Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 13, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Legislative Update

  |   Video
  • 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.

NRA Convention

  |   Video
  • With a new administration in the White House, gun owners are concerned about their rights. That is sure to be an issue as the National Rifle Association holds its annual convention in Phoenix this year. Hear more from an NRA representative.
Guests:
  • Rachel Parsons - Spokesperson, National Rifle Association


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
The National Rifle Association's annual meeting takes place Friday through Sunday at the Phoenix Convention Center. It's a huge event expected to draw more than 50,000 people. Here to talk about the meeting and gun issues in general is Rachel Parsons, spokesperson for the National Rifle Association. Good to have you on the show, thanks for joining us.

Rachel Parsons:
Hi, there. Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons:
What is the goal of the convention? What do you want to do?

Rachel Parsons:
By our bylaws every year we have to have an annual meeting of members. We do all kinds of voting on the board of directors and things like that. But basically we are here in Phoenix to celebrate this unique American freedom. We want to be here to celebrate the second amendment and all of the great American hunting culture that we have and just the gun culture in this country. We're very proud of it and expect about 55,000 folks to come out with us and celebrate and having a good time.

Ted Simons:
The biggest concerns the N.R.A. has about the future of second amendment rights, what are the ones that seem to be coming up more often than most?

Rachel Parsons:
Sure thing. Well, we see all the time federal legislation coming up. But most of all we are concerned with what's going on the in the state. Typically when we see a firestorm it starts in the states and we want to combat all of the antigun legislation at that level. But, you know, we see things every year that are introduced session after session in the federal government, but, you know, there really is no appetite for gun control with the American public, and gun owners vote and that's why the national rifle association is so successful.

Ted Simons:
Lot of criticism of the N.R.A. and I'm sure you've heard all of it. Let's touch on a couple things we hear every now and then. The N.R.A. is too polarizing and confrontational, a valid assessment?

Rachel Parsons:
Absolutely not. In fact, the majority of gun owners in this country, there are 80 million, that's a large chunk of the American public. And the majority of Americans agree with the second amendment and they agree with the National Rifle Association. You know, we're a bipartisan organization. And, you know, we work across the aisle and we're a very mainstream, we, you know, believe that the burden of the law should be placed on the criminal. And law abiding people should be left alone.

Ted Simons:
But again, the idea that maybe the N.R.A. payments its critics in too broad a brush, too polarizing of an attitude, again, little bit of that, don't you think? Maybe a touch?

Rachel Parsons:
Oh, certainly not. In fact, when we talk about gun bans and ammunition bans that a lot of lawmakers are talking about. That in fact is very polarizing to the American public. We are just seeking fair and reasonable laws that attack criminals and leave law abiding people alone, again, you know, all of these laws that restrict lawful people are doing nothing to reduce crime. But we want to put all of that burden on the criminal, get criminals off our streets and let's live in a safer America.

Ted Simons:
Specific ideas, military style assault weapons, should they be legal?

Rachel Parsons:
Well, military style firearms are actually heavily regulated. I think that you probably mean machine guns and fully automatic firearms, it's a misconception that those are -- have been considered guns that are banned in America. They've been heavily regulated since 1934. What the Clinton gun ban addressed were semiautomatic firearms, firearms used by everyday Americans for hunting, sports shooting, self-defense. So when we talk about assault rifles or assault weapons, it's very misleading. The anti--- give credit where credit is due. The antigun lobby has done an amazing job to fool the American public into believing we're talking about machine guns or military style firearms but we're not.

Ted Simons:
So you agree those types of firearms, military style firearms, should be heavily regulated.

Rachel Parsons:
They're already heavily regulated.

Ted Simons:
You do agree that's a good idea.

Rachel Parsons:
Well, you know, we think that folks should go through all the legal channels to obtain those firearms. If they go through the background checks and they are lengthy, if they go through all the fees and the state requirements, then they should be able to own those firearms, but again it's lengthy and I tell you the process is quite difficult.

Ted Simons:
Well, let me ask you about that. Do you think the process is too difficult and too lengthy?

Rachel Parsons:
We think that anything that further burdens law abiding people is too restrictive. Again, anything to any law that puts the burden of the crime on the criminal who's committing it we would fully support. The National Rifle Association is 100% against criminals.

Ted Simons:
The idea of private sellers at gun shows being required to do background checks, again, a controversial one, I know goes back and forth. Why does the N.R.A. believe this is not necessarily a good idea?

Rachel Parsons:
Sure, well, this legislation has been up year after year, and the reason that the National Rifle Association is so vehemently opposed to gun show legislation is because every single piece of legislation that we've seen has also included not only background checks but waiting periods on those background checks, so there would be a 72 hour waiting period on an event that only lasts 24 to 48 hours, that is absolutely unreasonable.

Ted Simons:
So should these events even be held if that aspect of trying to make sure the criminal doesn't get the gun is unreasonable?

Rachel Parsons:
Well, actually F.B.I. recently did a study that proved that less than 1% of crime guns come from gun shows. That's telling. The fact of the matter is that gun shows are crawling with undercover A.T.F., undercover police officers, not a very friendly place for criminals. But if you want to really, you know, curb gun crime, again, we need to focus on the criminal and they're not at these gun shows. This is a civic event. This is fun for family, for cities, and so they're friendly.

Ted Simons:
Let's focus on the criminals. What is the best way to make sure bad people don't get firearms for bad purposes?

Rachel Parsons:
Sure, we need to prosecute every single gun crime to the fullest extent of the law. Pete them in jail, get them off our streets, be tough on crime. No more plea bargaining, no more dropping of charges for the sexier options. Let's get serious, let's put people in jail, put them in there for longer, you know, against we need to focus on the criminal, get them off our streets, but law abiding people are not the problem. They're following the laws; criminals by definition break the law.

Ted Simons:
Indeed, but again is there a better way than what we're doing right now to make sure these folks -- the gun trade, the illegal gun trade itself, how do you stop that?

Rachel Parsons:
It's already illegal.

Ted Simons:
It is illegal but how do you -- a lot of things are illegal but people still do them and you try to work on ways to get them to stop doing them.

Rachel Parsons:
Sure, absolutely, but creating more gun laws isn't the answer. You know, we have 20,000 gun laws on the books in this country, 20,000, 20,001st isn't going to make a difference. Criminals don't follow the law. They break the law. We need to remove the criminal element.

Ted Simons:
Last question, there seems to be again talking from the critics here, the N.R.A. always seems opposed to any regulation or anything that would put additional checks on weapons. Is that a fair assessment?

Rachel Parsons:
No. Actually the N.R.A. is the only organization who lobbies every single year for more funding to go into the national instant check system for background checks. You know, maintained by the F.B.I. and we lobby every single year to make that process a better process, so we put our money where our mouth is and, you know, we're all about firearm safety and training and putting those criminals behind bars.

Ted Simons:
All right. Very good. Thank you so much for joining us, appreciate its.

Rachel Parsons:
Thank you. Absolutely.

School District Cash Balances

  |   Video
  • Arizona State lawmakers passed a plan to use $300 million in school district cash balances to help erase the state’s remaining $650 million dollar budget shortfall in FY 2009. Chuck Essigs, Director of Government Relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials explains why the move will result in a property tax increase for some Arizonans.
Guests:
  • Chuck Essigs - Director of Government Relations, Arizona Association of School Business Officials
Category: Education

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
The budget fix, state lawmakers worked on today uses $300 million in school district cash balances to help erase this year's $650 million deficit. We'll hear why school districts are concerned about the plan in a moment, but first here what's legislative leaders had to say about it last night on Horizon.

Bob Burns:
What we're doing is giving the districts the authority to spend money they currently do not have the authority to spend. They are allowed to keep up to a 4% cushion, if you will, in their spending authority. If their tax rates are high enough they collect more than what they have the authorization to spend and that's what's happened in a number of districts. There's a number of districts that have these rather significant balances that are over and above their authorized spending limits and so what we have decided to do is to give them permission to spend that which means that its money collected from the district. It will be money that is spent in the district for the purpose of educating the students in that district. And so that would be used as an offset to our problem of the budget deficit that we have.

Kirk Adams:
We're facing in state government a massive deficit that has continued to grow. And we have to ask ourselves is it prudent to use existing balances, existing accounts, before we go the method of borrowing, and we think it is a more prudent method.

Ted Simons:
Joining me now is Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona association of school business officials. Good to see you again, thanks for joining us.

Chuck Essigs:
Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons:
Why shouldn't the state use this excess cash?

Chuck Essigs:
Because it belongs to the school districts and the taxpayers in those communities. That was money raised not additional moneys the state paid school districts. It's money that was collected from property taxes.

Ted Simons:
And yet we hear that this is money that can't be spent without legislative authority. Is that a correct assessment?

Chuck Essigs:
That's correct, but those dollars are used in the next year to stabilize and reduce the tax rate.

Ted Simons:
So when the leadership says that, you know, the districts don't have the authority to spend this money, you're saying maybe not, but we carry it over to the next year.

Chuck Essigs:
It's carried over to the next year and its new tax dollars that don't have to be raised the next year. The impact of this will be in many districts across the state, property taxes will be higher than they would have been otherwise, because the state is adjusting the state payments to schools because of those balances.

Ted Simons:
And we keep hearing about a 4% level that school districts have to adhere to. Talk to us about that.

Chuck Essigs:
In the school district if you don't spend all of your budget capacity this year in operations, you can carry over you up to 4% of your budget limit into next year, so you don't have to rush around at the end of the year and spend all your money.

Ted Simons:
Are there estimates involved in this carry-over?

Chuck Essigs:
Yes, because they're using moneys that were in the balances at the end of last year, which the end of this year will be different.

Ted Simons:
Ok, so can it be said that some school districts are overestimating and thus collecting a lot of cash?

Chuck Essigs:
That very well may be, there's 230 school districts in the state. But what they're doing is going to impact every district in the state. It would be like photo radar, there's a few people that speed and you don't give a ticket to everybody who's driving on the freeway because a few people speed. You don't want to do something like this I believe that would impact all school districts because they may think some districts aren't doing it the way they'd like it to be done.

Ted Simons:
Last night speaker Adams we saw on tape saying the state is in a situation right now where this kind of excess, this kind of reserve, this kind of available money as they see it, has to be used. Is he wrong on that?

Chuck Essigs:
We're in terrible times. I've been doing this for a long time and I've never seen any year close to this. What they ought to do is it's going to be a property tax increase in many school districts because of the action and they ought to recognize that and admit to that.

Ted Simons:
When they say though that a property tax increase may happen, but getting this money means that perhaps less in the way of cuts will happen, again, that dynamic does not necessarily work for you?

Chuck Essigs:
Certainly by doing this they may have to cut schools less, but I wouldn't say property tax increases may happen. Property taxes increases will happen, not in every district. Every district is unique, but there are many districts across the state that will see property tax increases because of this.

Ted Simons:
Does this lead to maybe talk of a change in a formula in how school districts either accumulate money or just get the money in the first place?

Chuck Essigs:
I think all the time you should look for better ways of doing things, but there is some ground where the legislature and school districts should get together and look at this problem, so both sides understand what the other side is -- has a perception.

Ted Simons:
Last night speaking with president Burns I mentioned, you know, the idea of lawmakers taking this money for the general fund. And he took opposition to the word take. He took opposition to the word sweep, not a take, not a sweep, he says. Is he right?

Chuck Essigs:
No. Here's what they're going to do, they're rolling over $300 million in state aid, so if you're a district you're not going to get paid a million dollars that is owed to you. If you have cash in October through their calculation they're not going to give you that million dollars. So to me they're taking the million, depending on how you look at it, but in any case the district's going to lose that money because of the cash they have on hand.

Ted Simons:
And yet they will say the district doesn't have the authority to use that money.

Chuck Essigs:
They have the authority under the current law that money should be used and is used in many districts to reduce local property taxes, the budget limit's going to stay the same. They're going to have x amount of less dollars and they're going to have to balance that out with more property taxes in many districts.

Ted Simons:
Without getting too deep into the minutia here, I know that there are maintenance and operations funds and building renewal funds, how do these compare and contrast?

Chuck Essigs:
The only three funds they're touching are funds where there's property tax levees, that's maintenance and operation, called soft capital and unrestricted capital, the three funds where property tax comes into play.

Ted Simons:
That's money again you can use? But only with legislative authority, and if not, it rolls over.

Chuck Essigs:
In operations you can carry over up to 4%, in capital you can carry over any unexpended money which you need to, because many times you're saving up for a large capital expense over a many year period of time.

Ted Simons:
Do you think what the legislature wants to do here is legal?

Chuck Essigs:
May not be legal, but whether it's the fairest way of doing it is what would raise the question. Setting -- the school finance form is pretty complicated. Setting of tax rates is real simple. You determine how much you're going to spend, subtract out all the money you have from other sources which would include cash balances, and you set a tax rate to make up the difference. So if any of those non-tax funds are reduced, that part that has to be made up with property taxes becomes larger and that's what's going to happen in many districts.

Ted Simons:
Sounds like what you’re saying is we're not raising taxes by doing x, you're saying by doing x we have to raise taxes.

Chuck Essigs:
Many districts will have to raise taxes to make up for the loss of that revenue.

Ted Simons:
Is there a way to keep up the 4% limit and not accumulate so much cash, which in bad times is a shiny object anyone who sees it is going to want to have some of it?

Chuck Essigs:
The only issue in this state there's probably about $100 million in districts that are on Indian lands and the way the federal government funds them and the way the state funds them, they get a lot more money than they're allowed to spend and they have very significant balances and it's almost their spending limit doesn't allow them to spend all their money. But in other cases most districts when you look at what their balances are, subtract out the money they're carrying over from one year to another to expend, I think their balances are reasonable. Because you do need -- you don't want to end up short at the end of the year where you have to run a deficit. You want to if anything want to have a little extra cash to cover your expenses.

Ted Simons:
Indeed. So what happens to school districts now, this thing gets signed by the governor, this money now is gone. What happens?

Chuck Essigs:
Districts will know early in July exactly what impact it's going to have on their tax rates, because they'll know what state money they're not going to be receiving they were entitled to receive when that October payment gets settled with districts.

Ted Simons:
All right, Chuck, thank you so much for joining us, we appreciate it.

Chuck Essigs:
Always glad to be here.

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