Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

February 13, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Republican Legislative Leaders

  |   Video
  • Senate President Tim Bee and House Speaker Jim Weiers talk about legislative issues from the republican leadership perspective.
Guests:
  • Jim Weiers - House Speaker


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Tonight on Horizon: several major bills are making their way through the state legislative process, such as a ban on same-sex marriage and bills on illegal immigration. Plus, state lawmakers are still working on ways to balance the current year budget. The state's two top lawmakers will discuss those issues and more, next, on Horizon.

Announcer:
Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons:
Good evening, I'm Ted Simons, welcome to Horizon. Things are heating up at the state capitol. Lawmakers splitting along party lines to send to the voters bills that would limit or ban speed cameras on state highways and freeways. Also, lawmakers are working on a bill that would let voters add a ban on same-sex marriage to our state constitution. Meanwhile, work on the state budget continues. Here to talk about those issues and more are two of the legislature's top republican leaders: House Speaker Jim Weiers and Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor. A pleasure to have you here.

Ted Simons:
Speaker, let's talk about the pace of the budget talks. Are you satisfied these things are moving as fast as they possibly could?

Jim Weiers: No, of course not. We have a '08 we have to get out current we're in. We're $1 billion short. Hopefully finding the votes to push it and getting a signature. Everybody has different ideas how to get there and it's a philosophy that is holding us up. The main philosophy is do we make the changes to what we're spending or come in and ignore the fact we spent too much and start borrowing the money to get ourselves out of the hole. That's the mainly difference.

Ted Simons:
Is it basically that simple, to borrow or not to borrow?

Thayer Verschoor:
That's that simple from the perspective of the philosophy of borrowing versus cutting or what you have money to pay for. And I think the main thank that we're looking at as we go through the budget process is making sure that we're taking care of the needs of the state at the same time. That's one of the things we have to make sure we're doing. We have a crisis here that we're dealing with. We have $1 billion shortfall. Looking at a $2 billion shortfall for '09, $1 billion for '08. At the same time -- there's a philosophy of borrowing versus cutting or spending versus borrowing or cutting. And so, you know, part of the philosophy that I believe in, and most of the members in my majority caucus believe in, is that we don't want to leave a legacy of debt to our children. But at the same time, you have to balance that against the needs that we're dealing with here.

Ted Simons:
Is borrowing off the table as far as you're concerned?

Thayer Verschoor:
Everything is on the table right now. We're looking at all of our options and what is going to be the best. And we're fighting hard. And unfortunately it's not going as fast as I'd like to go. I think we should have had something by now. But in the meantime we're talking to all of our members and discussing the different options of them and seeing what they're supportive of and what their priorities are.

Ted Simons:
Speaker, is borrowing off the table?

Jim Weiers:
No. We opened the discussions that nothing is off the table, all options as always are going to be talked about. But if you're looking at borrowing the very first thing you do, the very first thing you do, I think that loses hope for all the rational thinking as far as logic when it comes to business sense. Now, currently right now we're spending $1 billion more than what we take in. And if you start borrowing in order to try to close that gap you haven't done anything. And if you can't pay for the bills that you've got, how are you going to pay for the debt or the borrowing that you use as a temporary fix? We're trying to get back into the ball park. And some of the suggestions as we suggest with $250 million, which is a lot of money, but in the scheme of the budget it's not even 2\%. And when you talk about the cities out there that are looking at 10\% cuts across the board, there was a news article yesterday or maybe it was this morning, Tucson Unified is looking at closing four schools because their budgets. You're talking municipalities, you're talking about in private sector. Downsizing, reorganization, restructuring, layoffs. All these things happen to come as part of the problem-solving solution. And to say that state government is not looking at that? And it's embarrassing to say we can't come back in and look at some of the true and tried ways that everybody has always seen throughout past fix the problem that you've got, that is that we spend more than we make. Two solutions are -- actually three -- one is that you either start looking at where you're spending and start reducing that, the second is you come back in, you raise the revenues which means tax increases, then of course the third is that you come in and borrow as for the inadequacies of the reductions you knee to do on your spending. We're hoping that able to get enough people to say at very first with the budget that we're looking at in '08 at least we can get out before we start talking about the Hail Mary. The very last resort is coming back and adding more debt and more expense. As one person asks, you can't pay your bills now and go borrow, how are you going to pay for the debt repayment on top of the bills? Thank god he's not a politician. We need more people like that in the legislature.

Thayer Verschoor:
One of the real problems that we face here -- I mean, it's not just simply cuts and borrowing are issues. Those are huge issues. But one of the real problems that we face is, we kind of have our hands tied when it comes to the budget. We have prop 105. And so much of the budget that we pass is done by formula, that we can't touch. So as we look at reductions in the budget where we might be able to be more efficient and save money, a lot of what's available to us is just -- isn't. You know, we have almost two-thirds of our budget is order-protect or mandated protected by the courts or by the constitution. So we really have a very small portion of the budget that we're able to look at and that we have the ability and the flexibility to go in and make those kind of decisions that need to be made. And so we have to make those decisions, keeping in mind that we are a growing state and we are going to have needs. But at the same time, again, we want to make sure that we're protecting the taxpayer.

Ted Simons:
And speaker, back to the metaphor, the Hail Mary pass, that is still in the playbook?

Jim Weiers:
It's always going to be in the playbook. But is that what you use on the very first play of the game? I don't think so.

Ted Simons:
Bonding has been used in the past. Why is it wrong to go back to that now?

Jim Weiers:
I didn't say it was wrong to go back to it. What I said is that's not where you go if you have other options before you. That's the easiest way, you get out of it and say we solved the problem. In reality, borrowing doesn't solve the problem. You haven't fixed the fundamental problem that exists that you're spending more than you're taking. In the economists say this is not going to be short-lived, not one year, not, two probably not three, probably more like four. You start piling more and more debt that means the repayment will have to come out, not just interest but principal, how are you going to pay that back? We have other elements coming onboard here with the university bill and the civic center. These things are not going to be hitting us. Never going to be able to afford, never to be able to afford the debt we're racking up at this point. So Arizona if we take the easy way out and do what a lot of people would say, let's just do this. Get it over with. There's no pain in it. The pain may not be now as far as making that judgment call. The pain will be later. I don't believe that's what people pay us for is to come up with the easy solutions. They call them tough decisions for a reason. They are tough. People are going to have to gird up and say, let's do some of the things you would not normally have to do. But these are extreme situations. Municipalities are doing this, businesses are doing. This counties. Everybody is doing is except the state. There's got to be some reason. I don't think we're the smartest ones in the block. I think at this point we actually become the laziest.

Ted Simons:
Let's talk about the pace of the budget talks again. There has been some criticism and some concern that the leadership is very much involved in the negotiations with the governor's office and everybody else is somewhat in the dark. Is that a fair criticism? Is this grumbling going on there, speaker? What's happening as far as some folks thinking they're not involved in the process?

Jim Weiers:
You'd have to talk to each individual member. There's not a member that if they want to come up and understand exactly what I know it at the point that I know it more than happy to share it with them. We try to have as many meetings as we possibly can. It's either through the caucuses or into the direct meetings as to the majority leader or speaker's office. The same thing in the senate. We don't know from day-to-day as the changes. As you talk to the minority, you talk to the governor, as to how this is working. We're trying to find something that's bipartisan as we possibly can. But if you have something that fundamentally exists, do you really take the easy way out and indebt yourself to the point you can't pay it back, pretend it doesn't exist and then two years down the road you've got such a debt load that there's no way, you can't even borrow your way out? It becomes a huge pay day loan. That's what this has become. If you do it the easy way. Now, if you use a measure of everything concerned or everything at this point that is on the table, in the '08 the last five or six months. I don't think you get into it medially. I think you do make some cuts. I think you make some suspensions. I think you make some reductions, reorganizations. There are so many things that if you look at where government has grown in the last several years as compared to the population, we have outgrown that so far. If you go back and said, was Arizona really that bad at that time? Were the services there? Yeah, they were there. But there are so many things we've added up on top of everything else, this is where we need to start paring back and ask is it true to the mission of what state government is supposed to be? Do we truly want to become everything to everybody? There's not enough money to do that. Let's start picking the things we want to do and be good at it and put the money there and start downsizing this and reality that government can not be everything to everybody.

Thayer Verschoor:
One of the things that -- and members always have those concerns every year down there. When I was in leadership I had that concern. Because they're in talk. And we try as hard as we can to get that information out. But sometimes there's really not new information. One of the things we've struggled with is getting information from the agencies. I mean what dealing with now, especially, is the '08 solution. And that budget, we have agencies that have had funding approved. And they're spending that money. And until there's something that says they can't spend that money passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, there's nothing that really stops them from doing it. And so as we try to come up with the solution and where we can -- where we can find some reductions and some efficiencies, we may find it but in the meantime what's going to be there when we actually get the bill out? So we have a sense of urgency from that standpoint. But the information has been tough coming in. The agencies haven't really been getting it to us as quickly as -- to the legislature as quickly as we should be able to get it to make those decisions.

Ted Simons:
But I read comments from Senator Karen Johnson who is saying that she's not going to vote on anything until the budget is figured out. That sounds like someone who's frustrated and doesn't really know what's going on.

Thayer Verschoor:
No. I think what you have with Karen there is somebody who is frustrated that we haven't been able to get this budget out. I mean, we let Karen know what's going on as much as we know what's going on. It is frustrating. It's frustrating for all of us. If I had my magic wand we'd have had a solution back in November. But I can't just -- and I can't take my solution and make that the only -- the one that passes. You know, you've got to get 16, 31 and 1 and until we can get that not going to have a solution. And so that's what the struggle is. And unfortunately it's not as quick a process as if you could do it unilaterally.

Ted Simons:
And regarding the pace, we invited senate president Tim Bee on the program. He's not here. He was not around for a couple of days, I take it, last week as well. Heard some grumbling there as well that pace had slowed because he wasn't around.

Jim Weiers:
Oh, I think that is not true.

Thayer Verschoor:
Absolutely unfair to President Bee. You know, we have been working very hard. We've been meeting with our members. And we have continued to meet with our members. And again, the problem isn't that Tim's here or not here. The problem is getting the information we need to make -- to make an educated decision on those agencies. And that's been a lot of our problem is getting that information from those agencies so we can make those decisions.

Ted Simons:
Speaker the absence of president bee last week was not a factor in terms of the pace?

Jim Weiers:
No. Absolutely had nothing to do with that. I'm somewhat disappointed people would take those cheap -- they're cheap shots and they're unfounded and I think they're unfair.

Ted Simons:
Okay. President Bee also is running for congress. And there is some concern again that the absence of the president -- and fair or unfair -- it's still being talked about and still being considered -- that his absence because of maybe campaign concerns is slowing the process at the capitol. Fair or unfair?

Jim Weiers:
Well, go back and look at the people making those assertions or those accusations. I think that's where you're going to find the truths or the untruths. The people that are involved in the process at this point, which clearly I am, I haven't seen any noticeable difference one way or the other. Tim was out of town for a couple of days. Did that slow anything down? Absolutely not. At time he was out of town we had our agencies crunching numbers, which would have been if he was here or not those numbers are still going to have to be crunched by our GLBC. It wouldn't have mattered if he was sitting there waiting for the numbers. Because it was going to take a couple days for those numbers to get back to us.

Thayer Verschoor:
And people asking that question, that's a fair question to ask. But I will tell you that people making the accusation of slowing it down, that is purely speculative and it is simply not true.

Jim Weiers:
Politics at its best.

Thayer Verschoor:
That's what it is. It's a fair question. And senator bee -- president bee knows that's a question that's going to be asked. But he's worked very hard. And he is available anytime he is needed and every time. He has been huge in helping move through some of these road blocks, as he was last year and he will continue to be.

Ted Simons:
As we talk about the idea of running for a congressional seat --

Thayer Verschoor:
I'm not running for congress.

Ted Simons:
Okay. That was my first question. My second question was to Speaker Weiers, wondering if John Shadegg's seat back in Washington interests you.

Jim Weiers:
It was really a shock that this came when it did, how it came. And I talked to the congressman the other night. And he said it's one of the hardest decisions he ever made. Now, my name gets thrown into the mix because I live in that district, by virtue I happen to be in politics. I didn't put my name in there. It's very flattering that people would even consider me but there's a lot of experience that goes with that. And I've told my wife, you know, I sit down and talk about it. At this point there's no decision that is going to be made. There will be a decision in the next day or so. But it just really truly was like a cold shower. Nobody expected this to come up. And there's quite a few people out there urging me to take the plunge. I don't know if this is something I really want to do.

Ted Simons:
You say you will make your decision in the next day or two this.

Jim Weiers:
Oh, absolutely.

Ted Simons:
Okay. Want to make it here?

Jim Weiers:
Are you going to have me back in a couple of days?

Ted Simons
I wanted to bring that up. Because again, some of the criticism regarding President Bee. And then perhaps if you were to run for the congressional seat, is it a wise idea for a state lawmaker campaigning for a congressional seat -- we'll just start with that and work from there. I know they are resign to run laws. But is it a wise idea, right thing to do when you are campaigning to resign your seat?

Thayer Verschoor:
My opinion on that is that that's an individual decision that individual has to make. You know, there's a lot of different variables that would depend on that. One would be that the organization that you may or may not have in place already may determine that. And so I wouldn't say that it's -- for some people it probably would be very necessary for them to resign so that they can get out and they can get the support and they can get the organization that they need to. There are other people, they may have a lot of that already in place and it just may be a matter of them having the ability to get out in their spare time after they're doing the legislative duties and talk to the folks out there in their district. And they're the ones who are going to know best what that situation.

Ted Simons:
All right.

Jim Weiers:
And I can respond to this if you're looking at President Bee. If there is going to be any negative it's because he's not being able to devote the time to his campaign. It's not because he's taken away from the legislative venue. And I look and I have been listening and kind of thinking this response. If you look at the time that individual members put in, as with leadership you are expected to put in more time. But I can't think of any time down there that Tim has not been there when in fact he needed to be there. I'm not talking about scheduling. I'm just talking about when he should be there he is. If you look at my schedules and his schedule, we put in a lot more time than most every one of the individual legislators. As to most of the leadership. It truly becomes a full-time, in my case it's about 50 to -- I don't know, 55 hours a week. That's on top of my other job. Which in his case, if he is cheating any element, you know, within this by trying to do things simultaneously, it really is the campaign is that he is shortening. It's not the fact of the quality he's giving back to the job in the legislature.

Ted Simons:
Let's move onto this new attempt now to ban gay marriage. Why is this, speaker, necessary?

Jim Weiers:
All right. If I may correct you, it's not a new attempt. It's already state law.

Ted Simons:
Well, it's another attempt to put a ban of gay marriage on the ballot.

Jim Weiers:
An attempt to put on, well, on the ballot, correct. And people say, isn't this what we voted on? No, it's not what you voted on. The last ballot issue that went on there had the provision back into the relationships and also the benefits. This has absolutely nothing -- this codifies what exactly is current state law and simply puts it into the constitution. You say why would you do that? Well, if you look, it is across the country been seen many, many times, especially with the courts, they ignore what state law is and they simply come in interpretations of what they think. And when you talk about the courts, people have to understand the court is representative of a person. A judge sitting there with a particular issue as he believes or he doesn't. We've got lots of and lots of activists on the judiciary now that are not following the law, simply making decisions as to their own personal impressions of what they think things should be. And if you put this in the constitution, that at that point no longer becomes an issue to be approached as to an individual. It becomes a constitutional issue. If you don't believe in it, then obviously not. If you think it works and it's right and by protecting the sanctity of marriage, then fine.

Ted Simons:
The current law -- senator, it sounds like it's an attempt to outlaw a law that's already against the law.

Thayer Verschoor:
Well, Ted, what you have is you have a legislature that represents the people of Arizona. And you have a lot of people in Arizona who are concerned about that issue as well as many other issues. And so anytime that you have, that you're going to have a piece of legislation reflecting that point of view. So what you have is you have a lot of people who want to see something done in that area. And yeah, a lot of that is because of activists judges who are out there who are legislating from the bench. And a lot of people think you need to address that because those judges are putting mandates on us, even though that judge is from some other state.

Ted Simons:
Even though the current law has already been challenged and was upheld?

Jim Weiers:
Well, Ted, this is what I'm telling you. Upheld by what judge? When you say by the system, all you need is another challenge and if you get a different opinion it changes.

Thayer Verschoor:
That's right.

Jim Weiers:
It changes completely. And you say, well, it went to the supreme court and they obviously didn't take it. Well, things change. Judgeship changes. The personalities within those judges. And I wish that we had a system to where the courts did exactly what they were supposed to do as a true constructionist and constitutionalist when you look at the government with the court that they literally upheld the law rather than coming back in -- and by the way, I don't believe that's what the law means. And by the way, I don't believe that's a good law and I'm going to start making decisions from the court, from my bench as to either do away with it, change it or alter it in a way that I believe as an individual rather than what's been said in the statute.

Ted Simons:
Critics see pure politics here. They put something on the ballot that gets a conservative base out to vote in November. Your response.

Jim Weiers:
That is not my reasoning. It's not the impetus behind it. The people coming and saying, look, if you really have a problem and judicial activism is a problem in this country. It's seen everywhere you look. If I had known this was going to be one of the issues I could have brought tons and tons of citings where you have laws upheld to a point and all of a sudden there's a challenge brought back. In it makes a difference one judge who says that's not what I believe. Everything goes upside down. The only way you can protect that is to going go into the constitution. The judge can't change it at that point. If the people felt it was a bad idea they could refer it back to the ballot to change it or go by the initiative as people have in the state and take that out.

Ted Simons:
Senator, you see that threat?

Thayer Verschoor:
I do. I think a lot of my members see that as a threat. And I think a lot of them will take and cast their vote accordingly.

Jim Weiers:
You know, and I'm going to finish up. One of the strongest advocates on this happened to be a member within the chamber I serve within the house, Kyrsten Sinema. And I remember her saying last year, this is only about the issue of one man one woman she'd have no objections. It really came down to the issue of the benefits. You take those benefits, I don't have a problem with that. So I don't know why anybody would be upset. There's also been accusations, all the time that we're spending on this bill. The time it took me to spend on this bill was the time it took to sign the bill. That was it. In fact, I had the judiciary chairman come in and talk to me and said, there's probably not going to be much testimony. Both side, they know the issues quite well. You don't even have to testify. We'll probably come in and do a review and summary of the bill and take a vote. And Kyrsten Sinema, and I do appreciate her. I don't agree with her a lot. But then she called me up and said, I just sat down with the chairman of the judiciary and we're not going to sit and fight over this thing. It's an up and down vote. And this will probably be one of those votes and one of those bill that go through very, very quick as far as the time that's required. You don't have to sit and pontificate as to what it means. Everybody understands the issue. Very simple and straightforward. Either you do want to put it to the people as a vote or you don't. And I think it will go through the legislature. It will either go through the legislature quite quick or it will go and stop in the legislature quite quick.

Ted Simons:
Okay. We've got less than a minute to go.

Jim Weiers:
You're kidding.

Ted Simons:
Yes. And there are so many things I want to talk about. Are you optimistic at all that the budget, the pace of the negotiations, just the P.R. aspect of letting us all know something is getting done, is going to get done?

Jim Weiers:
Okay. Let me tell you. Something is getting done. We're getting closer and closer. As to the reductions and those cuts, we have got those numbers up from 65 million, 70 million, we're now approaching to 175, 180, now close to 200 million. Does that seem progress? Hopefully it is. I would be a lot more hopeful if we could get a lot more as far as reorganization of government and go ahead and send a message to the people that we're doing our job by identifying the waste and the fraud and all the thing that exist. And for people to say, no, government is just as lean as it can possibly get. We've cut to the bone. You don't believe that. I can see that in your face.

Thayer Verschoor:
I think we're pretty close, Ted. But unfortunately or fortunately, actually, I believe that our founding fathers founded a system that was designed to intentionally move slow. I know it's frustrating sometimes. But if you move slow enough, you also get things done a lot faster in many cases.

Ted Simons:
And we've moved quite fast here, gentlemen. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for joining us on Horizon on this evening. You have a great evening.

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