Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," the state legislative session is underway. The President Andy Biggs and house speaker Andy Tobin join us to discuss their respective legislative priorities. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon".
Narrator: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The Governor's State of the State address yesterday kicked off the new legislative session, and joining us tonight to talk about what we can expect from the legislature this go around are Senate President Andy Biggs and speaker of the house, Andy Tobin. Good to see you both.
Both: Happy New Year.
Ted Simons: State of the State yesterday, the one big surprise overall, your thoughts?
Andy Biggs: You know, I didn't think that it was too surprising or that there was too much shocking -- she stated her initiatives, and I think that, that, at least I suspected that we were going to get those initiatives, and she didn't put any price tags on them. She left them open, I think, for, for discussion and, and other than that, I was not too surprised by what she had to say.
Ted Simons: A little surprised at abolishing CPS, weren't you?
Andy Biggs: You know, I anticipate, anticipated that that's where she wants to go, that that's what she wants to do, at least -- I don't know abolishment, if that's the right word, but she wants to get it as a stand alone.
Ted Simons: Your thoughts on the speech?
Andy Tobin: We were here on Friday, and I actually said, at our program on Friday, with the Arizona chamber, that I thought the time had come to have that CPS separated out and, and going back, it looks like there is a history for that. So, I think that it's a great idea. And you know, I know that we want the OCWI report, and we are tackling those issues, but I think it's a great place to start.
Ted Simons: The fact that, and she mentioned abolishing as we know it, the fact that she did it by executive order, is that a concern?
Andy Tobin: You know what, it does not concern me. I mean, we all know that they need our help, and we have to fund these things, and we have to create, you know, these agencies, so, you know what, the answer is, is absolutely broken. And I think that she was trying to send a message that, that not on my watch. And I happen to agree with that. So, I think that, that generally, I would have liked to have seen a lot more, you know, advance on that, and maybe working together to see which way we were going. But, I was not disappointed to see an agency that's been in trouble like that go away.
Ted Simons: You mentioned the Chamber of Commerce event on Friday, and everyone on the panel, the legislative leadership, both sides of the aisle suggested we need to get the numbers and the facts and the figures before we do anything drastic. The fact that she did something by way of executive order, again, concern for you?
Andy Biggs: Well, if you were to look at it, I think that she kind of, of -- it was a big, a big statement, dramatic, but then I think the next few lines of her speech, basically, came back and said, hey, we need the legislature's support, and we'll need to do these things statutorily, and she is right. She's moved it out, and I don't know that you can, necessarily, do that, you about I think that she walked it back in the next paragraph, and, and that's ok. Because, because she needs us, and we're going to have to do something and, and I think once we get to the bottom of it, that may be the answer, may not be the answer, I don't know right now. But not surprise.
Andy Tobin: Put the exclamation point on it.
Ted Simons: Is she going to get legislative support on this?
Andy Tobin: Oh, yeah, our, our members are asking on a regular basis what's going on, and with Mr. Flanagan, more than once now, and, and told him, you know, our members are sitting there waiting for you to tell us what you need. Do you need anything today? That's how fast, they are anxious to get into it, and that does not mean just, just throw money at it, but what's the solution, and yeah, I think that there is a lot of support. Everyone knows that, that it's a message about the state, if you cannot take care of your kids, and, you know, and better start learning how to. So, I think that, that we have got our place right now.
Ted Simons: We're hearing some say, though, that if this just means, you know, and I think you actually used the analogy of shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, if we are moving things around but not making any serious substantive difference, what difference does it make?
Andy Biggs: Yeah, and that's, that's -- that's -- our members, when they come in from both parties, we talked with most of our, our bodies, and they are saying we want to, to fund, a fundamental change. We don't want to shuffle the surroundings. We don't want to come back in five years, if you go back 30 years or so, ugly see every five or six years, a major problem. And so, that's why I advocated for a nose-to-nose objective, independent review of the agency completely. So, if we need to change infrastructure, we can make the right change. We need to change the, the culture, we can make the right change. I just -- sometimes I wonder if we want to do something too quickly and we want to react too quickly, you have the, the propensity, or the, the, I should say, not the propensity but the opportunity to make a mistake where you are walking down a path, and, and as you get this independent feedback, you say, we have now embarked on a path that we did not really want to go, and you have to walk back. We need to make sure we're doing the right thing. The right thing for the kids and the families of the state, and that's really what we're all about.
Ted Simons: And as far as oversight is concerned, independent, or otherwise, obviously, there was supposed to be oversight, to begin with. And, and something didn't happen there. What finally did happen, you know, all you know what broke. Should it be independent or outsourced?
Andy Tobin: That's a great question, and the President's point, the members have now twice in less than a year, during the special session and at the end of the budget, thrown more money at it because, you know, because there was no other solutions that was laying before them, so you could see that they are ready, but that has a lot to do as to why now, they are like ok, we have gone down that road, and the next road is let's get it fixed. So, from, from that standpoint, of change, I think, it's time to do that.
Ted Simons: That's, that suggested more funding for, for anything involving CPS activities will be looked at, more than once --
Andy Tobin: Sure. And if that's what it going to take, if we have someone that comes in and says this is what it's going to take, we can have that conversation, but you asked about private funding, and there is, there is a computer system that is probably not worth the, you know, the table, is sits on, but, you know, there is some states out there that, that have, have, you know, agencies that, that are privatized that go and do some of that stuff, and maybe they can bring that along, and let's see where those are.
Ted Simons: Whether it's privatization or adding funding to the problem.
Andy Tobin: Or a mix of those.
Andy Biggs: Right.
Ted Simons: And what you want to call it, stand alone and, and is that, is that open for, for debate? Or do you think CPS, as it is right now, there is enough funding to go around and time to change the logistics and the dynamics.
Andy Biggs: Now, you know, all those are, are valid questions and, and including funding, but remember this, we had funded CPS with additional caseworkers, just, just less than a year ago and, and they had more money, last fiscal year, and this fiscal year than they have ever had before. And yet these problems manifested. I have talked with people within the system and, and you know, they don't want to be coming out, but their position has been, we're not sure it's about the money. We think it may be a cultural issue, and maybe it's infrastructure. That's what I'm talking about, let's get at that root. If it takes a bit more money, maybe it does. We'll find out, but let's make sure that what we're doing is, is going to be long lasting, sustainable and, and the best benefit for our, for our families and children in the State of Arizona.
Ted Simons: And education was mentioned, and the Governor's speech, student success funding is the term for it, the idea of linking school funding to student achievement, I thought that we had a, a touch of that, perhaps, addressed last year. What happened? Did that get lost in the session?
Andy Tobin: Well, I'm not so sure it got lost, I think the answer was we were trying to put money back in the K-, and we did and, and have now consistently been doing that anyway. So, I don't think that, that got lost in the shuffle. I think that, that we need to re, a refinement is what was coming, and everyone kind of agreed that, hey, you know, we need to get this right before we kind of move forward with a presentation. My view is that there is still some pieces missing from the equation. Talk about community colleges, and talk about joint technology, and programs. Those are still missing, and very important to the rural communities, especially, so, from my perspective, it's more than just, you know, the performance pay, which has great merit. It also has to do with some of the, you know, really job development stuff that we could be adding to.
Ted Simons: Does the performance pay have great merit as far as you’re concerned and this idea from the Governor viable?
Andy Biggs: Yeah, you know, it's, it's a great idea. And we always want to make sure that, that we are incentivizing our best to push themselves harder, those who are not, maybe the best to push themselves harder so, so we increase, so, positive incentives, and Florida has, has a similar -- we don't really know what the details of this program are so it's hard to say similar but we have an incentive program in Florida, and they have had bumps along the way, and they are trying to sort them out. We need to do the same. We need to make sure, and I think that that's what's happened. The last couple years, this has been a priority for the Governor. Two years ago, probably really wasn't ready for primetime. We had some things going on that kind of --
Andy Tobin: We had to get rid of AMES.
Andy Biggs: Yeah.
Andy Tobin: And there was the annual performance measurement.
Ted Simons: And other issues seemed to --
Andy Biggs: Right.
Andy Tobin: And a few others.
Andy Biggs: Right.
Andy Biggs: There is other things sucking the oxygen out a bit. But, where we are this year, is, is, you know, as I mentioned, in , we put back about 200 million, and we're going to do a total of $850, a bit more than that, million dollars from 14-17. And I'm not counting what we did in 13. That's a lot of money and, and so, the question is, is how much -- and she didn't really provide details. So we need to see what's the matrix and metrics that we are using, and what's also, are we talking all new money or reallocations of funding? How does this all fit into the picture?
Ted Simons: I was going to ask, if this idea, of the student success funding, there is so many terms flying around, if this does mean more funding, if it does mean you are going to have to throw more money in the kitty, is the legislature ready to do that?
Andy Tobin: Well, we have, we have to watch what 17 looks like. And I think that you probably heard, in my comments, before we had the joint session, you have to be concerned that, that you don't want to go down the road fixing things and find out you are starting to go back into where the state was years back, and then you have to start calling it back, I think that wastes a lot of those dollars of investment that we did. So, the answer is, you know, can we help provide a better workforce for our companies? And, and new companies that are coming here? I think that we have to try. And, and we're willing to put those investments there, and that's why I mentioned that. They should not be left out of the university, you know, picture. But, if, if we don't have money in and we're finding ourselves in the, bankrupt, did we do the right thing? I don't want to leave the legislature the way that we got left. So, we just have to be very, very, you know, watchful of those dollars. We passed a bill saying we need to look out three years. The best thing we have done.
Ted Simons: And back to education, I think I asked you this before, the chamber launch, but I want to ask you again, common core and whatever they are calling it these days. Those standards, your caucus, comfortable as yet with that or are there still real concerns? Enough to where, to where maybe, maybe it needs to be readdressed somehow?
Ted Simons: I don't know that, that, that people are saying it needs to be totally readdressed. I think that, I think what the issue is, people are looking at who is controlling those standards and, and how did they originate and, and in some ways that's tangential, but I think we want our best and highest standards that we can get, but they also want the local jurisdictions to be able to have quite a bit of say in it. And these didn't come from, from, like, I represent Gilbert, they did not come from Gilbert Unified, and they came from some innocuous consortium and, and the people who went to the top, money, to the Federal administration, they signed on the same way saying we'll accept this, and that's part of what the rub is, and you have people concerned about, about further nationalization of education.
Ted Simons: If that is the rub, further nationalization, it was not necessarily, in your case, Gilbert's idea?
Andy Biggs: Right.
Ted Simons: Anyone's idea, but, it still is a good idea. Does it matter where it came from?
Andy Tobin: Well, to me it matters where it comes from. I do live there, the small schools need to be part of the process. They need to feel like they are empowered and these are the children they are raising. Someone back east doesn't need to do it. And my biggest issue was making sure that we had AMES that was now off the table, and now we have to get standards, so that was a good part. The bad part is, is I don't think that this common core is where we need to go. We have -- we have testing. We have SATs for the high school years, and we have Iowa test that is we could use, and I don't think that we have to reinvent the wheel. I think that we have some of these tools that are right there for us, and I think that we can measure right off of them. So the common core argument was so poorly rolled out in my view, that it really didn't give the members a chance to say ok, what do we have to add to it?
Ted Simons: So with those standards now in place, and so many districts teaching them, are you hearing, are you getting feedback, that this is a problem?
Andy Tobin: Yes, from teachers, from parents, from, you know, from students have written it. They are saying that this is a problem. We're not going to be able to catch up. We don't know where the questions came from or whether the standards are going to be achieved but we want it here in Arizona.
Ted Simons: Is there a threat -- a threat that, that we could wind up down to AMES boulevard where it just keeps lowering the bar to where there is nothing left?
Andy Biggs: Well, you know, Ted, that was one of the problems with AMES, and one of the problems, whenever you have -- remember what AMES was. It is, basically, it's an assessment. And common core is a comprehensive program that's got, got a standard, that's got -- it implies curriculum, and has the assessment. And now, the problem that, that I see with it, is that, is that you have a number of assessments out there, as the speaker said, and acts, has done a comprehensive assessment, and park, and you have got the, the other one that they are working on and there is a series of these done, and they all imply a set of standards, and they all can be cross walked to each other, so, I think that it's possible to let, let, you know, some folks work on this, on the standards, if, if you know that, that there is -- let's say a menu of assessments, we can measure what the kids are doing, and we can determine how successful they are and, and we can see, actually, whether there is problems going on there. And I'm, obviously, with you that, that, that one of the problems is, is the validity of a test that you consistently lower the cut store on, goes away, and that's one of the problems that wed with it.
Ted Simons: And Arizona was involved in this early on. Arizona -- we talk about the consortium, and Arizona was, was part of that, too.
Andy Tobin: Right, it was a race to the top but Arizona was involved in the other stuff that we did, only a few years ago, and we said if you cannot read or write, you are not getting out of third grade. You need to pass a law. What does that say about the problems that we have? So, we also don't have tenure in high school or grade school education, on any of that any more so, it's not like we have not tried to move the bar and tried to clear the field, so we had folks who can concentrate on helping these kids. So, but, I agree with the press, I think that, you are going to see a lot of legislation that's going to come out with alternative idea.
Ted Simons: The state of the state, the, she wants the board of regents to guarantee stable and secure for your term in state tuition. Do you want to see that? Obviously, this is the board of regents' concern but, it deals with the legislature a lot because, because the universities are saying we're doing this because we're not getting what we're needing from the legislature, and I know that the board is coming with an ambitious plan, this session.
Andy Biggs: Yeah, and let's consider a couple things, because, your question is, is filled with a couple of, of areas that we probably need to cover and number one is, how are the universities funded and, and are they adequate? Well, they have more money now per year than ever and they just are. And one of the biggest sources is tuition, but they receive incredible amounts of money from grants. But, within the tuition that they do, if, if you pay the full freight, a portion of that, and I don't mean 10 percent, but a significant portion is going to be reallocate and had redistributed to somebody else's tuition to lower the rate there. And so, that's an interesting component, so they always say we don't have enough money. But, tuition stabilization, I think, before we run out and say that's the answer, I'm not sure how it's worked in other states, other states have that. And you know, I have read mixed reviews. I don't know enough about it to say, I'm all onboard and let's go for it. But, I certainly, for the sake of the students, and their families who were supporting them, and the depths they go into to get their tuition, let's find out because it may be a, a very viable response to, to what I see is a growing problem, and I think nationally, it is a major issue.
Ted Simons: It's also becoming a major issue as far as business in Arizona is concerned, and the idea of moving Arizona ahead in terms of the competitiveness. For everyone, from the chamber to -- they are all saying, we need folks at our better, that are better educated and qualified, and just, just smarter folks out there. And does that play into the idea of funding for post-secondary education?
Andy Tobin: It does, and part of the problem is, when, when the, you know, when our kids are graduating from high school, the colleges have to retrain them so they can read and do their math, we're not making this cheaper, not making it cheaper on the parents or the students, or on the university. So, the idea is, let's concentrate here, so we can make sure that they are ready to move on. And clearly, we need more engineers, we hear that all the time. And, and, and frankly, I think that Dr. Crow does a great job and, and, you know, sore Dr. Hagar, and they are all really working hard to make that happen. And at the same time, the students came to get let back, and the textbooks are another example, go to a community college, and I'm not pointing fingers but when you are spending as much there on television trying to catch a break and the same amount on, on books that these kids are not using, they call me all the time. And we have not opened the book. So, I think that, that we need textbook improvement because it's not just the tuition. It's, it's -- What is the cost of college for folks? What's the cost of college for those students on roller blades at Sonic trying to pay their way because they are not wealthy enough to afford it, and yet, they are not poor enough to get this piece. What about those?
Ted Simons: When we hear that this is, basically, what we're seeing, it's a cost shift because the state is not doing enough. They are doing something but not enough, as much as some folks would like to see. The shift goes back to the students and the parents.
Andy Biggs: Yeah , one thing that we know is happening, in Arizona, is, is, is our population has reached a point where now, we are seeing private universities come in, be successful, and Grand Canyon is a great success story. Expanding now out to east Mesa, and they have 8, 9,000 students on campus and another 40,000 online students. Mesa just brought in, I think, five or six additional universities to a center that they had down there. Gilbert just, just had another, another university come in. And the demand is there for quality education. It is competitive. And what's interesting about that is, Grand Canyon University, if you go out to their campus, their building just as much and as often as our, as ASU, and ASU, almost always a shifting with all the, all the construction that goes on. And they are competitive with tuition prices.
Ted Simons: Can you compare the Grand Canyon, though, considering that is behold unto shareholders as opposed to a nonprofit?
Andy Biggs: Yeah, I think you can. Isn't the objective still the same? The objective is to, is to --
Ted Simons: Some would argue it is with the shareholders to make a profit, as opposed to a nonprofit.
Andy Biggs: But they will make that by turning out a great product for students at a greater price. If they are too high, higher than ASU, ASU has easier standards to get in. No offense, but they do. Look, I went there, so --
Ted Simons: And I don't want to get too bogged down on that, on the nonprofit or for profit because there is a debate, that's a debate for another time and we only have you for a few more minutes. But I want to get to the budget. The Governor said Arizona's fiscal house is in order, the prosperity is secured for generations to come. You agree with that?
Andy Tobin: I think that, that we have come a long way from being on, in, near bankruptcy. We sat there at times and we were not sure that we had state payroll, and we talk about that across, around the state, and we, you know, and we had to make some tough choices. We are, we still have to make tough choices today. But we're trying to put dollars back where they can better help the economy and better help the workforce, but you have to be careful. That's why the President and I have had this conversation many times about, about that infrastructure. Prop 100 took money out of the cities and out of the counties. And, and we never fixed if the herf money -- fixed it to put the money back into the infrastructure that we desperately need. There are places that we need to make that spend, and some of those places that haven't been helped and need to, or the transportation dollars have to find its way back in. So, the answer is, is are we much better than we've been? You bet we are. We could have been a lot worse. We had to make some tough choices, and we took a lot of heat for doing so. But, we made a lot of right choices in the right direction. So, we're coming back. It's slow, and if the Feds would give us a break, I think that we could do better.
Ted Simons: And coming back is one thing, looking into the future and saying Arizona's prosperity is guaranteed for generations to come is another. Do you agree with that?
Andy Biggs: Let me couch it this way and hope you can get a flavor of what I think. We have nearly $900 million cash surplus, so we have a checkbook that says that we have $900 million. But if you look at what's going to happen in, this, in this fiscal year, we will spend $400 million more than we will bring in revenue. That's a structural imbalance. Cash balance, structural imbalance. So the $900 million, that's on baseline spending, gets eaten up for, for 15. We'll do the same thing about 300, I think $330 million. And so, all of a sudden, as you go ahead, and at the end of , you, actually, have eaten up all of that cash balance that you had, and that's what the baseline was, which was what I talked about when he add the money for K-12 and other areas. So you have the potential for a whole of $500 million in 17. Now, that's something that, that I think that you can adjust and, and, and deal with that. But, once you get above $500 million, you start feeling some pain again.
Ted Simons: Yeah.
Andy Biggs: And that's, that's our concern. As we discussed it.
Andy Tobin: We don't want to see us going back for places. We're in a race for jobs and economic improvement. That's why I want to mention the Feds, if they mess around with the EPA, and hurting our minds and energy sources, it creates problems with businesses wanting to expand and, and put capital out there. OSHA, and Obamacare, and I think that businesses are ready to come back, and I think that they are ready to make investments and say, let's get started, but the uncertainty is not about Arizona, it is about what's going on in Washington. I think we have a lot of problems left to solve, I'm not saying we don't, but we have come a long way from being, not sure that we have payroll, but the President is right, we have to make sure that, that those dollars are going to be well spent? A minute left. 30 seconds each. How is the caucus holding up?
Andy Tobin: Great.
Ted Simons: Getting along?
Andy Tobin: Getting along. I think you have a bunch of professionals, and they understand at the end of the day they have to push a button, it's green that says yes or red that says no, and if it's good for Arizona, they push it.
Ted Simons: No hard feelings?
Andy Tobin: No hard feelings. I get the drama that surrounds what last year was, but, you know, nobody is there now today to say, I'm not going to worry about what is good for Arizona going forward now. They are here today to work, and I don't see any issues with it now.
Ted Simons: How about your caucus?
Andy Biggs: You know, I won't say that there is no lingering effect, but what I will say is, I have met with everybody in our caucus, and they are all anxious to get to work. They all believe that, that, that if it's good policy, it's a yes, bad policy, it's a no, and doesn't matter who sponsors it. They are ready to work professionally.
Ted Simons: It's good to see you.
Andy Biggs: Thanks.
Andy Tobin: Thanks.
Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you very much for joining us. You have a great evening.