Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 30, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable


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

View Transcript

Ted Simons:
It's Friday, May 30th, 2008. In the headlines this week the governor is losing patience with lawmakers over the state budget. President Bush visited the valley this week and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas made headlines. We'll discuss what he was asking the Arizona Supreme Court to do. That's next on "Horizon."

Announcer:
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Ted Simons:
Good evening. I'm Ted Simons and this is the "Journalists Roundtable". Joining me this evening Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, Matt Benson of the Arizona Republic and Mike Sunnucks of the Business Journal. Well, still no state budget and Mary Jo, there sounds like a lot of things happening here of late regarding the budget even though nothing's happening.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yeah actually there sort of been a hiatus on any budget talks after lawmakers did the fix for the current year budget, they sort of took a break and then they had a bunch of republicans only working on ideas on how to bridge the deficit gap for 2009. That stopped two weeks ago. And then today we get news late this afternoon the state's fiscal picture continues to look grim and grimmer and grimmest next week or next month. Their bottom line is that fiscal year 2009 the deficit is most likely $2.2 billion and up from the current estimate of 1.9 billion and saying things are looking dicey even for the current-year budget which was just fixed. If tax collections in June are not somewhat healthy, they may have to dip into a rainy day fund or do further cuts.

Ted Simons:
So the fix may need to be fixed?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It may. It will all depend on June. The governor's office doesn't share that kind of, well, for fiscal 2009 they don't share the same gloomy outlook that state budgeteers have. They say that this assumption that this revenue will grow 1.2 percent throughout this next fiscal year is unrealistic and pessimistic, but they didn't have a figure of their own.

Mike Sunnucks:
The numbers have been pessimistic all along and the legislature numbers has been more on the dot then the governor's numbers. The question is how are they going to fix the current thing? What are they going to do outyears, they are going to run out of short-term fixes and moving money around and they are going to have to face drastic things pretty soon.

Matt Benson:
This is basically ups the ante here in these negotiations between the republicans, the democrats, legislature and governor's office all of this stuff in together. The big question is what programs will get cut? How significant will these reductions going to be? Some of the Republicans, some key Republicans Speaker of the House Jim Wiers, they are talking about a billion dollars in cuts. And of course that is something that the governor's office is really pushing back on.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
But the immediate questions when are they really in these bi-partisan talks that just resumed yesterday when will they get down to talking about cuts? We've been told that all they've done so far in their inaugural meetings is talk about process and they didn't meet today.

Mike Sunnucks:
In the past, in the past few years they haven't come together on many cuts at all. They can't touch some things. The governor says no to others and Republicans have a difficult time keeping their caucus together to find big cuts.

Ted Simons:
I was going to ask, it seems like these meetings, we had now leadership meeting with the governor, we had G.O.P. leadership meeting with the democratic leadership and all of the meetings all of a sudden and it's all procedural. Are the lawmakers basically saying we can wait it out because of the numbers keep getting worst?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well I haven't heard anybody say that per se. But there is a school of thought that perhaps the worst it gets, the more your backs are up against the wall and you will have to make some of these cuts and things that Mike is talking about and the kind of things that lawmakers don't want to do but the worst it gets people's hands will be forced.

Matt Benson:
But from here on, there aren't going to be anymore revenue estimates from here on. This is the end of the month estimate at this time next month it's the end of the fiscal year. They'll be out of time. if that was their strategy, there's no reason to not move forward with negotiations and figure something out now.

Mike Sunnucks:
We don't even have a sense of where the lines in the sand are yet. We don't know how much bonding, you know, the governor really wants what she'll take in the end, what kind of cuts she'll take. We haven't seen from the Republicans what they really, really want to push forward in terms of cutting back spending.




Ted Simons:
In terms of a timetable now, the governor says don't back this up; don't put it against the wall. She's warning lawmakers not to do this. What happens when the fiscal year comes and either the budget isn't sent or what is sent the governor says I don't like it?

Matt Benson:
Well conceivably you can always end up with a government shutdown. If you get to the end of the year and there's no budget going into the next year. I don't believe that has ever happen or at least in recent memory. It's one of these things that's always hanging out there. I doubt we'll get to that point frankly. Usually the Legislature wants get a budget to the governor and give her enough time that she acts on it before they sign and die before they all go home for the session.

Mike Sunnucks:
She touts out the legislature is not doing its job line, pretty much every year and every governor does this. She only has to figure out what she wants. They have to cobble together the votes and we got the liberal republicans and hart right republicans and maybe a few democrats if you can get them to come along. It takes them a long time to cobble everything together and all she has to do is figure out what she wants.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And then all on the outside of this is the people, is the public. And as represented by the press, we don't know what they are doing in there. These are closed-door meetings and you try to learn what you can out of it but there's no kind of public discussion okay this is what's on the table. We're cut the D.E.S. budget by 50\% so there can be any kind of discussion about it. That adds to the frustration, you get s asking reporters asking other lobbyists what are you hearing and people from various interest groups and it's just a big cloud of confusion.

Mike Sunnucks:
Similar things happen in Congress. They sneak in stuff at the last second, you see cuts, you see things that gets protected and nobody really has time to read through and do due diligence when they do it the last second.

Ted Simons:
It seems as though you wrote this week, Mary Jo, otherwise a pretty short week at the Legislature. What else is going on down there?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Not a lot. I think things are getting a little more tense. There was quite a show down on in the Senate on Tuesday over the text messaging bill which we can talk about later on. But not a whole lot else. There's a whole raft of what we might consider big significant legislation that has not moved forward for any vote. So after a day and a half of, you know, work, both chambers decided to go home and after having Monday off as the holiday and the Senate got nothing done this week. The House moved out a couple of bills. But they are not real big things to make a profound difference in Arizonan's lives.
Ted Simons:
You refer to the texting band and that whole situation. A lot of machinations, I guess, were at play there. Talk about what happened and how that shows what's happening at the legislature right now.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well this all started with an amendment to an A.D.O.T. bill. Representative Steve Farley a democrat from Tucson got a state senator to offer an amendment that would ban texting while driving and attaches penalties to it. Up in opposition row Senator Ron Gould, and his point is, why are you going to ban texting? There's lots of other things that distract drivers while they're driving; you know such as putting on makeup, such as talking on cell phone, such as dialing on your cell phone and eating and the list goes on and on. He offered up a whole bunch of amendments clearly designed to derail this. The debate went on and on and the clock's running and state Senator Pamela Goreman wanted to offer an amendment but she was stopped and they said you need put that in writing. Well by the time they get this thing in writing which actually it turns out not a strict rule. You could do it by voice amendment. They didn't have the information in front of them on Monday. They took a break and said well we're going to go off and get the rule in written form. We'll either come back in half an hour or we'll come back at 6:00 p.m. Here it is about noon. What was happening is we had President Bush coming into town arriving for a fund-raiser for Senator McCain. So they went with longer recess. Democrats fumed and had to hang out at the capitol until, it was after 7:00 p.m. when they got back to work. Senate President Tim Bee who is just happens to be running for Congress and went off with Bush/McCain fundraiser and a couple of other Republicans law-makers as well. And that led to big delay and tempers and flared Monday night…Tuesday night.

Ted Simons:
We had Tim Bee on the program actually this week and I asked him about that and it sounds, his response and how he approached everything was, he sounds like he's getting tired of this business of late in the session amendments flying here and there. And he basically thought maybe things needed to cool down a bit. Is this the impression we're getting?

Matt Benson:
Well yeah, there's a cool down but largely because the Democrats are upset with the Republicans. Basically the Democrats they waited around all day, they came back as they were instructed to do and most of the Republicans weren't there. So it was sorta like a wasted day. it was kind of like the day that didn't happen. So you know, Bee's frustrated, the Democrats are frustrated and a lot of frustration is going around. It's that time of year. And frankly Senator Bee would like to be anywhere but the Capitol right now, he liked to be in southern Arizona walking neighborhoods, campaigning for congress, getting his house in order in that regard instead at a legislature debating endless amendments on text messaging bill.



Mary Jo Pitzl:
You know if they could get a budget deal, all that other stuff will go away. And that's something the Senate president and the other Legislative leaders can have a persuasive say in if they want to but it's difficult because they have to deal with all their members. But I will say, in terms of his frustration with amendments, yeah he's not only one. Senator Robert Blindue from Litchfield Park is like, whoa, don't drop these big, heavy amendments on us at the end, at the 11th hour and promises to be a no vote on a lot of them.

Ted Simons:
Alright let's move on to transit referendum. It sounds like Representative Russell Pearce has a better idea for transit.

Matt Benson:
Well it's certainly is a different idea. Basically this is referendum that would go on the ballot and compete with this citizen's initiative. So Russell Pearce's proposal is about half of the proposal. It's over 20 years instead of 30. It's a half cent sales tax increase instead of a full cent so you get less money but it's also more targeted. Russell Pearce is saying I want this proposal to go to roads and highways only instead of the citizen's initiative which would fund commuter rails, buses and roads and highways and whole bunch of stuff. So at the end of the day what does this mean? Well if it gets on the ballot, there's a very good chance there's going to be a lot of voters who would select this as suppose to the initiative. A lot of them may be confused by both and you may see both go down.

Mike Sunnucks:
Well the initiative is backed by governor and some of her business allies. it would be more extensive and including it would give money to environmental groups to go out and buy land for conservation and would set aside money for railroads and commuter rail and a lot of folks are on the right kind of questions the use of transit and transit funds and they want it to go toward highways. And Matt's right, it's a poison bill type thing. They do this is state trust land, they try to do this with the smoking ban. Put two things on there and confuse voters and maybe they vote against both.

Ted Simons:
How often does it succeed?

Mike Sunnucks:
it didn't work for the smoking ban. The comprehensive one, passed. The one for just the exempted bars that was pushed by the tobacco company RJR Reynolds, didn't. It worked with the state trust land one last time. The home builders ran one and defeated the one pushed by the environmentalist so if it's a complicated issue voters will vote no on stuff. And this could be complicated enough to muddy the waters.



Mary Jo Pitzl:
Oh in a way this continues what we saw earlier in the session when there wasn't an attempt by some the republican legislatures to take this initiative that was coming. The one Matt was talking about the full cent with a whole array of transit options and break it into separate questions on the ballot. They were not offering an alternative plan. But saying let's vote on roads alone, let's vote on rail alone, let's just vote on local streets alone. That one didn't get anywhere. This is another way to try to…

Mike Sunnucks:
they couldn't find consensus before on this. This is why the governor and business groups are taking it to the ballot and not through the legislature. They couldn't find consensus on this and I think Pearce will have a hard time finding consensus enough within the Legislature especially moderates and getting any Democrats to get on board with that to get it referred to that ballot.

Mary Jo Pitz:
But why do you think that? I mean, it is a smaller bite tax wise. And these isn't the best time, these aren't the best fiscal conditions.

Mike Sunnucks:
If they want to derail what the governor's doing, then they can do that. But I think if you are asking people what you think we should do policy wise, they are all over the place at legislature. And a lot of folks I don't know how many Republicans want to sign off saying yeah I support a tax increase.

Matt Benson:
I agree they have work cutout to get the votes and get it on the ballot. But this is instance if you are a Republican who doesn't like the larger citizens initiative and too expensive and want to vote against it anyway and you don't like the governor and this is kind of a way to poke her in the eye a little bit. Here's your chance. It's a two for one and I think that's going to appeal to a good number.

Mike Sunnucks:
But if I'm running against one of these incumbents and vote for this, I'm going to point out they wanted to raise taxes on the guys.

Ted Simons:
Matt pointed out in your story this week do we now look at Representative Pearce as a tax and spend liberal.

Matt Benson:
Who would have thunk it.

Ted Simons:
Yeah, he's not necessarily supporting his measure.

Matt Benson:
Well that's right. And he told me I'm not necessarily advocating for the tax increase. And if it's on the ballot, I may not vote for it.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
But, you know, voters won't know how he voted when it comes to the ballot. They will know how he votes on the floor of house if it comes up for vote. Do you send it out not voters for approval or not? That Russell Pearce vote will be quoted and hung around his neck by his opponent.

Mike Sunnucks:
Another thing with this, one of problems with the current budget mess is the fact there's so much voter approved initiatives, that we can't touch when the Legislature need to cut things. If we approve either of these, that's another pool of money that's there that can't be touched for 20 or 30 years.

Ted Simons:
Alright, let's move on. We referred to the president visiting the valley and senator president Tim bee among those in attendance. Mike, this was held at a private home originally the phoenix convention center, why the change?

Mike Sunnucks:
They were going to hold it at the convention center and public event. When the president has a public event, it's opened to the press. So on Friday, before Memorial Day, it came out it would be moved to Jack London's, a business man here in Phoenix house and it would be closed press. There a lot of speculation about why they did that. They were not selling as many tickets as maybe they could have. When Bush was here before they'd bring in 1,200 people to the Biltmore and now they ended up having about 600 at this event. There was a lot of anti-war protestors gearing up to be outside of the convention center. It was going to be opened to the press because it's a public venue and so you have more pictures for senator McCain and president up there for moveon.org and the Obama campaign and Keith Overman to put up on screen. And so they decided kind of at the last second to move it to private venue and I think they take a little bit of a hit for that because it's last second. You don't have a lot of pictures, public pictures of Bush and McCain.

Ted Simons:
But you still had a lot of money raised.

Matt Benson:
They did raise about 3.5 million according to reports. I think the interesting thing is it speaks to the new dynamic. In 2008 George Bush isn't much of a help to John McCain when it comes to campaigning. In 2006 we saw George Bush all over the place and likewise before that. The fact that he came out to Phoenix to campaign and help John McCain in a closed home no press, no pictures…no public pictures. That's interesting.

Mike Sunnucks:
In fairness, Democrats hold private fund-raisers too all the time. Nancy Pelosi was out here, had a private fundraiser. Bill Clinton had a private fundraiser out here. Michelle Obama was just in town, had a thing at the Wyndam Hotel, was closed. The problem was for the McCain campaign they promoted it as a public event, and was at a public venue and was open to the press then at the last second they moved it. If they would have done this all along at a private venue they wouldn't have taken a hit.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well yes, Michelle Obama was here the same day the president was here. She's not the candidate. President Bill Clinton has been here recently and he's not a candidate. I think there is a difference when it's a surrogate as oppose to the candidate, him or herself

Ted Simons:
Grand scheme of things, does it help or hurt McCain? Helps, as far as the money is concerned? But does it help him all that much? Or when you have Senator Obama, his quote was, McCain doesn't want to be seen with the president.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well yeah you wonder in Arizona where this probably got most play how much will it hurt McCain in his home state? I don't know how its…

Mike Sunnucks:
I think McCain needs to be as far away from the president as he possibly can. I think people just want change, I think that's why you're seeing the appeal of Obama versus Clinton. And McCain, he tries to play himself off as a maverick. But if you see status quo, it's going to hurt him. His best bet is he to grab independents and kind of moderates and associated with bush whose approval ratings are 30\% right now probably doesn't help that.

Ted Simons:
Similar question, Tim Bee does it help or hurt him all that much to be seen as being this anxious to be around the President especially considering his congressional district?

Matt Benson:
I doubt it hurts him that much. Frankly we tend to see it local level in Congressional, House elections. It tends to be about the local candidate, that individual candidate. As oppose to, they don't tend to get nationalized. Holding against Tim Bee that he appeared at a fundraiser with George Bush, I don't see that as a big issue.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think the republican's brand is down right now anyway. It doesn't help him to be standing there with Bush in a kind of moderate kind of leaning Democratic district that Gifford represents. I don't think it helps him, but the Republican brand is down so much you saw the losses in Mississippi.

Ted Simons:
Mike, the county attorney wants the Arizona Supreme Court to stop ethics investigations against himself and his office. What's this all about?

Mike Sunnucks:
The state bar oversees attorneys and state licenses them. The state Supreme Court has oversight over the state bar. The state bar is looking into Thomas and his office for the handling of a new times case and some of the criticism of the judges. Thomas says the bar association is skewed today left and bias towards him and that's why the investigations are going on. He wants the high court to kind of step in and rein those in.

Ted Simons:
He's going to the courts to ask the courts to protect him from the courts.

Mike Sunnucks:
Absolutely.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
To protect him from what he sees as a bias from the state bar association. Which as it plays out if the County Attorney complaint is upheld, it does raise the question of where would one go to file a complaint against an attorney if they felt that the complaining agency, the bar, is biased. Where else do you go?

Mike Sunnucks:
Well the state bar sanctioned one of Thomas' aids for criticizing the judge in the media. They say they are trying to muzzle, you know, the county attorney's office. He has to be licensed attorney to run for the county attorney and get the license through the state bar. He says the state bar is too tight with the judges, there are a lot of Democrats and attorney's circles and that's why they are going after him.

Ted Simons:
He gets headlines with this. But does he get satisfaction? Is something going to come out this and is it going to wine up having the bar back off?

Mike Sunnucks:
It was debatable what kind of sanctions they would go after him on, they might penalize him or slap-on-the-wrist type stuff. I don't know if its kind of dis-barring and stuff but it certainly appeals to his base, his conservative republican basis that look down on activist judges.

Ted Simons:
Matt, Senator Jake Flake rough weekend, or rough week last week, broke some ribs on the ranch, huh?



Matt Benson:
Yeah that was over Memorial Day weekend riding horseback with his family. He lives up in the White Mountains by Snowflake. Jake Flake, 72-year-old one of our last cowboy legislature here in Arizona gets bucks off his horse and breaks eight ribs and spends a couple of days in the hospital. I spoke to him, he's at home resting semi-comfortably and doing okay and hopes to be at the capitol here in the next week or so though we're hearing it may be longer than that.

Ted Simons:
He's larger than life kind of cowboy figure and talks about how he's a country boy all the time. But you're talking about 72-year-old man who broke eight ribs. How soon can he return from this?

Matt Benson:
Well that's a good question. With broken ribs, there is only so much you can do. They wrap it up and try to keep from juggling it.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Or breathing deeply.

Matt Benson:
As he told me, he got the soup knocked out of him. we hope to have Jake Flake back at the capitol offering similar sort of phrases .

Mike Sunnucks:
The republicans need all the votes they can get in the budget when taking on the governor. They have enough time cobbling up votes with everybody there and they might have to bring him off injured reserve.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And even though there's speculation that he might not be coming back, he has a couple of things hanging in the fire including this temporary worker plan which has yet to get a full airing in the senate. he's a sponsor on that. I think he'll want to be here and bring him on gurney.

Mike Sunnucks:
Well they're only working two days a week.

Ted Simons:
Before we go, Mary Jo, it sounds like on Monday a presentation is planned for the new state quarter.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yes, a drum roll or hook beat perhaps, but there is an unveiling at 10:00 a.m. state capitol new state quarter. This afternoon State Treasurer Dean Martin announced he would delivering a bunch of quarters in a stagecoach coming straight from Wells Fargo bank headquarters downtown to the state capitol.

Ted Simons:
Will the governor be receiving?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I know the governor will be at the ceremony. She is the one who help to strike the original coin up at the U.S. mint a few weeks ago. It's an event most of the press corp. won't want to miss. I also think there will be collectors there. They are offering you can buy a roll of these quarters for $10 and have freshly minted Arizona quarters. I think any child, any school child gets a free quarter.

Mike Sunnucks:
What is it 8 billion quarters that would solve the deficit? Is that right?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Do the math.

Ted Simons:
And are we respecting any costume activities? we're wondering?

Mat Benson:
We're wondering. You have a stagecoach and treasurer in chaps or duster or something. Otherwise I'll be disappointed.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
At least a cowboy hat. I don't know about the governor.

Ted Simons:
All right well we'll wait for Monday on that one, we'll see what we find out next week regarding the budget as well. Mary Jo, it sounds like things are happening even though they are not happening.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Hey, next week's only the first week of June. They have a June 30th deadline. As all of us at the table can appreciate there's nothing like a motivating power of deadline to get things done.

Ted Simons:
Our deadline is up. Thank you all so much. Next week "horizon" will be pre-empted for pledge week on KAET TV. Friday, we'll be back with another edition of the "Journalists Roundtable". That's next on "Now" on PBS. I'm Ted Simons. Thanks for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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