Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

March 21, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable

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

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
It's Friday, March 22nd, 2008. In the headlines this week the state budget and who to believe when it comes to claims the state is running out of money. The latest on the employers sanctions law and efforts to make some changes. And we'll talk about the possibility of having toll roads in the state. That's next on "Horizon."

Ted Simons:
Good evening. I'm Ted Simons and this is the "Journalists Roundtable." Joining me is Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic," Mark Brodie of KJZZ radio and Scott Wong of "The Arizona Republic."

Ted Simons:
There seems to be two different opinions on the state budget. The state treasurer says we could be out of cash by the end of April. The governor says Chicken Little doesn't know what he's talking about. It's gotten a little testy this week.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yeah, it got testy and started on Wednesday morning when the treasurer held a press conference. He writes the checks and said in five weeks we won't have enough money in the old account to cover our rate of spending. Therefore lawmakers and governor's, nudge, nudge, get ready to work with a budget deficit reduction plan. It set off fireworks on the ninth and the governor had a press conference. That's what the governor and legislative leaders have been doing. They have been doing that since January 17th meeting behind closed doors. Martins was tick, tick, tick.

Ted Simons:
Mark, overreaction by the governor? What do you think?

Mark Brodie:
It's hard to say overreaction. Dean Martin was like, look, don't shoot the messenger, I'm trying to show you what's going on. His point was, when I was in the legislature and tried to write these budgets and deal with deficits we never knew what they had. I want to help them make informed decisions.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It's not that the state doesn't have cash. There's pools of money most notably the budget stabilization fund known as the rainy day fund. It has about $700 million in it. Martin comes up with that I'm confident they will have a deal. Why he held a news conference if he thought they would do it. He can't touch the money. He needs authority to do that.

Mark Brodie:
If they totally tap the rainy day fund, according to his calculations, that's supposed to get the state from halfway of the fiscal year of June 30th. They have to come up with other cuts or mechanism to get the extra money.

Scott Wong:
Mary Jo, in your mind is this helpful or harmful to the situation? Does it move it that way more or creates more tension between the republicans and governors?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It's hard to know because it's happening behind closed doors. A couple of hours after that in the house, the republicans held a caucus meeting and said, yeah, we have to bond which is something that Majority Leader Tom Boone conceded to a week earlier. He said we will have to borrow for school construction and not specifying to what amount. This is something that most republicans are adamantly opposed to but to close the budget, we have to do that. The speaker said that this year and next year probably a billion dollars in spending cuts to make it work.

Ted Simons:
How is that playing at the governor's office? Obviously, she's keeping it close to the vest. As you move forward, something has to get done.

Mark Brodie:
I think the concession of the borrowing is a big one. That's a sticking point with the governor and they want to finances school construction and the republicans are against it. The one thing everyone is saying once they come up with a deal to fix the current budget, almost everybody recognizes they need to move into a 2009 budget and work on the fiscal year. So what happens in 2008 affects 2009 and beyond and they want to try and get everything done while they have the momentum.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The other sticking point is the cuts and how big to make. So far the governor has a plan for $225 million in cuts. The speaker is saying a billion dollars over two years. The governor's reaction is saying it's really hard to react without specifics. The G.O.P. plan didn't have specifics in it. This debate will continue on.

Ted Simons:
Back to Scott's question, does it sound like with the meetings and leaders and supposedly moving forward and getting something done. Does it seem like something's getting done?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think the fact that the governor's been in on four meetings so far with legislative leaders. That's a signal they are getting serious and they are well aware when the till's going to be empty and they have to get something done.

Ted Simons:
And the business of calling the treasurer Chicken Little will probably just fade.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I don't know, Ted, because a basket was sent to the governor and there were peeps and a D.V.D. and it said he hates to spoil the movie but Chicken Little was right.

Ted Simons: Employer sanctions. That goes on as well. Mary Jo, let's start with us. It seems like a hit with representative Pearce and e-verify.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The employer sanctions law has been in effect since January 1st. There's been widespread discussion, that yes, there needs to be some changes to the law to make it more workable and we're not going to overturn it and certainly its withstood legal challenges. About two weeks ago some amendments came out, some changes and updates to the law and one is sticking point the business community doesn't like a Peace written provision that says that all employers are signed up with e-verify, that's to make sure you have a social security number that belongs to you. Everyone has to be on board with a program by August or you cannot claim your new hires as a business deduction. The businesses don't like that. This is a mandate. Why don't you give us an incentive and don't hit us over the head with a hammer?

Ted Simons:
Is that the kind of thing that could really scuttle the agreements that they have so far?

Mark Brodie:
That's a tough question. The bills in the legislature have a number of other provisions as well. Some of which it seems like it would make the business community happy among them clarifying who is covered by this law. Saying that people hired after January 1st would be covered and as opposed to anyone on the payroll at any time. I think it's safe to say there's work to do on the bills and there will have to be continued negotiations. There's a lot of parties and lawsuit outstanding dealing with this issue that some in the business communities says let's not do anything until we know what the ninth circuit will say.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It's a tough one. Whenever a business signs up with the e verify program, it gives the government entree into your records. Especially if you're a business that's not really in the mode of hiring, which is happening a lot right now. They don't like having this firm and fast deadline they'll have to sign up for e-verify whenever they go about making a new hire. How it's going to play out is hard to predict because also trailing along is the threat of two ballot initiatives that can go before the voters in November. There's a tentative agreement if this bill gets through and everybody's happy and they sing kumbaya, they will drop the punitive ballot measures. They don't want the--they meaning business leaders and some legislative leaders don't want to see them go on the ballot.

Ted Simons:
Tentative being the operative word. Let's move on. Toll roads, we're hearing about it all the time. We have a yes and a no.

Scott Wong:
Right. There was a bill by Senator Ron Gould that was not passed by the Senate. Another bill was passed by the senate and that was a Senator Jay Tibshraeny. His would allow for a little more local power and, you know--let's see--

Ted Simons:
Basically the one says ADOT gets a ton of control and other says local cities and towns get ton of control. Is that pretty much how it is?

Scott Wong:
Right. That's pretty much how it is. Basically this debate is the fact that transportation dollars in the state of Arizona are not keeping pace with the transportation needs in the state. We get our transportation projects funded through vehicle license fees, through gas taxes and federal funding. Because there's that shortage of funding, legislators are looking for other options to put on the table and toll roads is one of them.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Scott, how much did you pick up incentive of toll roads? We don't have many in Arizona.

Scott Wong:
There were quite a few outspoken in the debate which was debated rigorously. They said we already have a state department of transportation whose responsibility is to build the roads and maintain them. Why do we need to look outside of our own department to kind of achieve these goals?

Ted Simons:
Wow, so control was basically the function or the operative function for the yes and the no vote on the two bills. When you talk about funding for freeways and highways, every once in awhile we hear about a gas tax. Is that feasible? That ever going to have to happen? How much tax would you have to have?

Scott Wong:
There was a study that was recently published that shows us we current have 18-cent gas tax in the state of Arizona. In order to fund a bypass route to bypass Tucson and the Phoenix metro areas, we would need to increase that gas tax by 20 cents per gallon. You know I don't think that is something that Arizonians would be too fond of.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
You would have to more than double the tax to pay for one road.

Scott Wong:
Considering the fact that gas is well past $3 a gallon and, you know, by this summer could approach $4.

Ted Simons:
You mentioned the alternative to I-10, I think the idea of going through the San Pedro River Valley. They put the stop to that idea. Mark, is it feasible. You hear the talk. Connect to Casa Grand I-8, connect it west to Buckhead I-10. It's talk. Is there any movement?

Mark Brodie:
I'm not sure about movement on it. Talking about toll roads, one of the things that Senator Tibshraeny say is the state and counties don't have the money to build the roads. As Scott mentioned, the growth is outpacing what the state can afford to build. By setting up these authorities which boards who include elected members of cities, counties or state leaders, you then allow private entities to come in and fund some of the roads. They would be the ones to collect the tolls. This idea's not more for but entirely for new roads and proposal to converting a lane on the 51 to a toll road. That's not it at all.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think everyone agrees there's not enough money to build the transportation network Arizona feels it needs but at least in recent history there have been toll road proposals. The south mountain freeway and south loop was put out in a toll road project in the '90s. No bidders. They couldn't find private entities that would work. Likewise they were looking for somebody to build toll ways for the Superstition Freeway. I think the question is has anybody taking a hard look at the economics? Can a private entity make it work? What incentive would the state have to give to these partnerships to make it happen?

Scott Wong:
I think the reality is the bill struggled to get through the senate and I think it will have equally tough road in the house and the governor said she's kind of cool with the idea of toll roads.

Ted Simons:
The governor is not cool with the idea of commuter rail. We have heard commuter rail mentioned and the idea of double-deck highways. Mary Jo, you said it's been around the block so to speak?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well about 5-6 years ago when the last the widening of the urban core happened, the question was what's next? Because you are never done with the roads. ADOT said we would have to double-deck I-17 around Bethany Home through the central part of the city or spend cajillons of dollars buying up the right of way on the either side because it's cheap to gell up against businesses and residential areas. We haven't seen double-decks o I-17 and there's schematics that have shown how to put an express lane up above the regular lane.

Ted Simons:
Mary Jo, let's stay with you and get off the road now. We have an idea of licensing off-road vehicles because I guess when you are flying a plane and look down over the desert areas it's not pretty.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It's not pretty. Last week I went on aerial tour with Representative Jerry Weirs who is a sponsor of the bill that will create a new fee that would replace the fee that off-road vehicles currently use. His opinion is a lot of drivers who drive ATVs off the road don't license anything and they go out and pay nothing and flout the permits that are needed also. And he wants to teach people where to ride the ATVs. He's not trying to stop anyone from riding. He has them himself but there needs to be order to this. There's skepticism that failed the bill on tied vote. They don't think the money will go to the intended purpose and say couple other pots of money should be building the roads already.

Ted Simons:
Interesting, the idea of mope not going where it's supposed to go overrides every other aspect?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yeah. It's not time to talk about increase in fees. It may be offset if you are an OHV owner because he wouldn't have to pay for these tags but get one for $23. But its still a hard sale. There's skepticism that they will build the trails.

Ted Simons:
Mark, not a hard sell when you talk about cps and idea of reform to cps. Bills are going through and one that opened fire to fatal and near fatal I guess passed relatively easy in the house.

Mark Brodie:
The bill passed with 47 votes in the house and will go to the senate. Basically, as you said, it's an effort to make public CPS files that deal with cases of kids who either die or almost die. And Jonathan Peyton who is the sponsor of the bill said basically we need to shine the light of day on what CPS is doing. There's a cloud of suspicion on them. We read in the paper someone who was in contact with CPS, a child dies. By opening up the records, it could exonerate some of the workers could show how hard it is and how safe they try to make it. He is pitching it good for the kids and cps workers.

Ted Simons:
How much opposition? Just in general, this bill in particular, in general, it seems some of the opposition is bending a bit?

Mark Brodie:
Most the opposition seems to be about a provision of a judge being able to review whether or not to open up the files and potentially causing--I think the phrase was--the adversarial relationship of the county and courts. Another opposition was about how reopening or opening these files could sort of reopen wounds from the children who either were in near fatal cases where they are alive or other family members or children who may have been involved in the case. Where some of the rural communities that everybody knows everybody's business and opening the files making them public is reopening wounds for the kids.

Ted Simons:
Aren't there avenues and ways with the legislation to redact the names?

Mark Brodie:
Yeah, what was said is pretty much any third-party names would be redacted. There's plenty of privacy in there. There is a not a concern.

Ted Simons:
Let's move on to judges and electing judges. The practice I guess in rural communities. Not in Maricopa or Pima County. Who wants to change that?

Scott Wong:
I believe its Russell Pearces in the house. He's a republican. The basically the reason why there's appointment of judges in two of the largest counties in the state of Arizona is because, you know, there have been concerns about, you know, the fact that, you know, in the large counties it's hard to know your judge that you're electing. It's hard to--you see the name on the ballot and it's probably a complete stranger. In the Arizona's 13 rural counties, you know, where these communities are much smaller, people tend to know their judges. So, you know, basically, you know, supporters like Russell Pearce have said we need to have the election of judges in Maricopa and Pima counties because, you know, these judges have kind of lost touch with the people that they represent. He calls some of them activist judges. They are kind of judges gone wild in their, you know. [ laughter ] They have made rulings that certain laws of the legislature has passed have been unconstitutional.

Ted Simons:
The idea of making judges more accountable. Isn't there concern if you have judges out campaigning, you have concerns about campaign dollars and people are sitting in judgment, too?

Scott Wong:
Sure. I mean, I think, the biggest opponent is the Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor who made that point exactly and been down to the Capitol to testify in both of the Senate and the House. She said that this raises questions about whether a judge can be impartial when he or she is taking campaign contributions from attorneys or other litigants that come before them on the bench.

Ted Simons:
Is this something that's moving through--is it a continuing resolution? What's going on here? Is this something the legislature will push through themselves or what?

Scott Wong:
Basically, if it is passed by the legislature, it would go to the voters and probably later this year. So voters would have a say whether or not they want to elect judges in Maricopa and Pima counties.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
One of the ways it's crafted to address the concerns that judges might be forced to take campaign contributions from attorneys and others, they can run it under the state's public financing scheme the clean elections campaign money.

Mark Brodie:
In theory in the counties they can vote to reelect judges and retain the ones they don't know who they are, right?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
In this '08 ballot, yeah.

Ted Simons:
We can live in Mayberry and have a judge. Steve May will not run against John Shadegg?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
May who is a former state lawmaker got in the race back in February. I think in the little period when John Shadegg was saying well I'm out and now he's back in. Today May says he's not going to run. He has a lot of financial interests that are tied up with the family business and that money is not coming free. That's what he was counting on to finance the bulk of his campaign

Ted Simons:
It sounds like it's also an indication if John McCain becomes President and John Shadegg runs or gets a seat and prepares, he gets a friend there.

Mark Brodie:
That would be a dominoes that would fall if John McCain won the Presidency starting with whoever wins the election and it would start with who would take his seat and who would take that person's seat. Just a lot of dominoes fall.

Ted Simons:
We have 30 seconds left and what wants to talk about John McCain and the Middle East and how well he did over there? No one. I guess when you talk about Iran in al-Qaeda it doesn't go well.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I didn't get on there to go on the straight talk tour.

Ted Simons:
I guess the senator was there and there was a religious holiday that John McCain may have said something about.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
He mischaracterized it and Lieberman said it's my bad for trying to fix his mistakes. It's gotten talk on the blogosphere.

Ted Simons:
Thank you for joining us.

Ted Simons:
An overview of the local and national economy with Elliot Pollack. Two political pundits go head to head on state issues on our regular Monday segment, one on one and the impact of ASU's Skysong in south Scottsdale. Monday night at 7:00 here on "Horizon."

Ted Simons:
Tuesday, more on the possibility of toll roads in the state. Wednesday, a debate on what it takes to fund English language learning. Thursday, local students get a behind-the-scenes look at the relationship between science, technology and politics in Washington, D.C. Friday, we'll be back with another edition of the "Journalist's Roundtable." Coming up, hidden toxin in children's' toys. Why is the U.S. not following the Europeans in banning them? That's next on "Now" on PBS. I'm Ted Simons. That's it for now. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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