an override that we had previously approved and it won't change the rate, if I can lower some of that I'm up against the wall now. I have an adjustable rate mortgage. I'm running into trouble. So a lot of people said enough is enough. Let them live within what the constitution says they should live with.

Richard Ruelas:
I guess not just sticker shock but the sticker in this case was easier to read because of the treasurer rolled out sort of new, easy to read property tax statements or really laid it out?

Howard Fischer:
I think, well, I think you could read them all along. But to a certain extent this was a little more user friendly to the extent you could say, this is my community college tax, school district tax, the central Arizona water conservation district tax that everyone says I don't know what that is but it isn't a lot of money. This is easily identifiable. And when school board members come out -- and since you can use a lot of public money to do these, and they didn't have the community support like the Phoenix propositions, for example, the more cops, there wasn't a good sound bite. Put 400 more cops on the street. When people are confused it goes down. Now, this goes to the larger question of property taxes, which goes to the next election. We now have two separate measures vying for the ballot, to cap property assessments, the taxable value of your property against the tax rates that are set. Those which claim to be the heirs -- roll back the assessed value in your property to before all the speculators came to town and drove up the valley. And then there's a formula for inflation after that. Some of them also have different methods of capping total taxes, primary and secondary. There is so much frustration, because the argument -- it's a good argument. I've lived in my house since 1982. I know what I paid for the house. Because somebody -- some idiot from California paid for the house across the street from me, some phenomenal value, I'm paying more taxes. I'm not getting more services. This is an unrealized capital gain in the best case scenario. Why should I go ahead and pay more tax when I'm not getting anymore? And that's what the frustration is going to go in the ballot.

Richard Ruelas:
Is there this deep discontent about property taxes? And is this a trend that schools are going to be in school as they seek for stuff? Again the same election we saw mesa say yes to a theme park, you know.

Paul Giblin:
I think what we're going to see with the schools is this huge population gain throughout the valley. We have kids. People are voting down the school taxes. That's a real crunch on the school. What are you going to do with this number of kids without having presumably money to build new facilities? That will be the real sticky question.

Howard Fischer:
Here's the other part of it. The new measure that was introduced puts an actual cap on homeowner property taxes at 1/2 of 1\% of their value. What that means is if this passes, total taxes on a 200,000 home will be know more than $1,000. That includes everything that. Includes your school and city and county and fire district and everything else. And what the sponsors have said, is well, the legislature will figure out who gets what. We're talking real crunch here. And if this passes, either they're going to have to raise -- cities can come back with sales taxes. They can do some of that. But for the rest of the thing, school districts can't levy property taxes, counties can't levy income taxes. And there's going to be a real crunch.

Richard Ruelas:
You have in front of you the joint budget committee recommendations for how maybe we can get hold of the budget deficit?

Howard Fischer:
Let me tell you. This 256 pages of pure mathematical fun comes about because the latest figures show the state is anywhere from 600 to 800 million in the red for this fiscal year and maybe another 700 to 900 million in the red next fiscal year. What happened is, when they adopted the budget in March and April, we would finalize this a little later, they presumed how much money was going to come in and how much left over from the prior fiscal year. $10.6 million spending plan. I got news for you. We're mainly going to get a lot less than that in revenues. At a certain point, you know, you can hope and pray the economy is going to get better. The signs don't suggest that. All the real estate. Construction is down, you know, therefore income tax is down, therefore sales taxes on construction materials are down. So what this is -- here's your options.

Richard Ruelas:
There's got to be some scary stuff in there.

Howard Fischer:
Oh, well, among the things they're saying, look. Or we can cut the kids care program. Right now we provide healthcare for children of the working poor. Well, if we just cut that we can get 16,000 kids out, save 2 million right there. State aid to schools, while the basic formula is constitutionally protected, lawmakers gave a little extra money to school. If we take that back that's 20 million right there. We gave an additional 50 million to universities to try to keep up with certain things. If we take that back that's fine. Maybe we don't need as much money for the department of corrections. All those inmates. Well, we'll figure it out. This is a laundry list. I think to a certain extent it's accomplished its goal because it scared a lot of people. In terms of saying, we're looking at cuts. This at least helps the governor, who mainly wants to do it through 300 million in borrowing, 200 million from the state's rainy day fund and 100 million in real cuts and a lot of it is sort of we'll defer some expenses into the next year. I think it's going to be politically hard to find 600 million in cuts that are politically acceptable.

Richard Ruelas:
We have to see if the republicans will want or give a little bit on the borrowing, see if they will fold a little bit.

Howard Fischer:
I think they may take more out of the rainy day fund than the governor want. You have close to 700 million right now in the rainy day fund. If you were to take let's say 350 million, take half of that this year, leave half for next year that. Gets you part way there. There are other things you can do. The state has all these funny little accounts. There's like 21 million in what they call the state lake improvement fund. Meant for the lakes in state parks to kind of fix up the docks and everything else. And it's paid for essentially by boaters. Well, if you borrow -- I use the term loosely in state government parlance in that money, 21 million we can use to finance the regular budget. So there are a bunch of other options out there.

Paul Giblin:
How long using that philosophy would it take them to catch up if you borrow this year and next year? When would that money be repaid?

Howard Fischer:
That's an interesting problem. My belief is that if you borrow 300 million every year, at some point the debt service catches up with you. Even with the lower interest rate that government pays. That may be 15-years out, depending on how you structure it. That's part of the reason we borrowed for schools before. But that's part of the reason republicans are saying if we don't need to borrow, if there's some other way of doing it, we can catch up on the old debt.

Paul Giblin:
There's no quick repayment, then.

Howard Fischer:
Oh, no, no, no. Because next year, starting next July 1st looks just as bad. You know, the old question, is the light at the end of the tunnel is oncoming freight.

Paul Giblin:
This sound like the same blueprint used by the federal government.

Howard Fischer:
Well, but they can print money. And more importantly, the federal government can legally run deficit. Arizona cannot. Now, we've de facto run a deficit by -- for example, one of the things they've done in the past is the state owes like $190 million each front to -- month to schools in state aid. If you don't make that June payment until July, look, I just saved 191 million. Well, I've got to pay it next year. So it's technically not a deficit. But we play those games. You can use those things one time. But eventually you've got to bring the books back into balance.

Richard Ruelas:
Quickly on politics, we see John McCain might have resurgence in the polls?

Paul Giblin:
National polls he's up to about second now in a lot of the 308s. The troublesome spot for him is he's not doing as well in the states that have early primaries. That's important. Because he needs to bag a couple of those early primaries or his presidential campaign might come to a quick end. The thinking is he wants to win some of those, have some of the minor candidates drop off, and then he can use that momentum to move forward. But that might not happen if he doesn't move up from fourth in those early primary states.

Howard Fischer:
And the problem becoming, you know, it's self-fulfilling. If you don't do well in the early primary states the main dries up.

Paul Giblin:
On the other hand, though, if he's doing second nationally, that means a lot of national money could come into him even though not real good in those states he might get a lot of national money which could help him later on in those states.

Richard Ruelas:
Casey, this weekend we saw the Pruitt's furniture stuff come to a head with the arrest of the ACLU legal director. Has that pushed any movement with the city or Sheriff Joe with how the police deal with the issue of day laborers and illegal immigrants?

Casey Newton:
It's definitely created ways in the community. Police Chief Jack Harris says he's reconsidering a controversy policy Phoenix police have of in most cases not reporting or asking about someone's immigration status. As you know, this could be explosive. If they choose to make changes it could cause huge protest. If they choose to not make any changes it could cause a lot of protests.

Richard Ruelas:
Seems like what the union was asking for was a right down the middle approach saying give the officer the discretion?

Casey Newton:
Absolutely.

Richard Ruelas:
Do you get the sense that might be where the chief is leaning? Or has he given you an indication?

Casey Newton:
Hard to say where the chief is leaning? Although I'm told as early as next week the police may get some indication on how they're going to change the policy.

Howard Fischer:
There is a lot of public outcry. It's one thing to say we're not going to seek out illegals, not going to go and play immigration and customs enforcement. But if you come across somebody who is in the country illegally, there should be circumstances where the cops can call ICE now, it is a hard balance. You don't want a situation where someone who is a victim of a crime or a witness, better yet, to a crime, is afraid to call the police and report what they know because, oh, by the way, I don't have papers sort of thing. So it's very tricky.

Richard Ruelas:
Are they German cops?

Casey Newton:
More than you think.

Richard Ruelas:
Interesting.

Howard Fischer:
So it's a very hard balance. But I think that frustration in the street officers see -- wait a second. I've got the guy here. He's got no license. He gave me an expired Mexican license. There's no registration. So what am I supposed to do? Issue him a desk appearance ticket? When clearly, you know, well, an officer cannot arrest him because I'm not federally certified. Clearly there is some reason to believe this person is here illegally. Where the rubber meets the road is with the gangs where the officers are trying to figure out, look, many of these gang members are not here legally. We may not be able to catch them on the specific state charges but we can get them out of the community, we've solved the problem.

Richard Ruelas:
How much heat does the city get -- mayor, council, staff, hearing from the public about this police issue?

Casey Newton:
Unbelievable amounts. Especially when there's a high profile incident when a Phoenix police officer was killed by an illegal immigrant. The switchboards absolutely light up. I have an office in city hall so I can actually hear the poor secretaries talking to the 40, 50, 60 people who are calling every hour demanding that city council do something more about immigration. So the city council, especially those who might be coming up for re-election in a couple of years, are paying very close attention to this. Because they want to be able to say that they took some step to improve the policy.

Paul Giblin:
It pops up all the time. Just this week in Scottsdale there was an illegal immigrant who was trying to videotape young girls underneath their skirts. It comes up every single week.

Richard Ruelas:
I guess we'll probably talk about immigration in the journalist as roundtable next week. As an employer sanctions hearing, the law goes to U.S. Court this week?

Howard Fischer:
We're finally going to get a hearing. This is the lawsuit brought by several employer groups led by the contractors to say that legislation that was adopted which requires companies to use the e verify program. And be -- lets the state take away their licenses if they knowingly employ somebody undocumented is unconstitutional. The big argument, best argument they've got is that this is an area solely reserved for the federal government. That's what the federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled on that one. So the question is, while the federal law says states can take away highway licenses absent of federal finding the person is here illegally?

Paul Giblin:
It doesn't matter what's going to happen next week. The thing will be bucked up no matter what happens, right?

Howard Fischer:
Understood. Whoever loses will take this case to the ninth circuit.

Richard Ruelas:
But this has an effect if January 1 this law goes into effect or we put it on hold.

Howard Fischer:
My guess is no matter what the ruling is, Judge Wake who's the trial judge handling it will issue a stay allowing basically suspending enforcement of the law until this is resolved. So my guess, it's not going to happen January 1 when you start hiring people January 2 you have to use that e. Verify program.

Paul Giblin:
This will elevate this issue about the time the presidential candidates are coming into town to get ready for the February 5th Arizona primary.

Richard Ruelas:
We'll probably have a lot of speeches and people saying solve the issue for us.

Howard Fischer:
The problem is most of the federal folks; I tried to ask Mitt Romney. Well, I'm for legal immigration, not illegal. Oh, come on. And John McCain who's sort of said, well, you know, that part where I said we can do comprehensive reform? We need to close the borders first. I get it. Duh. One -- nobody wants to touch this one.

Paul Giblin:
They're going to have to touch it when they get to Arizona.

Richard Ruelas:
You will be in court covering that hearing, I guess.

Paul Giblin:
I will be in court.

Richard Ruelas:
We'll look for your story and look for you to be back here next Friday at the Journalists' Roundtable. Gentlemen, thanks for joining me this evening.

Mike Sauceda:
In "Horizon" special learn about one woman's experience in the waves. Women accepted for voluntary emergency services. Also Arizona's weather and wide open spaces made it an excellent place to train pilots during World War II. And hear the story of Medal of Honor recipient Silvestre Arroya Monday at 7:00 on "Horizon."

Richard Ruelas:
Tuesday, a look at fire prevention. Wednesday, a national conference on climate change in the valley. Thursday, a conversation with James Carville, former President Bill Clinton's campaign advisor. Friday back with another edition of the "Journalists' Roundtable." Coming up, what's behind the political showdown for health insurance next on Now. I'm Richard Ruelas. For all of us at "Horizon," have a great weekend.

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