Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

January 30, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable


  • Local reporters review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Mary Jo Pitzl - Arizona Republic
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
It's Friday, January 30, 2009. In the headlines this week, state lawmakers met in a special session to deal with the state's budget crisis. There were protests at the state capitol this week over proposed cuts to higher education. And Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio proposed using the new light rail system to transport inmates. That's next on "Horizon."

Ted Simons:
Good evening. I'm Ted Simons and this is the Journalists' Roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Mary Jo Pitzl of "the Arizona Republic," Daniel Scarpinato of "the Arizona Daily Star," and Mike Sunnucks of "the Phoenix Business Journal." State lawmakers were called into a special session this week to find a solution to Arizona's budget crisis. Mary Jo, we're still waiting at this time of recording and probably will be. What's going on down there?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
There's a lot of small meetings happening and people shuttling between the house and senate and up to the governor's office. I saw a group of four freshmen Republican lawmakers being escorted up to the governor's office. I think that's a woodshed kind of moment but we'll have to find out. But the budget deal is fraying at the edges and I don't believe anyone agrees it's going to derail but they've been putting off a vote. The last I heard, they were going to start at the house side debating the bill at 7 tonight.

Ted Simons:
The idea of -- I know the Democrats are complaining that there's the -- the process is rushed, hurried. It's unnecessarily quick. Talk about that dynamic and the Republican response.

Daniel Scarpinato:
Well, they imposed a deadline where they wanted to get all of this done this month. The way they framed it apparently every 15 minutes the state is spending $300,000. So the longer they wait, the less money gets spent and there's less to cut and balance this thing. What's happening, the deadline is sneaking up. It's right now. And at the same time, you've got everybody is getting antsy about projects that they want that aren't in there or projects that got in there that they don't want and you have personality conflicts and some is substantive over issues but basically trapped in the building together and trying to work this out and you've got all of those dynamics working together.

Mike Sunnucks:
So many moving parts. Stuff being cut and somebody throws a hissy fit and they put it back in and cut a little more and a state that prides itself on open democracy, our budget process, this is not just this year, it's previous years, it's not open to folks. People don't know what's going on. There's a lot of misinformation out there. Things will be cut and burned and now they're doing it in January. But it's still closed and a lot of people aren't sure what's going on.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
They're doing it in January because they're trying to fix the budget they passed in June, because it has a $1.6 billion deficit and the Democrats were arguing, they said let's get this done. There was apparently some agreement to do about $300,000 or $400 million of cuts. When Governor Napolitano was in the seat, that fell apart. Well, now the democrats are saying, wait, what's the rush? Help is on the way. Federal stimulus money is being debated on Wednesday and the house passed a package that includes about a billion for Arizona and it still has to get through the senate. It's coming.

Mike Sunnucks:
They could have done this right after the election. Republicans didn't want to do it because Janet was still governor and Janet didn't want to because she was getting a new job. They wasted all of this time. We won't know the details until after it's done.

Daniel Scarpinato:
What I was going to say, the Republicans weren't concerned about spending the money every 15 minutes when they said we should have waited until Jan Brewer is governor. I haven't been here that long, but it looks like this is how things happen every year. Ultimately, there are a few people together in a room who decide what's going to work, what is going to get the votes. I understand the concern has been brought up about it not being transparent and part of that is because leadership made an issue about how it was going to be more transparent and maybe it will be on Monday when they get started on 2010. This is just the first part. That remains to be seen whether that will be more open.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
They keep saying it's not as transparent because we're in a time bind. Some of is not of the current leadership's making. Kirk Adams wasn't in charge, but people said they should have had a special session months ago.

Mike Sunnucks:
what happens is they try to put a plan together and then you have the interest groups, right or wrong, A.S.U., children's action and hospitals come out and say, they're going to cut x, y and z out of us and it muddles the picture.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Those are the people who are affected and its right to have interest groups talking.

Ted Simons:
Weren't these people described as whiners by Senator Pearce?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
He said he didn't want public hearings just for the purpose of letting people whine and a couple days later we got about 1700 university supporters who were shouting and doing sit-ins.

Ted Simons:
I want to ask you about those protests. How did they play into all of this? Did they make a difference? University spending seemed to leapfrog in front of our concerns regarding the budget. Talk about that dynamic.

Daniel Scarpinato:
It's hard to measure these things. I imagine what had the bigger impact, the fact that in the house, the speaker sat down with the university presidents behind the scenes and listened to their concerns and that may have more of an impact. The day of the protest, I talked to a lot of Republican members who said it's nice they came out, but we need to cut budget. There was a couple who said let's put a face on it. Compared to lots of protests that go on, these were young people, traveled from across the state and felt like it put a face on what they were doing in a way they hadn't seen yet.

Mike Sunnucks:
The current plan has less university cuts than what they were fearing. Who knows what they were going to propose and what's going to happen in the end. But in that sense, the Crow's letter and the protest, helped the universities overall.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I don't know. Because the university said we can do -- even before the budget plan came out, the university said we can do $100 million more. That's it. We're at our breaking point. So the house came out that said $121 million and so I agree with Daniel, it's hard to measure these things but they still came in about 41\% more --

Mike Sunnucks:
For the next budget, if the university guys have a deal, say, we'll take this hit now but protect us more in the next budget, that's when we're going to find out who are the winners and losers in the next budget.

Ted Simons:
They got money back from the stimulus bill passed and then sat on.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It started out with a billion dollars worth of projects to do maintenance and renovation. That hung up in a legislative committee over the fall. But they approved $133 million. They wanted $133 million in projects to be approved. They got about half. In this budget deal, it looks like they're going to get the other half. About $70 million. On building maintenance and renewal and not new projects and then there's a moratorium on the rest.

Ted Simons:
We know that President Crow at A.S.U. has taken to heart the protests and been a big voice. Down in Tucson, they're also making noises but the university can't run on these kinds of cuts.

Daniel Scarpinato:
Well, it can't run the way it was. And what they said yesterday is there's going to be probably about 600 positions eliminated. Part of that will be through attrition. Part through not filling positions. But there'll probably be about 200 hard cuts to jobs. They're going to have to look at consolidating and maybe eliminating departments. So the look of the university is certainly going to change. There's no question about that.

Ted Simons:
Where is Governor Brewer in all of this? As far as her inputs? She's already -- from the governor's office kind of adding to the discussion, I guess here of late?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yes, last night she sent down a list of items that she wants to make sure are spared from cuts. We're not putting things into the budget. The goal is to take things out if you want to protect things. And she put her stamp on the social welfare program, looking out for homeless and children and disabled and the mentally disabled and it's about $18 million worth of programs that she wants restored and gave the legislature a list saying here's where you can get it. Mostly out of environmental programs and one of the few people who came to the legislature and said don't cut but said protect this and here's a way to pay for it.

Ted Simons:
And folks into environmental funds can't be too pleased about that.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
No.

Daniel Scarpinato:
I mean, certainly not. But it's got to be tough to make the argument that the other programs aren't worthy either. I think maybe the interesting thing about this, aside from protecting the programs; it's our first glimpse into Governor Brewer, what she's about. You know, where her interests lie here. And so it's a clue into that more than we've seen so far.

Mike Sunnucks:
I would say she hasn't been public and forefront in this budget fight. She's been very quiet, I would say. Probably most Arizonans including the college kids haven't seen her out on the budget at all. Unless you're at the capitol, she hasn't been public. Whereas Napolitano would lay it on the line.

Ted Simons:
Have we seen a blueprint of 2010, hard or soft?

Daniel Scarpinato:
No, they're not going to release a budget like a Governor typically would. Understandable, given it takes months. I don't know, but they've said it takes month and she'll be releasing a blueprint, a framework. What that means, I don't know.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think you're seeing deference to the Republican leadership in the legislature. To carry the water, to put forward the plan and she'll come back with the tweaks. They told us between the time Janet got the D.H.S. job, that brewer's people were meeting with the agency and had been doing all of this. And I think you'll see the legislature put together the plan and she'll tweak it a bit.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
We'll see once we get through this round, '09 because does she want to let the legislature take the lead on this? Some of these things she wants to put back in are causing heartburn. That's why we haven't seen a vote yet.

Mike Sunnucks:
This might be good for her. Let Pearce and Burns play the bad cops, which they do very well this budget season. They cut and then she can come back and say, I want to protect this and this. And she looks like a stopgap.

Daniel Scarpinato:
Yeah, publicly she hasn't said much, but privately, we're assuming she wasn't telling leadership, I don't want those cuts to universities and k-12. I mean, part of what's been reflected may be part of things going on behind the scenes.

Mike Sunnucks:
More Machiavellian.

Daniel Scarpinato:
I don't know if I'd put it that way, but we don't know what conversations have been going on, certainly the communication is much more between Napolitano and the republican leadership.

Ted Simons:
Let's talk about Brewer and Democrats. What are Democrats doing down there? I understood some of the amendments tried to go through.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
As the appropriations committees met, they all had them voted down on party lines and I'm told they have about 10 or 11 in each chamber when they get to debating the entire bill.

Ted Simons:
Didn't one of the amendments include things like using house surplus money for domestic violence shelters?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The house of representatives has about $7 million in a surplus fund they haven't spent and did spend some to buy new computers and carpets and we've got our computers and carpet, let's use this to do good in the world and she was voted down.

Mike Sunnucks:
We've got the Superbowl and the Obama surplus that a lot of folks don't know what's going on. We don't have a lot of details, so some of these maneuvers, no one is paying attention. After they get the deals done, that's when we're going to see the rubber meet the road.

Ted Simons:
Last question on the budget matters. This is for the 2009 fix. We haven't even started with 2010. Is there going to be a wait and see regarding stimulus package money or the minute these things are signed off, here comes 2010 and Katie bar the door?

Daniel Scarpinato:
I don't know. I think that maybe what we're seeing today and yesterday of a little bit of heartburn over some of these cuts might portend a bigger -- portend where some legislators are realizing this isn't as easy as we thought. All of these groups are coming and telling us and now you have to cut twice as much. Some of the cuts are built in, but you still have to do deep cuts and there might be more of a resistance, or at least an interest in waiting and seeing how things play out before some deep cuts are made.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The budget chairman said they're going to start to work on the next year's budget on Monday. But it's not going to be done in two weeks. They're not under that kind of deadline. And President Burns said this will be a slower process. If the congress sticks to the schedule, they're expected to vote in mid-February. That will be a done deal before they get anywhere down the road on the Arizona budget for 2010.

Mike Sunnucks:
It's interesting to see how much the Republicans who run the show down there deviate from the Republican dogma. Do they go for the bonding that they proposed before? Do they do the gimmicks or look at sales taxes, which is a big pot of money. They -- it's interesting to see how much stomach they have for the tough cuts.

Ted Simons:
Is there any talk at all from anyone out loud or in hushed tones regarding a tax increase?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Oh, Democrats. Not so much the democrats but a lot of people in the education community. Fred Boyce from the board of regents says he knows a lot of people who would support that.

Ted Simons:
Is there a lawmaker who would put their name to it?

Daniel Scarpinato:
No, and, in fact, I would say that the democrats have not really said that, and, in fact, Representative Sinema says it's questionable we would get revenue in quick enough.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think there are people behind the scenes, even republicans, looking at sales tax and delaying the property. I think there's folks looking at it. Would they have the fortitude to propose it in the state is slimmer?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
We may see things jimmied up for the ballot, but that most likely wouldn't be until 2010 and that goes to the point of not being able to raise the revenue.

Ted Simons:
Let's leave the capitol and hop on board the light rail and sit beside a prisoner. If Sheriff Arpaio that Light Rail is..?

Mike Sunnucks:
Yeah we'll Joe; I guess he hadn't gotten on television in a while. So, he grabbed a couple of prisoners, people they picked up at Sky Harbor and transported them on the good old Light Rail. I don't think big cities transport too many people on their subway systems but it's over a spat that Joe perceived with the airport that they want to park their pickup people when they get off the plane. I guess the person was going to be held on fraud charges and they had to park at the airport police lot. So Joe transported the prisoner on the light rail with us media in tow. We followed him around like the lap-dogs we are.

Ted Simons:
Did he have a point -- if you try to save money, he says, they're not letting him park at the airport without paying parking fees. They say law enforcement agencies have always been able to.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Like the memo got lost. The sheriff's office said they had no idea. Perhaps if they had done more research. I don't know how Sky Harbor would know that they're paying $25 a pop for parking. I hope they know I'm not doing that when I go to the airport. The city is saying, why don't you make a phone call, drop an email?

Ted Simons:
Yeah.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
As a transit user, there's a bus line that runs from the airport through downtown and I wonder why they didn'tů

Mike Sunnucks:
But you're not going to get as many reporters on the bus line as light rail.

Daniel Scarpinato:
As somebody who uses the light rail often, I want to know if the officers and prisoners and all of the members of the press paid for their ticket.

Ted Simons:
We're going to blow the lid off that story.

Mike Sunnucks:
Everybody is a winner. Joe got another 15 minutes.

Ted Simons:
And he said this issue may not be over. [Laughter]

Mike Sunnucks:
Another slow news week for him.

Ted Simons:
Magellan County Psychiatric Clinic gets bad reviews. Involves the incident of the man who -- suspected -- killed two young men. What do we know about that?

Mike Sunnucks:
It's the company that provides -- has the contract -- the state contract for Maricopa County for mental health services. Value options used to have it. They lost it. They had problems too. The Wal-Mart shooter out in Glendale and Peoria. They didn't oversee him properly. And Magellan took it over. The police were called to his house in Phoenix and per their procedure, called out for the Magellan folks to look at him and he beat those kids to death with a baseball bat right before Christmas. It was a horrible case. And D.H.S. is reviewing and the legislature is going to call hearings on this thing. It's a C.P.S. type case. This is a contractor, overworked, a lot of stressful cases and they may have dropped the ball on this one, and so Magellan had issues too and it's something that the legislature may look at the contract at some point.

Ted Simons:
It sounds like the contract may be dicey now. Considering wasn't it a 1.3 million three-year deal?

Mike Sunnucks:
Oh yeah. And it's a tough work, very tough work. And it comes with a lot of scrutiny when a case like this happens and whether the guy should have been committed or something.

Ted Simons:
Last point here, how do they feel down in Tucson about the Arizona Cardinals?

Daniel Scarpinato:
Funny you ask. I don't know that there's really much of a connection there. I'm from Tucson and I always thought of them as the Phoenix Cardinals or actually up to recently, I don't think anyone thought of them much at all. I don't think there's much of a fan base.

Ted Simons:
Not a lot of hoopla.

Daniel Scarpinato:
I'm going to go for the Steelers.

Ted Simons:
So you're going to go for the Steelers? Oh, my -- the last guy went for the Eagles. Didn't work out all that well. Mary Jo, as far as you see happening? Next week, we'll talk about the boring stuff. Who is going to win the game?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The Cinderella team.

Ted Simons:
You think so?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I hope so.

Ted Simons:
You picked them against the Eagles.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I did, and I was correct on that. But I'm not giving points.

Ted Simons:
You're not giving points this time?

Mike Sunnucks:
I got my jersey. I'm on the bandwagon. The Cardinals will win and Adrian Wilson will be the M.V.P.

Ted Simons:
A safety will be M.V.P.? A defensive player will be M.V.P.?

Mike Sunnucks:
I think that's the way they are going to win. Some differences of turnovers and we'll talk slower for the Pittsburgh Steelers fans.

Ted Simons:
Woah, okay! I rarely toot my own horn on this program, because to me, it's unseemly. I picked the Cardinals to beat Eagles by eight points on this program.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And what was that score?

Ted Simons:
And they won by seven.

Daniel Scarpinato:
Okay so pick your score.

Mike Sunnucks:
Your lock of the year.

Ted Simons:
My stone cold lock of the year. I see the Cardinals winning and see it between four and six points. I'm not going to say five. Just between four and six.

Mike Sunnucks:
We're some good homers here we know how to pick them.

Ted Simons:
Isn't it interesting, everything we talked about -- and you know tomorrow on the front pages of the papers, it's going to be Cardinals all over the place, as opposed to budgets and as opposed to whatever psychic warfare is going on at the capitol. It's Cardinals, Cardinals, and more Cardinals.

Mike Sunnucks:
It's good to have an NFL team to root for. It helps our spirit in this economic downturn.

Daniel Scarpinato:
Maybe I'll lighten up.

Ted Simons:
If the Steelers win, it's been nice having you on the show.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The politicians making all of those silly, little wagers.

Ted Simons:
Yes including one that says, what that if the Steelers win.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
If the Steelers win, a Steelers' Fan gets to stay in Arizona, and if the Cardinals when thenů

Ted Simons:
An Arizona fan gets to stay at a four star resort in Pittsburgh. Oh boy. All right. Thanks, guys. Coming up on "Horizon," we'll have more on the budget fix. Plus, an interview with Leonard Downie Jr., the former executive editor of "the Washington Post," Monday at 7:00 on "Horizon." Tuesday, get the latest tax tips. Wednesday, a legislative update. Thursday, learn about Arizona's method to select judges. Friday, another edition of the journalists' roundtable. That is it for now. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm Ted Simons and you have a great weekend and go Cardinals!

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