Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 18, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable

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  • Don't miss HORIZON's weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Matt Benson - The Arizona Republic
  • Paul Davenport - Associated Press
  • Daniel Scarpinato - The Arizona Daily Star
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
>>Ted Simons:
Good evening, I'm Ted Simons and this is the journalists' roundtable. Joining me this evening: Matt Benson of "The Arizona Republic"; Paul Davenport with the Associated Press; and Daniel Scarpinato of "The Arizona Daily Star." The governor signed a bill into law that would erase the $1.2 billion budget shortfall. Paul, why did it happen then? I guess last night?

>>Paul Davenport:
What happened was the republican legislative leaders Wednesday night decided to pull the trigger on going for a fix on this year's budget. They had been working for months to try to do this year's budget in connection statement at the same time as next year's budget which is even going to have a bigger shortfall in it. They weren't getting anywhere after about three months so they finally gave up and ram through -- it didn't take much ramming through. It moved through both chambers relatively swiftly all within a day and the governor signed it today. Interesting the action came one day after the governor lashed out at the legislature during her weekly availability and used some rather strong words accusing them of not doing their job, being slow, failing to, you know, deliver. They took umbrage at that and the way it was -- at least one leader recounted to me that members wanted to show they can get the job done because they thought the accusation was false.

>>Matt Benson:
Lawmakers also had a bit of a deadline breathing down their necks here. The state treasurer has pointed out that state would run out of available cash by basically the beginning of May. So they didn't have endless time here. I think there was a general feeling of; we've got the framework of a deal. We've had this agreement basically in principle for weeks. Let's get on in it. So that's what they did yesterday.

>>Daniel Scarpinato:
It almost seemed like Paul was saying earlier in the week that tensions had reached such a level, you almost wondered if things had been derail and all of a sudden you had. This what's interesting about the agreement they came up with is in a lot of ways it backs them into corners looking at the next year which they haven't even dealt with because they really didn't make any dramatic cuts, they didn't agree to borrowing for schools which is what Napolitano wanted. And so they really still have to make some deep cuts or a lot of borrowing in '09 as a result of what they did for '08.

>>Ted Simons:
Was it thought that there would be more of a '09 factor in the '08 fix originally?

>>Paul Davenport:
Yeah. Because the governor and the legislative leaders had gone through a lot of the agency and so-called fund sweeps but they hadn't settled the big ticket items because they were still trying to work out '09. But they didn't get that far. So that's what the republican leaders eventually put together and we saw that come to a vote yesterday. One thing to take note in is we've been calling this a $1.2 billion shortfall but the package actually adds up to $100 million more than that and it even has a trigger to take more money out of the rainy day fund because nobody knows how big this shortfall is going to be by the end of the current fiscal year in about two and a half months.

>>Ted Simons:
What was spared and what was sacrificed? What were some of the big things that were put on the table and some of the things taken off that maybe a little surprising cuts here and there.

>>Matt Benson:
Cuts, there really are no significant sort of crippling cuts in terms of state programs. They're yanking $10 million out of the bio-med campus but that money will be made up because they're going to bond for that money instead. So there's fiscal sleight of hand here. But the cuts, they're not significant, meaningful kind of hurtful cuts for now. And the feel among critics is in '09 we're looking at a $2 billion deficit. We may be looking at $1 billion in cuts that year. And that's partially because the cuts in '08 are not more significant.

>>Paul Davenport:
Some of the options have been taken off the table and that might set the stage for much bigger cuts.

>> Daniel Scarpinato:
You're even seeing -- I mean, yesterday and today you saw members on both sides criticize this for not having deep enough cuts. So how are they going to swallow potentially large borrowing in '09 if they're not happy with this? And that's going to be a pretty bloody fight.

>>Paul Davenport:
And that takes us back to the timing point matt was talking about. That '09 issue is nowhere close to being resolved. And they couldn't let '08 wait any longer.

>>Ted Simons:
With '09 such a big question mark, it's kind of hard to judge winners and losers. But who's more pleased and who is the most unsatisfied with --

>>Paul Davenport:
Probably most pleased were those people who have a sine die pool close to June 30th. That's the guessing game at the legislature when the session will end. This could stretch out easy for two months unless some really big moving on one side of the other. Everybody wants to claim victory. Governor's office said this plan fairly well matches the numbers she put out months ago. Obviously the number -- shortfall keeps growing and growing. At first blush she gets what she wants. There are no huge impactful cuts in this budget. But we won't know what happens in 2009 because the folks in the legislature, thing for big reductions in spending, there's a good shot they're going to get them in the next couple months here.

>> Daniel Scarpinato:
We often talk about this in a political sense and who are the winners and losers at 1700 West Washington. But in terms of regular people, I don't think that the changes to the '08 budget are really going to impact normal Arizonans a whole lot when you look at what was done. '09, though, might be a different story.

>>Ted Simons:
One last note on this, Paul. Maybe you could help. Again yesterday we were kind of getting vague reports that no school bonding for the '08 fix. However, in '09 there might be a formula in which there would be bonding for '08, I don't know, what retroactively. How does this work?

>>Paul Davenport:
In essence that's what it would be. It was getting rather late in the fiscal year to do bonding anyway for this year, let alone the question of whether it had enough support. But once you're in '09 you could do bonding or lease purchase agreements, whatever financial instruments you want to use, to get cash from investors and you'd be telling them this money is paying for school construction work in '08. In effect that would replace the cash you spent on that already. But you'd get that money next year and you could use it next year.

>>Ted Simons:
Do you think most lawmakers, considering A) they were out of most of the loop all along, and B), this kind of got rushed in there last night and they wanted to vote quickly, and C), it takes Stephen Hawking to figure out the retro time grade, do you think they knew what they were voting on?

>>Matt Benson:
That's a good question. We were hearing from lawmakers saying we just found outside a couple of hours ago we're going to vote this thing today. We don't understand what we're voting on. We haven't had time to digest the details let alone the accounting details that Paul is referencing. I think it's a good bet that a lot of folks were going along with what they were told by legislative leaders and the governor and basically leave leaving it at that.

>>Paul Davenport:
Even though the budget is a big deal this legislature, a lot of legislation is going on as normal. That's where a lot of the rank and file lawmakers are focused. They're not in on the talks. They're working on the bills.

>>Daniel Scarpinato:
This year more than ever they need to get out of there. Because they're all facing re-election and there's a real threat to a lot of people, including the speaker of the house. So they need to get to campaigning fairly soon here.

>>Matt Benson:
Never mind the senate -- the president of the senate who's of course running for congress.

>>Daniel Scarpinato:
That, too.

>>Paul Davenport:
100 miles away.

>>Ted Simons:
We're going to get to that a little later on in the show. Right now I want to shift a little bit away from the capitol and to the fight -- I don't know what we would call this -- between Sheriff Arpaio and Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon that now maybe includes the chief of police in mesa, chandler, the mayor of Guadalupe. The governor was on this program earlier in this week and mentioned she finds some of the sweeps "troubling" and she's uncomfortable with these and unacceptable if they're spilling over into racial profiling. As much as we've heard so far from the governor on this. Matt, where do we go with this? How far does this go, this antagonism between local law enforcement agency that is have to be troubling?

>>Matt Benson:
I think a lot of us who follow the politics in this town and in the state are surprised at how far it's gone already. Surprised that someone like mild-mannered Mayor Phil Gordon is openly calling out Sheriff Arpaio, suggesting that Department of Justice investigate whether this is racial profiling. We have also this week seen seven Latino lawmakers do the same; ask the department of justice to look in this. And Arpaio basically telling everybody, you know, I'm going to continue what I'm doing. Nobody is going to stop me. And further more, he ramped things up further today with a letter in which he had been getting complaints from Guadalupe officials saying they were unhappy with his sweeps. And he basically sent them a letter saying, well, I'm giving you 180 days to figure out who you want to do law enforcement in your town because we're leaving.

>>Paul Davenport:
And it is an election year for the sheriff and he does face opposition. So that's an element that could play into it down the road.

>>Daniel Scarpinato:
I'm kind of curious how much of this if any is political cover for the mayor given the Pruitt situation last year and given his plan earlier this year that he then backed off of. Is any of this political cover for him?

>>Matt Benson:
If it is it's a risky gamble. Because if he is betting that taking the less stringent tact against illegal immigration is going to pay off, that would be the first time that's happened. Joe Arpaio's popularity is what it is for a reason.

>>Ted Simons:
Well, and you had mentioned until this stops it just keeps going. Is anyone going to stop Sheriff Arpaio? Republicans -- obviously democrats are a little bit off the radar on this particular argument. Is there anyone in the GOP that is going to say, maybe we're going a little too far with this, sheriff. Can you back off just a little bit, please?

>>Paul Davenport:
If they're doing that they aren't doing it publicly so far. We haven't heard of it. The justice department, they have the power to make somebody back off if they do a formal investigation and do some findings, say three or four months from now, in the midst of the election season. That could have some impact.

>>Ted Simons:
Interesting. Real quickly, at the capitol with everything going on with the budget and ELL and all this business, are people still talking about this feud, this dust-up?

>>Paul Davenport:
Well, it's a sensitive issue among the Hispanic lawmakers because they're hearing complaints about American citizens being caught up in these things and having elements of racial profiling which the sheriff denies. So sure.

>>Ted Simons:
Okay. Let's move onto some more legislative business, the repeal of the state property tax vetoed, not really a surprise?

>>Matt Benson:
Not a surprise. It was expected. Basically a $250 million property tax which is scheduled to come back onto the state books in 2010. So the governor basically vetoed this saying this is no time to be taking revenue sources off the books. We can deal with this next year if we need. To but there's really no reason to do this. And at the same time she basically called lawmakers to task for essentially playing games and said, let's get to work on the budget instead.

>>Ted Simons:
Is this the kind of thing, though, that could wind up being put into other legislation? Is this dead?

>>Daniel Scarpinato:
We've heard it could end up on the ballot. And the democrats addressed that the other day. If you put what is essentially a tax cut on the ballot, how do you think people are going to vote? And they think people will understand that state is in tough times and reject a tax cut. At the same time, though, people are seeing their property taxes go up, assessed valuations of their home, food costs, gas costs, so if it ends up on the ballot it seems like it might be a tough obstacle for them.

>>Paul Davenport:
Yeah. And we already have several initiatives to cut property taxes possibly headed for the ballot as well. It doesn't usually help to have more than one initiative on a subject because that diffuses the support. But tax cuts, they're pretty popular.

>>Matt Benson:
And property taxes are among the probably the most unpopular of all taxes.

>>Ted Simons:
Her actions earlier in the week, did they factor in any way, shape or form into the fact that we had a budget later on in the week?

>>Matt Benson:
That's hard to say. I mean, certainly that play add role. I think a bigger role was her so vocally suggesting that lawmakers aren't doing anything on the budget. And I think a lot of what I was hearing is rank and file members were going to leadership and saying, "You've got a framework for a deal. Why are we getting kicked in the teeth over this? Let's get it out there. Let's vote '08 and get on with it and we can deal with '09 without this perception in the public that we're counsel here twiddling our thumbs all day.

>>Daniel Scarpinato:
And we knew almost from the beginning of the session the first time this came up where she stood. So I don't think it was really a shock.

>>Ted Simons:
Okay. Paul, ELL funding, no veto, no signature, no surprise?

>>Paul Davenport:
That's right. That's exactly what the governor did two years ago when the legislature passed the law revamping the state's English language learning programs to try to make that decade-long lawsuit go away, challenging the adequacy of those programs. This provides $40 million to school districts and charter schools. Those folks say that's not enough money. That's going to be argued in court. But meanwhile, the money to implement that law as seen by the legislature and the state department of education is moving forward.

>>Ted Simons:
So without the threat of fines, do you think the governor would have let this sit and become law?

>>Paul Davenport:
I don't know. Anybody have a guess on that?

>>Matt Benson:
Hard to say. The governor has expressed for quite some time that she wants to get this issue out of the courtroom and get it dealt with.

>>Paul Davenport:
But she's never put any serious money in her budget to deal with it.

>>Ted Simons:
And the question is, does this get it out of the courtroom? Is this something the courts are going to say, that's a great deal?

>>Paul Davenport:
Well, the appellate court has said the approach taken by the state seems like a winner. What's going to be argued is whether it's adequately funded.

>>Ted Simons:
Adequately funded or adequately distributed? Because I know there's some question as to why some of the districts with most English learners are getting --

>>Paul Davenport:
I don't think if you took the same amount of money and spread it out that's going to satisfy the school folks. They want more money for in essence everybody.

>>Ted Simons:
And we had the ninth circuit I guess coming back with the Horne's appeal saying no to the two-year limit, no to this planning of funds. So off to the US supreme court on this one?

>>Paul Davenport:
That's what horn wants to do. The legislature and those leaders have been focused on the budget and these other issues. They have some time and they'll get to that.

>>Ted Simons:
Something else happening in the legislature, anti-western lessons. Representative Russell Pearce is behind this one. Matt, what are we talking about here?

>>Matt Benson:
What are we talking about? That was the question, right? I get to decipher Russell Pearce's thinking here. There's a course in Tucson Unified School District dealing with ethnic studies. And there are complaints that this course is anti-American, it basically teaches revolution and sedition and all sorts of bad thing. Russell Pearce is saying no taxpayer dollars should go to courses that are "anti-American, anti-western civilization." now, it's up to who knows who to define what is anti-western.

>>Paul Davenport:
And there's also some restrictions on student groups or something like that.

>>Matt Benson:
Absolutely.

>>Ted Simons:
Ethnically at stake. This is down in Tucson, your neck of the wood here. What's this course all about, Dan?

>>Daniel Scarpinato:
The course is part of a bigger issue that's been going on for years where several things happened at Tucson High. Delores wert gave a speech, she said republicans hate Latinos. There's this class, you start to have a buildup of things and republicans are trying to figure out a way to address it. And what you end up having is this whole issue of free speech, of what constitutes American values, what kind of student groups are okay. What about, you know, a Jewish student group? That was what David Shapiro brought up, one of the lawmakers. And it becomes a really tricky issue, especially when you're seeing more and more kids politically involved on the high school level. You've got baby boomer people who are now teachers in the schools who were politically active when they were young. Politics is cool again. It's part of the what's happening in the classroom. And it's creating some real tensions. And I think that's really what this is about more than just the specific course. That's a bigger issue that's evolving in the schools.

>>Paul Davenport:
Now, one thing working against this proposal is what you call last-minute in the legislative session. It's coming out as a strike everything amendment in the appropriations committee. So it really wasn't fleshed out too much. Really isn't going to get much of a hearing in the sense of debate before it comes to a head.

>>Ted Simons:
Another idea that's getting I guess some debate, the altering of voter-approved initiatives. Paul, how far has this come along and how far can it go?

>>Paul Davenport:
That's a good yes. Right now it's limping forward to get it out. It's already passed the house and now it's in the senate. Poised to go to the full senate, but to get it out of the committee they had to water it down a little bit. Now, that could change still. So I'm not writing it off at this point. This proposal has been around for awhile. Versions of this proposal have never gotten out of the legislature before. But with the budget crisis that gives us some added impetus. The problem being as perceived by the sponsors that these mandates for spending passed by voters are hand-cuffing the legislature when push comes to shove to keep the budget balanced.

>>Ted Simons:
All right. 9/11 memorial. Matt, I want to touch on this very quickly. Sounds like the fence stays up?

>>Matt Benson:
The fence stays up, which basically indicates that citizens group which helped design the memorial is going to continue its own revisions. A legislative effort to overhaul the memorial failed this past week, ran out of votes in a committee. And it was really a surprise frankly to those of us who have been watching this and to even those involved in the process. So it will be interesting. The sponsor says he's not going to bring it back this year.

>>Ted Simons:
Does it end the controversy, though, or will this build and build?

>>Matt Benson:
Certainly doesn't end the controversy. We'll see what the citizens committee comes up with, if it makes people happy. I suspect it won't. But sometimes these controversies have a way of just sort of dying out.

>>Ted Simons:
Especially if something gets done with the memorial by way of the current process and people go, awe, that's good enough. Congressional races. Daniel, Chris Mays, just a little bit back here but still decides not to run for c.d. 1. What's going on here? How come no one wants to jump in that on the republican side?

>>Daniel Scarpinato:
It's a really tough district. You've got a democratic registration advantage. But it remains or has been, I should say, a swing district because you're talking about a rural democrats and a huge geographical area in c.d. 1. So you've got the combination of the democratic registration advantage, Rick Rienzi's indictment, the Dems out raising the republicans on the national level by something like 10 times as much money. They're going to be pouring all that money into these races. And republicans just don't have the money to back up a candidate. A lot of the people who have backed out have felt like they won't get the support they need from the national level in order to run a credible race. The other issue just briefly is that Ann Kirkpatrick on the democratic side got in this really early, has raised a lot of money. She's been campaigning the whole time. At this point for a new candidate to get in, they've got a lot of ground to make up.

>>Paul Davenport:
And we're talking about in the case of Chris Mays somebody whose have to give up a statewide elective office to do that. Kirkpatrick has already done that. Not statewide but she's left the legislature and presumably campaigning full-time.

>>Ted Simons:
Down in c.d. 8, I know fundraising numbers came in. What are they showing?

>>Daniel Scarpinato:
Things are heating up between Tim Bee and Gabrielle Gifford's. Tim was able to stay on pace with Gifford's, raising pretty much the same amount as her in the first quarter of the year. But once again she's been running for re-election since November 2006. Senator bee just got in at the beginning of this year. So he has a lot of ground to make up. He's probably not going to raise as much money as she has and is going to have to count on a republican voter registration advantage and free media.

>>Ted Simons:
And I understand Tim Bee also picked up the crucial endorsement of Christine Olsen, then I guess still wife of Lute Olsen? Did anything happen? Does that help him at all?

>>Daniel Scarpinato:
Well it goes to the whole issue of do endorsements help. But what he was trying to illustrate was that women are supportive of him. Christine Olsen has been a big republican activist in Pennsylvania for years. So it's not really a surprise. But maybe the bigger question is, what's Lute going to do? And maybe, who knows, maybe gabby has says support.

>>Ted Simons:
That's a tough one as far as endorsements are concerned. All right. I want to end this on a little bit of a lighter note. We have an NBA playoff series that is starting. There are some folks out there who are just on the edge if the Suns don't beat the Spurs. If it happens again we could see some folks jumping off of new condo towers here. Going to go around each person. I want a prediction. Suns-Spurs.

>>Paul Davenport:
Diamondbacks.

>>Ted Simons:
Go on. Give me one.

>>Paul Davenport:
Suns.

>>Ted Simons:
Suns. All right.

>>Matt Benson:
Yeah. I'd go with suns but let's see if we can keep them on the bench this playoffs. That's lesson number one.

>>Ted Simons:
Let's see if we can get the referees on the -- real quickly.

>>Daniel Scarpinato:
The Suns.

>>Ted Simons:
You think so? All right. I think the Suns, too, but if I have one bad call, I'm telling you, it's this chair will be occupied by somebody else because I'll be in a rubber room. Thanks all three of you for joining us.

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