Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 1, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Legislative Update

  |   Video
  • Jim Small from Arizona Capitol Times reports on the latest from the state capitol.
Guests:
  • Jim Small - Arizona Capitol Times
Category: Legislature   |   Keywords: legislature,

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. This week, state lawmakers were updated on the state's financial situation. And Democrats released their proposal for the 2010 state budget. Here to tell us more is Jim Small, a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Jim Small:
Thanks for having me, Ted.

Ted Simons:
All right -- state of the budget, latest numbers. What are they hearing? What's getting crunched down there?

Jim Small:
Well, let's go ahead and start with the state of the Arizona economy right now. Lawmakers were given an update by the finance advisory committee, which is a group of economists employed by both the legislature and outside firms who do work for them. And the news is not good. Arizona's economy is continuing to slip. Revenues are down. Tax collections are down big time. Sales tax, income tax, corporate taxes, all of them are down. There really isn't a whole lot of light at the end of the tunnel right now. Everyone is looking at where the bottom of the housing market will be. When that turns around, it's going to pick up the tax collections and it's a waiting game to see when that's going to be.

Ted Simons:
It sounds like the numbers aren't just falling but are accelerating as they fall, correct?

Jim Small:
I think the numbers did show that. Sales taxes were down a lot more than people expected, and these are down from the revised figures they made in January when they passed a budget fix. So things are significantly worse than was expected.

Ted Simons:
Reactions from lawmakers, what are you hearing down there?

Jim Small:
At this point, you grin and bear it. Hearing bad economic news is not anything new for lawmakers now. It's been over a year, well over a year, since revenues exceeded projections so at this point you're hunkering down and looking at the budget and what needs to be done and trying to make sure the state is in a better fiscal situation down the road.

Ted Simons:
I want to get to the Democrat’s budget plan in a second here, but before we do; with these numbers, with this information, and the governor coming out and saying a tax is needed, is that idea starting to permeate more through the House and Senate?

Jim Small:
We've been hearing more lawmakers who have been warming up to the idea. I talked to a couple of Republicans, even, who said these numbers are so bad and things are not getting better. We need to generate extra revenue. We're not going to be able to do this through cutting. We saw a Republican plan released last week that was $600 million short and that was all of the cuts and funds sweep that the Republican leaderships were comfortable with doing. That's not to say that rank and file supports all of them. There's a number of cuts, you can throw a dart at the book and hit a cut that some Republican has a problem with for one reason or the other. You're trying to get blood from a stone here and there's not a lot of fat left to cut.

Ted Simons:
Let's talk about the Democrats' plan. First of all, were there any surprises involved at all?

Jim Small:
Well, I think seeing how much tax revenue, new tax revenue they were looking to generate was a bit of a surprise. Up to this point, they'd been largely silent on the issue of taxes. They weren't in favor of a sales tax increase and said they wanted to do tax reform but didn't know what that was. All said, they’re looking at a billion dollars of new revenue, a lot of it through taxes, and either rolling back income tax cuts from a few years ago for the most wealthy Arizonans to adding a tax onto utilities for any energy generated using natural gas or coal or fossil fuel, adding a tenth of a cent tax onto that and trying to use that money to balance the budget.

Ted Simons:
So we had an increase in taxes, the idea was there. Suspending tax credits, that idea obviously there. Compare and contrast what the Democrats offered with what the Republicans offered last week and what we're hearing out of the governor's office.

Jim Small:
The Republican plan last week, totaled cuts and sweeps, was about $1.1 billion, $1.2 billion. They didn't have any tax component to it. And there was some minimal revenue generation, but it was basically cutting and federal stimulus. The Democrat plan was federal stimulus, a little bit of cutting, probably half of what the Republicans proposed and raising a significant amount of money through taxes. If you look at what Governor Brewer told lawmakers last month when she addressed a joint session of the legislature, she said she wanted a billion dollars in tax revenue, a billion dollars in cuts, and the rest of it taken care of with the stimulus package. Well, the billion dollars in tax revenue is certainly what the Democrats did, and the Democrats also, with their $440 million in cuts they were proposing, you add that to what was done in January, that $600 million, you're looking at a little more than a billion dollars there and some look at that and say, they seem to be a lot closer to what the governor is proposing than the Republicans and at the same time, the devil is in the details and there's no guarantee that the Republicans are going to vote for a number of tax things in the Democrats' plan, including suspending tax credits for private schools.

Ted Simons:
It’s interesting, just the idea that the governor would be closer to the Democrats' plan as opposed to the Republicans' plan. What does that do to the dynamic down there? Is the governor working better or more with Democrats these days?

Jim Small:
Well, that’s tough to say. She is definitely -- her staff is meeting with Democrat leaders on a weekly basis. They plan on meeting on a weekly basis from here on out. Republican legislative leaders are also meeting with Democrats in the House. They just started doing that this week and anticipate more meetings and getting people to the table and I think that's the -- the important thing here is now all of the people involved are meeting together and talk together and the Republicans are talking with the governor's office and the Democrats and everyone is going to have a chance to get their ideas out there. When you're trying to solve a situation like this, I don't think there's many at the capitol who would disagree that you need as many ideas as possible.

Ted Simons:
It was interesting, we had a hall of fame quarterback down at the capitol talking about cuts to newborn testing for diseases that could be treatable but need to be diagnosed early. That particular program on the chopping block. Is it a daily occurrence down there now where a group or someone of renown shows up and says don't do it?

Jim Small:
There's been a never-ending parade of advocacy groups saying these cuts, they're going to be devastating to X, Y, Z program for whatever reason and that's the world we have to live in down there at the capitol. They are talking about making serious cuts. They've already made serious cuts to a lot of programs and until the budget situation is resolved, that's in the cards from here on out.

Ted Simons:
Thanks Jim, we appreciate it.

Jim Small:
Thanks, Ted.

San Xavier del Bac Mission

  |   Video
  • A progress report on efforts to restore a well-known Arizona mission.


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
San Javier Mission was founded by father Eusebio Kino in 1692. It is the oldest European structure in Arizona. For the past 20 years, the mission, south of Tucson, has gone through a major restoration process. Sooyeon Lee has the latest on the restoration.

Sooyeon Lee:
One of southern Arizona's most historic landmarks is in full view again, following a multimillion dollar restoration project. The scaffolding on the west tower of the San Javier Mission is down for the first time in five years.

Vern Lamplot:
This was the most complex project of all. You can tell from the vaults that they're involved, but there's so much detail and crisp workmanship that had to go into this project that we hope everybody thinks was worth the wait.

Sooyeon Lee:
Vern Lamplot represents Patronato. It's a non-profit organization responsible for the preservation of the mission.

Vern Lamplot:
The crisis occurred in 1988 when a big chunk of plaster fell from the main vault and they realized water had infiltrated and wasn't going away. And it threatened the art and sculpture and the race was on to find the money and people to take care of the roof, first, and then find the right conservators to handle the restoration and preservation of the inside.

Sooyeon Lee:
The church dates back to the late 1700s when southern Arizona was part of new Spain. An earthquake in 1887 and lightning strike in 1939 damaged the church which led to the repairs but the materials used to replace the old Adobe brick caused more problems later.

Robert Vint:
The first layer of cement was put on in 1890 and it was called cement with Alabastine. And we haven’t found out what Alabastine is yet! It trapped moisture over time and we found that it's damp underneath even though it hasn't rained for months. Cement is the worst thing to put on this building.

Danny Morales:
We took the cement and original plaster and all of the mortar joints and replaced them on all of the domes.

Sooyeon Lee:
Danny Morales and his construction company has been working on it since 1989.

Danny Morales:
I’m actually the fourth generation. My son’s down there, he’s the fifth generation. It’s great. I love working here.

Sooyeon Lee:
Morales and his team have stripped off the destructive cement coating, replaced a low-fired Adobe brick underneath, and replaced a coating with a traditional and time-proven combination: lime, sand and a unique vegetative ingredient, prickly pear cacti.

Danny Morales:
The prickly itself, we use that in our mix. It replaces the cement in some ways. It helps to cure the lime out in the dry climate. It's an old method. Just lost and nobody uses it anymore. It's easier to buy a bag of cement but on adobe, it's not good to use.

Danny Morales:
Taking on this task, people don't realize what we had to do. Not only did we have to figure out the scaffolding and how to erect it and going up as high as we go. And then you get the tremendous winds that come through. Predominantly through the south. Dust devils and the monsoons. It was quite a task figuring out the details that people don't really notice that was involved in it. It was something. But now that it's done, it's nice.

Sooyeon Lee:
But the project architect says it's not over yet.

Robert Vint:
We've completed a major phase of the restoration, which is the west bell tower. But we still have the east bell tower which has not been touched. The west tower involved reconstructing the lantern, treating the dome, the balustrades at this upper level of the tower. The east tower lacks those things, so we think it will be less intensive. But because it doesn't have a roof, there's probably more deterioration to the brick.

Sooyeon Lee:
Lamplot says it will be tough to get funding to complete the restoration but he remains optimistic.

Vern Lamplot:
Probably been a little more than $5 million so far in 20 years. We have a state grant that's a matching grant that will cover a portion of the first phase, which will be the lower third of it. But we’re still in active fundraising and we hope that those who love the mission, Tucson's iconic building, will see its importance and continue to support us.

Sooyeon Lee:
A scaffolding for the east tower is scheduled to go up in about a month. So if you would like to take an unobstructed picture of this iconic building, the best opportunity is now.

Serve America Act

  |   Video
  • The leader of a local non-profit that connects volunteers with community service opportunities talks about the “Serve America Act," a major expansion of national community service programs recently approved by Congress, and how it will impact Arizona.
    www.AmeriCorps.org
    www.HandsOnPhoenix.org
    www.aMissionofMercy.org
Guests:
  • Rhonda Oliver - President and C.E.O., HandsOn Greater Phoenix


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Yesterday the U.S. house of representatives approved the "Edward Kennedy Serve America Act," sending the bill to the president, who has said he will sign it. The bill greatly expands national community service programs that get millions of people involved in efforts to improve their communities through volunteer service. More on the bill in a moment, but first, an example of how our declining economy is increasing the need for volunteers.

Catherine Amiot:
More and more people who have never sought reduced-cost or free medical services are now finding their way to our doors. I think it's the direct result of the economy, the loss of jobs.

David Majure:
Three days a week, Mission of Mercy takes its mobile medical clinic to different parts of the valley. On Wednesdays, it’s here at Shepherd of the Valley Church at 15th Avenue and Maryland.

Catherine Amiot:
We're stretched to the seams as far as being able to handle the increase in patient care.

Mission of Mercy Executive Director Catherine Amiot says patient visits at this location are up 41% compared to last year. And the clinic is simply not able to see every patient who shows up.

Catherine Amiot:
No, we're not. Last Wednesday I was here conducting a tour and before 9:00 we had turned away 32 people. For most of our patients, Mission of Mercy is their last hope. When we have to turn away patients, it's not just saying please come back next week. We're booked two months out. What we're saying we can't help and we're not sure where we can tell you to go.

David Majure:
A nonprofit organization, Mission of Mercy is funded entirely by private donations. It provides free primary medical care and prescriptions to people who are uninsured. Doctors and medical staff donate their time as do many other volunteers.

Catherine Amiot:
They're the heart and soul of mission of mercy. We could not be open for one minute of one day without our volunteers.

David Majure:
People like Ana Berlanga-Nabozny, a volunteer interpreter for the last five years.

Ana Berlanga-Nabozny:
I volunteer because I can.

David Majure:
She helps non-English speaking patients communicate with their caregivers. By doing so, she knows she’s helped save lives.

Ana Berlanga-Nabozny:
Many people may think they don't have much to give. Oh, but they do. They do. And the old cliché, you get so much back, you do get so much back. The best days for me and I think any volunteer will say the same, are the busiest days. If I can run or hop or skate from table to table, helping people, that's my best day.

David Majure:
It appears Ana has many good days ahead of her, because the Mission of Mercy clinic is busier than ever with no sign of slowing down.

Ted Simons:
Joining me to talk about the "Serve America Act" and how it will impact community service in Arizona is Rhonda Oliver. She's president and C.E.O. of HandsOn Greater Phoenix, a nonprofit organization that connects volunteers with other nonprofits where they're needed most. Good to have you on the program.

Rhonda Oliver:
Good to be here, thanks for having me.

Ted Simons:
What is the Serve America Act?

Rhonda Oliver:
It's really the biggest piece of service legislation that we've had since the Clinton administration, that established the AmeriCorps program but it came with bipartisan support that expands national service from its current 75,000 members to 250,000 service members. And they've established new corps within the realm of national service and so it's a pretty significant piece of legislation for the social service sector.

Ted Simons:
You talk about service members. These are volunteers, but they're paid volunteers, are compensated, correct?

Rhonda Oliver:
Well, we tend, those of us who operate in this sphere, tend not to call them volunteers. We call them members because we think it creates confusion around volunteers. Because that term means unpaid. And they receive a small living stipend. We make a distinction between the two.

Ted Simons:
In the community, how do you make a distinction between these folks and the neighbor who decides to volunteer at the hospital or library?

Rhonda Oliver:
I think it would be helpful to say what a member is. I think the easiest way to explain it, is that it's similar to the Peace Corps, in that these folks commit to a year of service. In most cases, it's full time. Not just dropping in on the weekend or a weekly or monthly basis. These people are committing to a year of service. But it's here locally, versus abroad like Peace Corps. We don't want to call them an employee. So they're not really a volunteer or an employee because they commit to a year of service, they serve as a greater resource to the organizations who use them.

Ted Simons:
In general, who are these people? What kind of experience do they bring and what kind of experience do they need?

Rhonda Oliver:
Well, it runs the gamut. You have to be 18 years of age to be a national service member. And there are many specialized corps, and there are some new ones developed in the legislation. But there are senior corps and corps that focus on recruiting boomers to serve. By and large, while it's a diverse group, a lot of them arecollege graduates or folks who have maybe two years or a few semesters and haven't decided what path they're taking and this seems like a great way to develop skills because they receive professional development while they serve, learn more about community needs, and receive that small living stipend.

Ted Simons:
And there are education stipends and a special deal going to retirees that sounds very interesting.

Rhonda Oliver:
It is. What's great about this legislation, they've expanded the educational award, and what used to be just under $4,800, that folks received, after a full year of service, they've expanded it to $5,300. That's if you do a full time term. But what's special about this legislation is for the seniors serving, there's a thousand dollar Ed award and they can transfer that Ed award to their child or grandchildren. Most of them don't have a need to use the award, but now that they have ability to pass it down, that's a great perk.

Ted Simons:
I believe the bill establishes September 11th as a special day in terms of service. Talk to us about that.

Rhonda Oliver:
So they're establishing it as a National day of service and how I see that happening is organizations like ours and all across the country and organizations involved in social service will organize around this day and it will be a real conduit for people to get involved and do something positive on a day that otherwise has a negative connotation. I think there will be a lot of rallying and you'll see a lot of organization around this day.

Ted Simons:
Can you talk about the impact to the economy? It's affecting everything. I would imagine the service community is getting hit in one way but finding opportunity in another.

Rhonda Oliver:
Yeah, there's a bit of a bright spot here with this legislation and what's going on with volunteerism. We've seen our rates at our organization go up 40% this quarter over the same quarter last year. People are 40% more interested in coming out to serve.

Ted Simons:
Why do you think that is?

Rhonda Oliver:
I think two things. Obama's call to service and the emphasis on service and the momentum around legislation like this and the high unemployment rate. People tell us they don't want to sit at home. They want to do something meaningful with this time. They want to give back.

Ted Simons:
HandsOn Greater Phoenix, your organization: what do you do?

Rhonda Oliver:
We're the hub in greater Phoenix for people who want to get involved. We have about 60 projects every month that are led by a trained project leader. We've got literacy programming, we’ve got AmeriCorps programming. We really see ourselves as the hub in this community to connect people to service.

Ted Simons:
And you’ve mentioned AmeriCorps a couple of times. For those who aren't familiar, what is that?

Rhonda Oliver:
AmeriCorps is the shorthand for national service. There are many different varieties of the AmeriCorps program. When you hear national service, it's synonymous with AmeriCorps.

Ted Simons:
So basically, Serve America act expands AmeriCorps and other service members or mostly AmeriCorps?

Rhonda Oliver:
AmeriCorps. Yes.

Ted Simons:
Okay, someone watching right now says, I would love to be a member of AmeriCorps. Maybe take advantage of the stipends or I just want to volunteer. Sometimes there's an intimidation factor as far as getting into that particular pool. What do they do? Where do they go?

Rhonda Oliver:
First, if you're interested in AmeriCorps, there's a national website where you can browse the different programs. And that's Americorps.org. If they want to learn about it, that's a great place to start. If you're a community volunteer in greater Phoenix, I would encourage people to visit our website, handsonphoenix.org. We try to break down the barriers. Don't require background checks. We've got 60 opportunities a month. Short term and long term and all sorts of issue areas. If you think about doing something with the homeless or animals or neighborhood revitalization -- whatever your issue is, we've got something for you.

Ted Simons:
Last question. Can there be a difficulty incorporating or just meshing between AmeriCorps, national service organizations and local community groups?

Rhonda Oliver:
No, I think what's exciting about this is what's going to happen with these -- the expansion of AmeriCorps, national service is going to bring more members to our valley and state. And what gets to happen, these folks have an opportunity to leverage community volunteers because they work in agencies for a period of time and they have the opportunity to build processes and infrastructure for more community members to get involved. So it's a win for volunteers, because there will be more opportunities, and it's a win for social service agencies because they have this additional resource and service members.

Ted Simons:
It's not necessarily a confusing influx of folks trying to figure out where things are.

Rhonda Oliver:
It will help create organization around that process and help people understand how to get involved in a better way.

Ted Simons:
The president has not signed this bill yet, correct?

Rhonda Oliver:
We're waiting for him to come back from over the pond so we anticipate his signature in short order.

Ted Simons:
Very good. Rhonda, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Rhonda Oliver:
Thank you.

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