Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 8, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Legislative Update

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

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Closed-door budget meetings continue this week as Republican lawmakers seek support for a plan to balance the budget. Here with the latest 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:
What's the latest on the budget?

Jim Small:
Things are still happening but behind closed doors and conversations between leadership and lawmakers and, you know, leadership in the house and senate and I know people from the governor's office have been involved in varying degrees and you have a lot of people still trying to figure out how to solve this budget deficit that for all intents and purposes is in the neighborhood of $3.5 billion. Excuse me. You know, and so you've got a couple of plans been put out by the Republicans and Democrats in the past couple of weeks but neither address that problem. They only handle about $2.5 billion of the deficit and there's still a good 4, 5, $6 million that needs to be handled.

Ted Simons:
We hear about secret talks, are they happening and who is involved?

Jim Small:
I think whenever it comes down to budget time, there's talks held behind closed doors and arms twisting sessions and negotiation sessions and it's not clear what's happening and who is involved and to what degree things are being discussed and how serious things are getting. But we know that they're talking about, you know, everything that they can find to fill this hole in the budget. And, you know, that includes everything from some people are talking about the possible taxes, others are talking about, you know, how can we do this without taxes and can we sell off state property and come up with inventive ways to solve this?

Ted Simons:
You mentioned new and inventive ways. A taskforce has come out with a report that has raised eyebrows. The idea that you could raise taxes now without the two-thirds super-majority as long as it was revenue neutral over the long term?

Jim Small:
There was a constitutional amendment approved by voters that says the legislature cannot raise taxes without a two-thirds approval from each house, from each chamber of the house and senate. Well, that makes it almost impossible to do that, just politically; it's hard to get 40 votes in the house and 20 in the senate, especially on something as derisive as raising taxes. That constitutional provision isn't time specific and theoretically you can say we're going to raise taxes for four years and enact permanent tax cuts in five years, and over time, those things will end up being cumulative not just neutral but an actual tax cut in the long run. Whether it's actually legal is something that will be investigated and debated as we go forward.

Ted Simons:
Other aspects of the taskforce, a modified flat tax, but as far as a simple majority deal, what response are you hearing?

Jim Small:
I think for the most people are glad there are creative ideas coming out and bringing ideas to the table. And you know, when it comes to solving a problem like this, it's going to take a lot of heads and a lot of different ideas to come up with whatever the final solution is. So I think those people that are really engrossed in trying to solve the problem are looking to attract these kinds of ideas and are just glad to have people, you know, thinking outside the box, you know, to use a cliché but that's what they're looking for. Because inside the box is cutting and raising taxes and that doesn't seem it's going to be going anywhere.

Ted Simons:
I know there's a push to get the governor stimulus money regarding unemployment funds. What's the problem here? Something not going fast enough?

Jim Small:
There needs to be a couple of statutory changes to bring the laws into compliance with the federal stimulus package standards. One, you have to extend it; I think its 13 weeks. It needs to be 26 weeks and another section that basically a menu of options, you -- out of five things, you need to choose two different that you need to enact. Arizona has done one. It's going to require likely some legislative action to do this. You know, but the governor's office has said they're going to go ahead and it looks like try to get this unemployment insurance which will help Arizonans and in turn, probably be pumped right back into the economy.

Ted Simons:
I know there was concern in the long-term ramifications of this money. It's fine to get the federal stimulus money and do all of these things for the unemployment benefits but once it's gone, the state is still responsible for keeping it up. Is that still a concern?

Jim Small:
There was a thought for a while, you could pass something now to bring us into compliance and then when the money runs out, repeal the laws. It doesn't look like that's going to be what they can do now. Whatever they pass will be on the books and that's the concern among the Republicans and we've seen Republican governors in other states say I don't want to do this because he doesn’t want the state to be paying the multiple down the road.

Ted Simons:
We're going to have a summit, anything going to come out of that?

Jim Small:
I think that is another -- in what's been a long line of Governor Brewer going around the state and explaining the budget plan. The one she gave to the legislature back on March 4th and gone all around the valley and pitched it to citizens' groups and business groups and try to explain to people what it is we're facing. What problem it is that she's proposing and why that is the way she believes the state should go. And last week, it received an endorsement, from one of the east valley business groups and I think that's really the idea here, to try to get a lot of groups on board and get public support for the plan.

Ted Simons:
All right. Very good. Jim, as always, thanks for joining us.

Jim Small:
Thank you.

Maricopa County Troubles

  |   Video
  • Arizona's most populous county has had it's share of troubles recently, including infighting between the Board of Supervisors, the sheriff and the county attorney. County Manager David Smith talks about the county's troubles.
Guests:
  • David Smith - Maricopa County Manager


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
The Maricopa County board of supervisors and the county's top law enforcement officials haven't exactly been getting along. This week, county attorney Andrew Thomas expressed a desire to start mending fences by transferring a case involving supervisor Don Stapley to Yavapai County. Meanwhile, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was on "Horizon" last night. He said he is not pleased that the supervisors postponed transferring $1.6 million to his department.

Joe Arpaio:
The legislature gave me that money to go after the human smugglers.

Ted Simons:
You were not submitting the request for suggested cuts didn't help matters.

Joe Arpaio:
No, I want them to tell me what they're going to cut and then we'll negotiate.

Ted Simons:
Did it not make sense to just throw the 20% out there --?

Joe Arpaio:
No.

Ted Simons:
-- and then debate it from there?

Joe Arpaio:
No, that would destroy my organization; I would have to close jails and everything else. I want them to come to me and say we are cutting your budget a certain percentage and then we'll talk about it.

Ted Simons:
What happened between you and the board of supervisors? It seemed like you were getting along famously and now it's in the ditch.

Joe Arpaio:
I guess it's because I'm investigating certain people in the county and the board. Isn't that a shame to say we're not going to give you $1.6 million because we're investigating you? That's blackmail to me.

Ted Simons:
Joining me now is Maricopa County manager David Smith. Thank you for joining us. This $1.6 million for human smuggling. Where does this stand?

David Smith:
The board of supervisors voted to take a 30-day look at that particular grant for the purpose of making sure that the priorities with respect to enforcement of human smuggling, of drug sales and running across the border, kidnapping and so on were the priorities and we had accountability. We had reporting back to the board and the state that that's exactly where the money was going.

Ted Simons:
Ok. So the reason the money was postponed, the grant money was postponed was to take a closer look at it by way of your folks who have to funnel the money to the sheriff, correct?

David Smith:
Exactly, to get good accountability measures.

Ted Simons:
And yet lawmakers are saying that money was earmarked for specific purpose and needs to go to serve that purpose. How would you respond?

David Smith:
Exactly right, but we also want accountability for those lawmakers. We want to be able to go back to those lawmakers and say, yes, that's where the money was spent. It was not meant on a reality TV show or other things that give us all concern.

Ted Simons:
But if they're -- it sounds to me, especially Russell Pearce, who was with the sheriff at the press conference, it sounds like they're fine with the sheriff spending that money as he sees fit because the money is supposed to go to human smuggling.

David Smith:
He is one legislator out of 90. We want to please all 90.

Ted Simons:
Ok. Critics will say, though, what's going on here is a political power play between the county and the sheriff's office. I want to get more into the relationship between the county and the sheriff's office and the county and the attorney's office. In this instance, this is a way of saying hold your horses, we're in charge.

David Smith:
The board is always in charge with financial matters, budgetary matters. Except for RICO funds. And it's the board's duty and obligation to ensure the proper fiduciary spending of the money across a variety of programs and a couple of special districts and we take it seriously and they want a good result from every dollar spent. Anybody can say anything they want in a political context, so why the board is doing something. But we're in the middle of a budget process where -- with constrained revenues, everyone, including the sheriff, will be taking a double digit reduction, including my office, including the board members and everyone will join in order to maintain a balanced budget.

Ted Simons:
The sheriff's office says it's arrested at least a thousand people under the state employer sanctions law and lawmakers cite that, and they say he's earned this money. This should be as clear as can be that this money has been earned by the sheriff for doing what it's designed to do.

David Smith:
The numbers really need to be part of a more comprehensive discussion of the delivery of service. He's got a $288 million budget. His position so far to the supervisors has been he can't cult a thin dime out of that $288 million. So that's the kind of dialogue that we're having so far with this particular official.

Ted Simons:
I asked the sheriff last night why he didn't go ahead and throw the 20% suggested cuts out and debate them later on and he said, why bother? 20% is going to decimate this department and we can't afford to have that kind of loss in terms of law enforcement. How do you respond?

David Smith:
That's a mind set. That's somebody who has built up a very substantial budget over a period of years and you weren't creative enough of a manager to think about how to downsize and still deliver your mission. We will be offering specifics to him in his department of where he can cut, save money, and still protect the staffing and the jails and the road patrol, the services that people want and need for public safety will be in his budget and he can give up millions of dollars of unnecessary spending.

Ted Simons:
He also said instead of him suggesting where 20% should be cut you should go to him and tell him where you think things should be cut.

David Smith:
We will. So far he's just said, just give me a number and I'll distribute the cuts. That's not how we do business. Across every department, we talk about the cost of programs and results of programs, what is it that you can do to reorganize and combine and save money with technology, et cetera. That's the productive discussion he has avoided.

Ted Simons:
You're saying if the county says you need to cut X percent, he still has to ok what is cut with the county as opposed to having the jurisdiction and wherewithal to -- you told me to cut this, here's what I'm going to do. I thought it was under his control.

David Smith:
The budgetary process goes into a priority setting under the control of the board of supervisors. After he gets his budget every year and basically signed off, and agreed to his budget in previous years but now we're in a cut mode, he doesn't want to agree. But he does have lump sum authority to move that money around into different programs.

Ted Simons:
Last question on the sheriff's office appearance, he repeated he does not like being micromanaged. That's a valid concern, isn't it?

David Smith:
To the extent that we have a statutory obligation of the board of supervisors to set fiscal policy, they have the requirement to talk specifics. Not just to talk vague generalities about spending that -- does not make any sense. So if that is what he considers micromanaging, then I guess he's never liked the budget process that's existed since I've been county manager for 14 years. It's no different this year and now all of a sudden, it's micromanaging. It's no different.

Ted Simons:
Let's talk about the county attorney sending up cases up to Yavapai. Your thoughts on the Stapley case and the courthouse case.

David Smith:
I have a copy of the judge Donahue decision from the grand jury decision looking into the courthouse which was not a budgetary favorite of either the county attorney or the sheriff under the misguided notion if they didn't build the building --

Ted Simons:
Why is that misguided?

David Smith:
Because the money is in a secure capital account which means it can only be used for capital. It could be moved to other capital projects but cannot be made available for operating dollars. If it were, the state could come and take it. That's been part of the board's priority setting on the capital side of the budget, to treat it as it was a bond issue.

Ted Simons:
There's no way to float that money through to get us through the tough economic times?

David Smith:
What I'm saying is that it's being obligated to various contracts, to various relationships with banks for short-term borrowing so that you would have to violate those covenants to try and invade and get the money. Does that mean you couldn't get dollar one? Well, that's for a lot of the experts to figure out. But generally, the money is sequestered into a capital improvement account.

Ted Simons:
Going back to the case with Yavapai County.

David Smith:
The courthouse case was given the official decision on February 6, and now we're in early April. Where basically judge Donahue of the superior court says the county attorney secure the appointment of a special prosecutor if wishes to turn the prosecution of this case. He's known for five weeks he couldn't move and now he's a statesman to sending it to Yavapai County.

Ted Simons:
When he says this is not necessarily a victory for the board of supervisors, you could say --

David Smith:
It is incorrect. The judge ordered him to do this.

Ted Simons:
His actions, though, do they help at all to break this impasse? To mend fences way out on the back 40 somewhere?

David Smith:
Let me tell me you what's really the bottom line on this issue. I've got a list of 63 conflicts that the county attorney has had, which includes suing the board of supervisors three times and 63 times acting not in the interest of the board of supervisors as the board's lawyer. Now, Ted, if your lawyer had sued you three times and discovered -- you were discovered he had not acted in your own interest 63 times, would you want to continue to do business with him?

Ted Simons:
I understand where you're coming from but also hear what the county attorney says and he says that the law is clear that he prosecuted in Maricopa County and acts as the county's legal advisor. Does a law or two needs to be changed?

David Smith:
Well, where we need to start is simply the Arizona code of ethics for attorneys. What's really been going on here is a compromise over the care -- the county attorney's obligation to serve his client ethically, which means that you first of all, do not act not in the interests of that client unless the conflict of interest is cleared and that the client is told that there is a conflict of interest and we've discovered in many cases the board was never informed and never signed off on these conflict of interests so what he's tried to do in this courthouse matter is to investigate a -- investigate it criminally, after his counsel was on the project and signed off on every contract and agenda item for a period of a couple of years, and again, that's what the judge says, on the one hand, he's getting legal advice and then prosecuting on the same matter.

Ted Simons:
When the county attorney again says what you're talking about here in a variety of ways is how he sees it as quasi immunity for public officials.

David Smith:
That's a bizarre interpretation, ok? Any attorney knows that they're subject to the Arizona code of ethics that sanctioned by the Arizona Supreme Court and you cannot waive it or have a status that gets beyond it. I know that they actually said that before the judge that it doesn't apply to them because they're public lawyers. The judge corrected him very sternly when he said that. Think about this, Ted. Do you want to invest prosecutors with all of the power to convict and put people in jail who are not guided by any code of ethics?

Ted Simons:
I think what the county attorney's office would in turn say is would you want us not to fully investigate and prosecute public officials when we hear that -- and you know, who knows what evidence they have.

David Smith:
Right.

Ted Simons:
But obviously, something has sent them on their way to a couple of different avenues. Obviously, if not many more. Let's talk about courthouse and Stapley. They think they've got something.

David Smith:
Uh-huh.

Ted Simons:
Maybe they do, maybe they don't. What do they do?

David Smith:
What you do is ethically, you proceed and the way you do it is to make your choice. Either provide civil advice on the project and you ask another competent prosecutor, the state attorney general -- there's 16 other opportunities to ask someone to actually take over the prosecution, if that's your choice but reverse your roles, but you can't do both.

Ted Simons:
Is that a chilling effect on the concept of advising your clients?

David Smith:
He gets to choose what he wants to do. If he didn't want to participate, he doesn't have to participate in anything that he thinks the board is shady, they can't be trusted. Whatever. I mean, the statute says you can give advice or he can decline and ask someone else to do it.

Ted Simons:
Once he gives advice, he needs to realize it. If he finds funny business on something he's given advice to, hands off.

David Smith:
Not hands off, give it to other hands.

Ted Simons:
And then hands off. I tried to mention this with the sheriff. How much damage is being done? There are a lot of feuds. Between the sheriff and the county attorney's office and there's a lot of people not talking to each other. And a lot of subpoenas and investigations. How much damage, what are we going through here?

David Smith:
It's tragic in the sense that you and all of the other taxpayers of this community are paying for this. You're paying for both sides of legal representation as the conflicts play out. So even if the board wins, so-called, which I expect them to, whether it's the removal of the Stapley case, whether it's the quashing of the courthouse investigation, and we also have the issue of setting up our own litigation department and suing on that, none of this is helpful and the sad thing is the county attorney had the choice of avoiding this mess. He's the one that sued the board directly or indirectly four times. The board has never sued the county attorney. And so yeah, it would be nice to put an end to this and we're happy for creative solutions but you really opened up a trust issue with respect to these individuals. And I -- I'm not sure how that is -- am overcome.

Ted Simons:
I was going to say -- we've got 15 seconds left. Can it be overcome?

David Smith:
We will work with anyone who will work honestly, sincerely with us. That's always been our position. I came in when there was a financial crisis in 1994. We healed that and got on the same page for many years and now because we have this budget crisis, all of a sudden, things are falling apart. It's just not the way taxpayers and recipients of service should get their help from the county.

Ted Simons:
All right. We'll stop it there. Thanks for joining us on "Horizon." Coming up on "Horizon"

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