Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 13, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Legislative Update


  • Jim Small from the Arizona Capitol Times reports on the latest from the state capitol.
Guests:
  • Jim Small - Arizona Capitol Times
Category: Legislature

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
First here's an update on what went on today in the legislature, from Arizona Capitol Times reporter Jim Small. Jim, good to see you again, thanks for joining us.

Jim Small:
Thanks for having me, Ted.

Ted Simons:
What went on today at the legislature?

Jim Small:
$650 million fix to the current year budget. This is actually the second time this year that they've had to go back and fix this budget. At the very end of January I think last couple days of January in fact, they pass aid package to solve about a $1.6 billion hole and economy has continued to erode since then, state revenues are far below what they expected even after doing that fix when they revised everything. April numbers are expected to come in somewhere in the neighborhood of like I think three or $400 million below what they were looking at. So $150 million or so deficit estimate for the current year jumped up to about $600 million, 650 million. So today lawmakers passed a plan to plug that hole using a combination of stimulus funds, rolling over an accounting gimmick for university funding and taking excess cash balances from k-12 school districts.

Ted Simons:
We'll talk more about taking excess cash balances later on in the program. But I know this seems like it's the most controversial aspect of this fix. Spirited debate today?

Jim Small:
Yeah, in the appropriations committee today there was a lot of debate about it. And just about the effects of that, what it would mean for school districts, school districts would now, you know, technically what they're doing is rolling over the k-12 funding for the time being and requiring school districts to pay back $250 million of that by the October 15th, so, you know, in essence what they've already rolled over two education payments in previous budgets and now they're rolling over a third so you're put in a situation where, you know, you have about 75 days where school districts aren't getting funding and generally the way they accommodate that is to go out and issue warrants and they basically borrow, short term borrowing for it and there's a concern that some districts won't be able to borrow this amount of money for this long period of time, you know, without the state's intervention. So there was some mechanism in there that would let them go to their counties and let the counties give them money and back these warrants and stuff, but I think there's still a lot of concern about this issue and it passed. It's on its way to the governor and Governor Brewer has said she's going to sign it.

Ted Simons:
I was going to say the governor apparently and leadership got together, a bit of a surprise that they'd come to an agreement?

Jim Small:
Yeah, it certainly caught the press by surprise, and most members I talked to today were caught by surprise, even those on the appropriations committee who had the task of hearing testimony over this bill today, most of them didn't find out until yesterday afternoon at 4:00ish that they were even going to be able to do this and they didn't get the language to look over until late last night.

Ted Simons:
I know budget bills are passed out of the house panel earlier as well. Do you think that movement, I know a lot of folks called it either a trial balloon or a way to push things along, did that push things along to kind of get the governor out from the ninth floor and start talking?

Jim Small:
Well, it's hard to say, certainly once that budget came out, it was last week, you know, you had suddenly meetings started happening, I think the day after that budget came out for the next three days that week, there were meetings between governor brewer and senate president Bob burns and house speaker Kirk Adams and those were obviously in those meetings was when they discussed the components of this plan and the governor's desire to move forward on an '09 fix before she got to the 2010 budget. So, you know, I think whether those meetings would have happened independent of that house budget being passed, I'm not really sure, but certainly, you know, there were meetings afterwards and now we have this package of bills.

Ted Simons:
Regarding the package of bills and again the 2010 budget here, major concerns? What do you hear out there as far as what people -- rural lawmakers worrying about state health concerns and these sorts of things?

Jim Small:
That's a big issue for rural lawmakers is some healthcare cuts they feel could really decimate their community health centers and in a lot of parts of the state there aren't hospitals necessarily, but you just have these health facilities where residents can go and they might be 50, 60 miles from their home and if that shuts down that's the only real medical care the people in that region can get without driving, you know, either to Tucson or Phoenix or Flagstaff or one of the other bigger cities, and so that was one of the things that a number of rural lawmakers talked about in that appropriations committee last week, they said I'm going to vote, you know, I'll vote for it for now, but we need to nix this issue before we move forward because it's really not fair to people that live in my district.

Ted Simons:
Are there concrete concerns like those or is it more an ideological concern? I guess the question is what is most likely to be tinkered with once this thing starts getting tinkered with?

Jim Small:
That's the big question; everything's still waiting to see. Serge there were a number of items brought to the forefront during the committee hearing last week that where people, you know, kind of stuck a flag on something and said I want to talk about this later or I want to talk about that later and it happened on both sides, you know, people who were scared the cuts were too deep or going too far and other people who wanted to make deeper cuts or thought that things were some agencies were getting off a little bit lighter than others. So we're all still kind of waiting to see where these discussions are going to go and where they're going to take, you know this final product.

Ted Simons:
And the senate is looking I'm sure we had the senate president Burns was here last night along with speaker Adams with the developments moving forward, going to be a lot of pushing and shoving from the senate as far as what they're seeing coming out of the house?

Jim Small:
For the most part so far and you got the impression last night, they're trying to keep a civil face and move forward and work together on a lot of things and the reality is at a certain point in the process they have to diverge and go separate ways because you have different groups of lawmakers in each chamber, I think the general consensus is that the senate's a little bit more conservative, republicans are looking at making deeper cuts and want to do less of the gimmicks or borrowing and are less open to some of the tax issues that may be some people in the house would be more open to. So they may go apart initially for a little bit but eventually they're going to have to come back together because a budget has to get signed and they both have to agree on the same thing.

Ted Simons:
So whether you like the fix and the movement for the 2010 budget, however you feel about it, things are moving, things aren't moving.

Jim Small:
Things are moving, and we'll see how much more movement we have in the coming days and weeks. And I think to a large extent it will depend on how much of a proactive stance the governor takes on it.

Ted Simons:
Very good, Jim thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

Jim Small:
Thanks for having me.

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