Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

January 15, 2008


Host:

GOP State Legislature


  • Republican leadership of the Arizona legislature join us with their responses to Governor Napolitano's State of the State address. House speaker Jim Weiers and Senate majority leader Sen. Thayer Verschoor talk about their agenda for this legislative session.
Guests:
  • Thayer Verschoor - Senate majority leader
Category: Legislature

View Transcript

Ted Simons:
Yesterday marked the first working day of the 2008 legislative session with Governor Janet Napolitano's state of the state address. In its wake, some are wondering how several of her ideas and programs will be funded. How do republican legislative leaders respond? Find out 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." the metro light rail C.E.O. and staff said today that there are breaks along 11 miles of the light rail system under construction. Installation of the railing material is being halted in those areas until the problem is solved.

Ted Simons:
In December, doing track inspections, we discovered a break in one of our rails. Upon doing further investigations, we found that we had several breaks. These are perpendicular breaks in the girder rail that is part of our embedded track system. It is not unusual for a rail construction project to have rail breaks. A consultant has been hired to look into the problem. Light rail officials say this will not delay the scheduled open in December 2008.

Ted Simons:
The governor kicked off the second regular session of Arizona's 48th legislature yesterday saying the state of Arizona is strong and republican lawmakers support some of the governor's goals but also say they are not new ideas. Leadership also say they are looking for the details to some of the programs the governor outlined in her speech. We will get some of those specific points in a bit. First, what was the general response from those heading up the two legislative chambers? Joining me now senate majority leader Thayer Verschoor and house speaker Jim Weiers.

Ted Simons:
Thank you for joining us.

Jim Weiers:
Thank you very much.

Ted Simons:
The state of Arizona is strong says the governor.

Jim Weiers:
It is. The economy is soft. It is going to be a stronger state next year and the year after. We have bumps in the road in the economy and that is what we have to deal with.

Ted Simons:
Is the state of Arizona strong?

Thayer Verschoor:
Absolutely believe the state 0f Arizona is strong, a great state, great people, we will get through this. It will take tough decisions, hard choices.

Ted Simons:
The governor saying let's manage our way through, let's not look back. Let's move forward. Your response to what you heard?

Thayer Verschoor:
Well, I think part of my concern is that she got up there and gave a great speech and made a lot of promises that, you know, we're going to have to see the details on how you keep those promises. We're going to have to look at reality. I mean, we have an opportunity here to do some good things, to make government more efficient, and that's what we're going to be dealing with. We're going to be dealing with the reality here. We're not going to be making empty promises that are out there. We're going to have to face this thing down. We will be able to do that. We will all be able to work together and make those changes.

Ted Simons:
Speaker, was the governor just not seeing reality from what you say? It sounds like from what she is saying, we can manage our way through; let's not lose investments of the past for a crisis right now.

Jim Weiers:
The governor is being very optimistic and I think we are, too. As Thayer said, where a billion in the hole right now, the economy is soft, and you can't keep doing business as usual. You have to make choices. You have to --

Ted Simons:
Did the precession meetings, anything come of those things? Was it a positive step?

Jim Weiers:
Sure. Absolutely. Any time you can bring information to the table and enlighten the membership as to what's going on is always a positive thing.

Thayer Verschoor:
I think absolutely, you know. Part of what we wanted to do was show the gravity of the situation, how important it was. Today we had a great joint caucus where we had a couple of economists from the u of a come in who really did a good job laying out the gravity of the situation.

Ted Simons:
Let's get to the specifics now. Education was the first issue governor Napolitano talked about. Among other things, she said the aims test should be re-examined. Students should not be allowed to drop out of school at age 16. Here is what she said about that as well as tuition breaks and the English language learners issue.

Janet Napolitano:
An Arizona diploma should demonstrate prepared for higher education, community college or a university. We should make reasonable alternatives available for students who can't succeed in a regular classroom, and the drop out age should be raised to 18. [applause] let's agree, any eighth grader, staying out of trouble and maintains a least a B average will be guaranteed free tuition to all Arizona's community colleges or Universities. --

Janet Napolitano:
Before I leave this chapter on education, I will remind you of a critically important fact. 15\% of students come from families that do not speak English. These students must learn to read, write and speak in English as soon as possible. [applause] I put this challenge to legislative leadership. Take our tax dollars out of court and put them back in the classroom where they belong.

Ted Simons:
All right. Speaker, let's go to the last challenge first. Respond, please.

: Which one do you want me to respond to? The English language learners.

Jim Weiers:
The governor says take it out of the courts. The amount we spent on the court case, $150, 180,000 at most. There was an issue put on the ballot. The people said we want these kids to learn as quickly and efficiently as possible. That's what we're doing. Up to point, a broken system, we passed a piece of legislation that came in to develop the models, and following as close to what the initiative the people had spoken and we're willing to put the money in. We will not do the same old same old as done before. We have a problem. Let's come up with a money solution on how much it is going to cost, but we don't know what the solution is, we'll come up with how much and then we develop the solution around the amount of money. This time we're coming up with what the solution is and we will pay the price in order to make sure the solution works. The governor, I think was unfair in her comments when she was talking about taking it out of the courts. It is a drop in the bucket as compared to the amount of money that has been asked to go into a broken program where the kids have not received the benefit of the education system or the expectations of the citizenry.

Ted Simons:
Senator, governor unfair there?

Thayer Verschoor:
I think she is unfair there. First of all, the courts shouldn't be telling us how to appropriate money, and that's what they were trying to do and what they have been trying to do. I believe it was Mr. Hogan that took this to the courts originally. You know what, if he is willing to drop the case, hallelujah. Let's let him drop the case and let's get back on to business and let the legislature do their job and -- and the courts do their job.

Ted Simons:
Some of the other points the Governor pledges to make an 8th grader pledges to stay out of trouble, gets good grades, b, do you see this as a workable idea, the idea of free tuition? Again, I think this goes back to what I stated earlier. I have three kids starting college. You know what, give them free tuition, it makes it easier on me. Is that fair? Somebody is going to have to pay for that somewhere. I think we all want our kids to have better opportunities and better choices and chances. I think that we have to be careful that how we are stewards with the taxpayers dollars. Somebody is paying for that. That takes opportunities away from other people when we do stuff like that. It's easy to make those promises, but we have to look at the reality of what that means in the long run.

Ted Simons:
The idea of not raising tuition once a college student starts his academic career, do you like that idea, four years keeping it on the same level?

Jim Weiers: absolutely. I had a conversation with president Crow this afternoon. This is not a new idea. This was introduced a couple of years ago by senator dean martin, the treasurer of the state. That program actually exists. You can come back in the pilot program, how many people avail themselves of it, and he said none. It's on the books. The law exists where you literally can come in and contract for the price for the four years and nobody at this point has taken advantage of it. When you're talking about the contract for 2012, just roughly, kind of going through the numbers, minimum 500 to $600 million a year just to be able -- we're in a financial problem of trying to find a billion dollars that we're short, and that is the first year, the second year up to a billion, the year after that, a billion five, a billion six, by the fourth year a billion and raising per year with an additional program. We have tons and tons of programs out there right now -- programs for financial aid. Chandler has a nonprofit plan that they put in operating with the kids that give an average of a b and stay out of trouble that they can get their tuition, at no taxpayer's expense, done through nonprofit, participation of the private market, entities, companies invested within that community. There is lots of stuff already out there. We have seen in other states where the b happens to be the average, or that is the guideline as far as getting that. The pressure comes to bear back on the teachers. If they are not getting the b, and the parents come in and say they have to get the b because it is dependent on the tuition or not, and then the grades get skewed, the pressure applied back to the teachers to be sure they get those grades. That's not fair either.

Ted Simons:
Re-examining aims, good idea as far as you're concerned?

Thayer Verschoor:
I think that we have -- I think we've always looked at the aims to be sure that we are good stewards of the process there, that we're making sure that it does carry the proper weight, you know, and there has been concerns about softening the aims standards to make sure that we have politically allowable outcomes, and I think a lot of people have had concerns about that and concerns about the kind of money that we're spending on it, but I think there has been a strong voice of folks out there who want to make sure that we have standards that are being met and they are not being weakened.

Ted Simons:
Are we testing for the right things at the right time for the right reasons like the governor wants to make sure we're doing?

Jim Weiers:
Diploma should mean something; I want it to mean something. We have pushed to be sure the academic standards go as high as they can, ready for the work force, competitive. Talked about the alternatives, we have more alternatives in this state than any other state when it comes to education. If the governor wants to continue to expand on that, god bless her. We haven't seen a great resolve from her with the issues with the charter schools, with the

Thayer Verschoor:
The tax credits with the charter schools, private schools, tuition tax credits.

Jim Weiers:
There are so many opportunities out there. Arizona is a leader when it comes to opportunities. We get legislators from all over the United States, so they can model what we've already done.

Thayer Verschoor:
I think that's a good point. We're going to have to start looking at solutions outside the box that aren't just simply more government, bigger government, throwing more money. Making promises the government is going to take care of you from the time, you're born until the day you die. We can't afford to do that. We have to really look at things like choice. Use technology. Distance learning. Those things that we're going to have to look at and expand and work on.

Ted Simons:
Key to education funding is the state's budget estimated to be at a $1 billion shortfall. She began implementing the budget plan during the summer and asked the legislature to follow up.

Napolitano:
I began the first leg of that plan last July by instructing state agencies on where to cut their spending. I ask you to implement the other two legs of the plan to balance our budget this year. Past bills allowing us to finance the construction of new schools and use part of the rainy day savings account that we have built up precisely for this purpose. [applause]

Ted Simons:
All right. Speaker, obviously it seems as though from a distance, it sounds like bonding, school financing is going to be a knock down, drag out. Why is your side seeing this so differently from her side?

Jim Weiers:
I hate when people say sides. But there definitely are two ways to look at this. If you use a billion dollars as the shortfall and that's we're where at, $400 million as a bond, you're further in debt. You still have to pay it off. $700 million in our rainy day fund, which is a savings account. We have quite a few challenges coming up, we use the rainy day as a contingency against liabilities. If we spend all of it, we have nothing on the reserves. If you spend all of the rainy day fund, all of the bonding that will get us out of the present problem but puts us into another problem next year where we still have how much is it going to be in '09, 1.6, $1.8 billion short. By doing those things, it is a temporary relief as to what's going on now but it doesn't solve the problem. It pushes it off for one year, which in legislative time is one minute. As soon as you finish the current problem, you have to start with next year's budget?

Ted Simons:
Is it negotiable?

Thayer Verschoor:
I think people are looking at, you know, we need to probably examine how we are funding those schools, but I think to sit there and say that bonding is the solution, I think that is short sighted. Again, like I said, we need to look at all of the avenues that are out there that we can look at to make it more affordable for us to be able to do that. Bricks and mortars, there are alternatives to that. We need to be looking at those alternatives. We need to be expanding down that road. We can bond and, you know, that bonding is just going to add to it more debt, the debt service down the road will increase. We're paying already over $100 million in debt service. That's part of the problem. And to bond will further increase that burden. We will leave a legacy of debt for your children, between the interest and a lot of people have concerns about that. We have people that are concerned that you know what we have government doing things that it doesn't have a proper role of doing. That is what makes that an issue. There are things that we can do to ease that burden and make it more effective and efficient and we ought to look at those also.

Ted Simons:
Rainy day fund.

: When we have that rainy day we will work at it. We will look at that option and we will consider that.

Ted Simons:
All right. Issues related to the border were among the topics governor Napolitano addressed. She said the federal government has failed to control illegal immigration and the state has to deal with it. She asked the legislature to work on and improve the employer sanctions law

Janet Napolitano:
Arizona's employer sanctions law has taken effect and we will continue to implement it. [applause]

Janet Napolitano:
But on the day I signed it, I wrote to you and pointed out flaws that still need your attention. You can make these changes and yet keep the law's meaning, purpose, and strength. You should add to the law a definition of what constitutes a complaint so that law enforcement does not have to waste resources chasing down anonymous calls from malicious competitors or disgruntled employees. The law has to ensure that vital infrastructure like nursing homes, hospitals can continue to operate, and you should specify that the law cannot be used to discriminate.

Ted Simons:
Speaker, defining what constitutes a complaint, the idea that, you know, one company that -- the entire chain of the company is not penalized by one and making sure that it is not being used to discriminate, protecting hospitals and nursing homes. Reasonable ideas?

Jim Weiers:
The governor came out with a list of what she recommended when she signed it. The infrastructure was one of those items. It had nothing to do with the locations, nothing to do with the complaint process. These came out of the ad hoc committee that we held over the fall. They're all viable and they need to be looked at and I think they will be addressed. The problem is when you start taking something and putting in the definition as vital infrastructure, and then what you do is you say I pick the winners and losers. These people are protected from ever having to operate under the law, employer sanctions workplace enforcement. Everybody wants to get under that umbrella. What is vital? Everybody will come up with their reasoning why they would be vital and shouldn't the law apply across the board. There is a philosophical reason that some people have somewhat of a problem, starting to get down that road, it opens up a huge Pandora's box when you get into the complaint process. We have let the counties, there is 15 of them at this point, come up, and they can't really agree. I'm sure what you will see in legislation coming up this year, probably be the attorney general that will come up with the definition of what the complaint is and how that form works. We're willing and we should have the final process finished on the ad hoc with the recommendations that are coming out of the committee, and I'm really pleased. There is a lot of good things that have come and a lot of problems have been identified as the business community and a lot of people sitting there and solutions have been offered up. That's what is nice. One of the reasons this was passed by the legislature, not just because the people were asking for it, but also we don't like things to go to the ballot on the initiative just for the fact that if it does, it's final, and this thing was passed six, eight months ago, there was a cooling off period to take effect on January 1st. Even at this point, the doom and gloom has not taken place that so many people had predicted. Arizona still has sunny skies and the state is still whole. We haven't seen the mass exodus and businesses are not shutting down. It gives us the opportunity as we're talking right now to comment and change the legislation, and if we don't get it right then, come back and make tweaks to it. Once it is passed by the ballot it becomes impossible to change anything. I'm excited to show that we can make a good law better, be able to build on the premise that it is a lawful state and we truly believe in the rule of law and we want good businesses and we don't want people here operating illegally giving unfair balance when it comes to the competitiveness.

Thayer Verschoor:
I think the speaker pretty much hit it right. I mean, I agree with the governor. The feds have failed in this area, and as a result of that failure, we've had to step up. We will continue to step up. I believe this law is a good law. We will look at reasonable fixes. We will definitely not do anything that will get this bill, piece of legislation, and we do have the opportunity because we passed it legislatively to be able to fix problems where there are problems. Let's let it work and let's let it be implemented and I think things have kind of been over dramatized on how this will play out.

Ted Simons:
Transportation, a statewide plan to create new transportation corridors that serve growing areas.

Janet Napolitano:
This plan must include not just necessarily freeway construction, but also transit options, including a robust rail element, because we simply cannot out-freeway the problem. Imagine expanded freeways, local transit, plus a Tucson to phoenix rail line, and you will see how we need to write our transportation statutes. The Arizona transportation plan of the future envisions a state of 10 to 12 million people and a transportation infrastructure second to none. It will not be cheap. We are already lagging, and if we continue to wait, play catch up, as opposed to planning ahead, will only make the whole thing cost more. By this spring, the critical studies will be near enough to completion for you to act. I ask that you schedule hearings and prepare to refer to the ballot, either in 2008 or 2009, an Arizona transportation plan that provides the infrastructure we need for the decades to come.

Ted Simons:
Senator, ready for that kind of referendum?

Thayer Verschoor:
I don't know that we will be ready for it this year, but it is something that we have been working on for many years. Sooner is better than later, price of construction materials, labor, all of those things continue to rise, especially as we see other countries become industrialized. There are things we need to do. We need to work hard. We need to do what we can to make sure those corridors are planned out properly. You know, but we need to be careful that we don't, again, go overboard in what we're doing out there that we're basically putting together a plan that some kind of a Christmas tree that brings people all together. You had a segment on the light rail there. You know, that was thrown in because people wanted to get the freeways completed and so they knew that they -- that they could get that vote, so they threw this in as part of that. We need to be careful that we're not doing that. Things that are reasonable, responsible, within the proper role of the state and let those things that are better left for the local communities to do, rather than put that in with the statewide package. I think we can accomplish that.

Ted Simons:
30 seconds.

Jim Weiers:
Well, with the comment on light rail, not light rail, but just a rail, I hope the governor is suggesting hard rail, between phoenix and Tucson, brought up over 20 years ago by the governor. It is not new. Something that still deserves at this point the attention of the legislature to look at. The governor is right. You cannot --

Ted Simons:
All right. Thank you for joining me. It has been our pleasure.

Thayer Verschoor:
Thank you.

Ted Simons:
You can see a video of "Horizon", get transcripts and find out about upcoming topics at our web site. That address is azpbs.org/horizon.

: Arizona governor Napolitano outlined her agenda for the new legislative session. Hear what democratic leaders have to say about the governor's plan plus they will talk about their own legislative priorities for 2008. That's Wednesday evening at 7:00 on "Horizon".

: Friday capital reporters will be here, and all of the week's news. Thanks for joining us on this Tuesday evening. I'm Ted Simons, you have a great evening.

: If you have comments about "Horizon", please contact us at the addresses listed on your screen. Your name and comments may be used on a future edition of "Horizon".

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

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