Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 9, 2008

Host: Ted Simons

Legislative Update

  • Arizona Capitol Times reporter Jim Small joins us for a weekly update on legislative news.
  • Jim Small - Arizona Capitol Times
Category: Legislature

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Yesterday state lawmakers sent a bill to the Governor to permanently end a property tax that had been used for education. Today, they worked on a plan to provide funding for English learners. Here with his weekly legislative update is "Arizona Capitol Times" reporter, Jim Small.

Ted Simons:
Jim, thanks for joining us on Horizon.

Jim Small:
You're welcome.

Ted Simons:
Let's start with E.L.L. funding. Sound like we had a little fireworks today?

Jim Small:
Big happening from the E.L.L. funding issue. The idea is to settle a lawsuit that's been going on since 1992. We've talked about this before, about $40 million in funding was requested by the department of education to allow schools to implement new models and new ways of teaching English to students who don't speak English as their primary language. The house today, they heard the bill in committee. They added the $40 million in funding. They debated it on the floor and voted it on the floor. And it was really kind of an interesting debate. You had democrats on one side opposing it because they said it's too little funding, the models aren't practical. They don't work. School districts don't like the models. Teachers don't like the models. They brought up a whole host of objections to it. Republicans said, look, we need to pass this by April 15th. We've got $2 million in fines coming if we don't pass it by the middle of May, $5 million a day in fines. At a time when the state is facing $3 billion in deficit, really they said it's impractical to put ourselves in the position where we're going to get fined. Ultimately, democrats tried to amend the bill. They tried to move the funding around. They tried to remove the requirement that schools use these new English models. They were unsuccessful. What ended up happening when they put the bill up for a vote, democrats were hoping that enough republicans would be uncomfortable with the idea of kowtowing to a federal judge and giving up on the issue of state's rights versus federal rights. They were hoping some of these republicans would cross over and would vote against the proposal. And for awhile there it looked like it might have happened. You had about 25, 27 republicans who voted for it. The voting board just kind of sat there, didn't move at all. Democrats refused to vote. What ended up happening was the house republican leadership made a roll call vote which is permissible under the rules. They went name by name down the list of representatives who hadn't yet voted. Everyone ended up voting. And the measure passed pretty solidly.

Ted Simons:
I was going to say, that sounds rather unusual, that roll call vote for a situation like this.

Jim Small:
Yeah. It was. It's something that you don't see too often. The last time I remember seeing them do a roll call vote was actually because the electronics mall functioned on their voting board and representatives sitting out on the floor couldn't see the actual board so they went name by name to finish up voting that way. I don't remember in my time having seen a roll call vote to force people to vote because they were stalling.

Ted Simons:
So it's $40 million. Is this going to be enough to get the governor to go ahead?

Jim Small:
Well, I think that's going to be the important question. There's a lot of thinking within some of the republicans that I've spoken with that governor is most likely going to let this go. Either -- she may not sign it into law but she may let it go into law. Something she's allowed to go do. It can go into law without her signature and the funding can be appropriated. I would imagine if that happens the word I've gotten from some of the democrats that I've spoken, she likely views this as a first step toward solving the problem. I wouldn't be too surprised if there was some kind of a letter she issued or something she files with the court to say, we're going to let this go into effect, and we're going to let you decide on whether or not this is really adequate.

Ted Simons:
All right. Senate votes to prevent the return of the property tax. Surprised that a democrat, Ken Cheuvront, went to the other side and we had two republicans, Carolyn Allen and Tom O'Halleran switched over to the other side as well.

Jim Small:
I think the timing of Senator Cheuvront announcing he was going to support the republican effort to permanently repeal this property tax caught people off guard. Up until now the bill had been stalled because you have 17 republicans and two of them had said they weren't going to vote for the bill. And all the democrats were in line opposing the bill as well. And since you need 16 votes to get anything passed, it kind of left things at a log jam. And you couldn't really get the bill out of the senate. And on Monday, senator Cheuvront came out. He's a small business owner. Very pro-business voting record. Votes with republicans on a number of business issues. And he came out and said, "I'm going to go ahead and support this and make sure that we don't burden small businesses with this property tax."

Ted Simons:
Wasn't this also his way of saying if cities are going to give big companies and big corporations, shopping malls and these sorts of things all these tax breaks and incentives, then I guess a little guy ought to get something, too?

Jim Small:
There's been some talk around that that might be part of it. He was recently defeated at the legislature trying to get rid of what's called a government property excise lease tax which is where the cities can give sweetheart deals that he called them to big developers in order to build property downtown, a lot of the towers downtown.

Ted Simons:
Okay. Last one here, the effort to tinker with voter approved initiatives. Russell Pearce's efforts to do that. Where is that standing?

Jim Small:
Was heard in the senate committee yesterday. Senators talked about it, they found a number of problems with it. There are some issues they were very concerned with some of the ramifications and how it would be applied ultimately and what it would really mean to the legislature and to the voters intent when they passed certain measures. And so they held the bill and they're working on some amendments. And all indications are that it will come back in the next week or two and probably be amended. But we're going to have to wait and see exactly what those amendments do.

Ted Simons:
Greatly changed?

Jim Small:
I think it's talk it will be pretty significantly changed, at least in ways that for the time being Russell Pearce would consider significant.

Ted Simons:
Interesting. Hey, Jim, thanks for joining us.

Jim Small:
Thank you, Ted.

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