Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

February 5, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable

  |   Video
  • Local reporters review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Casey Newton - The Arizona Republic
  • Howard Fischer - Capitol Media Services
  • Dennis Welch - The Arizona Guardian
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Casey Newton of "The Arizona Republic." Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian." Governor Jan Brewer's request for a proposed sales tax increase finally makes it through the legislature. Dennis, was this a surprise?

Dennis Welch: At the end, I don't think it was much of a surprise. There was some momentum coming out of the senate when it got over to the house and toward the end the last day we heard the teachers' union the firefighters union were on board and working their democratic members over there who have been resistant to this tax increase for the past year and so the momentum was moving that way and in the end, not much of a surprise.

Howard Fischer: And another piece of it is, for a lot of Republicans, they said we're not violating our no tax pledge because we’re not actually voting for an increase, we're going to send this to the voters we assume the voters will vote no, and then we'll be back to make the cuts we should have made. So it’s a ducking for cover on this one.

Ted Simons: Ok, but why now? This was going to happen last summer, why now?
Casey Newton: Why now is essentially Democrats came around or caved, depending on your perspective. If there's a surprise here, it's that their caucus fractured. For the better part of a year for ten months they stood firm saying we're not going to vote for a sales tax referral and finally, enough of them thought it necessary that they went ahead and voted for it.

Ted Simons: Was it just that it was neccisary or was it just because it wasn't tagged along with something else?

Casey Newton: When you look at some of the cuts that are going to happen regardless of whether the sales tax is put into place $750 million cuts to education-- taking away services from 17,000 seriously mentally ill people. People are saying its almost like you cant imagine what could be cut if you dont have that increase in place.

Howard Fischer: Getting back to your point, I think you hit on something here, because one of the things that's happening is what's not happening. In other words they're not putting the repeal of prop 105 on the ballot, the thing that keeps lawmakers from tinkering with voter-approved plans, they’re not putting a tax payer bill of rights on the May 18th ballot, and so there was some things going on behind closed doors that I believe got enough Democrats to say we can live if it's just this on the ballot.

Dennis Welch: Well beyond that too, we started hearing a new line of rhetoric coming from the public safety sector. What Casey was saying, 30,000 people AHCCCS and another 17,000 mentally disabled being put out on the streets. You're starting to hear it's a public safety issue. If these people are kicked off their roles I mean people are going to get hurt, the response times for emergency services are going to go up and they'll get their care one way or the other.

Howard Fischer: And yet the other side of it the Kyrsten Sinema side, was if we killed the sales tax propsal they'll be forced to come back and deal with our proposal. Broadening the base and everything else.I’m saying Kyrsten Sinemas sense of reality, not so much in touch with the earth, but that was the belief of some of the Democrats, that if we somehow kill this, they'll have to see it our way. Of course that's why the Democrats are the minority party.

Ted Simons: Casey, how much of a win is this for the govenor?

Casey Newton: Well, I think she’s feeling good this week. This is something she's been fighting for now for 10 months this was the third special session in which she had specifically sought this referral so she finally got it. And at the same time, she used a lot of political capital to get there and it's hard to imagine that the voters, even if they do pass this are going to be very excited about the higher tax they’re paying.

Howard Fischer: And that’s really what’s going to be interesting is just by virtue of the fact, it's the Jan Brewer tax, and when people go to the polls, it will be the Jan Brewer tax. I think the may 18th election could be a precursor of the August primary. Because if that tax goes down, put a fork in it, the governor is gone.

Dennis Welch: Well I’ll go a step further with that. You got to be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. If that thing goes down, ya, she’s going to be dead. If it passes, she's going to be the person who championed a successful tax increase and she's going get beat up even more in the Republican primary that already has enough credible challengers.

Ted Simons: What kind of campaning Denis do you think we’re going to see out of this. How hard are both sides going to fight for and against this proposition?

Dennis Welch: That's a big question right now. Right now, it's who is going to be steping up to fund the governor's thing-- it looks like you’re going to have some people in the business community, the labor unions are going to put their money where their mouth is. The firefighters are going to have to support this one way or the other. They can’t say this is public saftey issue but we’re not going to give money.

Howard Fischer: That's the thing, because you're going to need a lot of money on the yes side. When people are confused, they tend to vote no. Getting people out is going to be tricky enough. And of course the other piece of it is, this is the same day a number of communities are having override elections for their school districts so you get a lot of people who have feelings about that.

Dennis Welch: Also too, look at the timing of all this stuff, if you're going to have a low voter turnout. But look when early ballots are going to start hitting mailboxes. Right about the time people will be finishing up their income taxes. They may not be in the mood. And the food tax may be going around the valley.

Ted Simons: Let’s get back to budget matters here. We had representatives Konopnicki and Campbell on the program to talk about this covert, stealth, orphan budget, whatever you want to---. Who wants to take this up? It sounds like now it’s got a sponsor with Konopnicki and a co sponsor with Heinz, correct?

Dennis Welch: Ya, but it’s got a speaker I understand that’s not to happy with it and an appropriations chairman who says “I aint gonna’ hear it”. He says this is the Arizona legislature this isn’t a cheap hotel room where you can order up room service at your own convenience. It is an interesting plan, it's bipartisan and I think it speaks more to the temperament of the legislature down there, where you have to birth a bipartisan plan in secret and then run away from it and claim “hey, I don’t know how this thing got put together”.

Howard Fischer: I think that the speaker would be hard pressed not to assign it to some committee where it will get heard. He's been the one who says, bring me something, I'll give it a hearing. Now we’ve all got yet to see the details, you know bits and pieces are leaking out, the idea of broadening the sales tax base. Further cuts, there's some borrowing and to a certain extent there's a little bit for everybody to like and a little for everybody to hate. I think what Konopnicki is looking at; we're so busy dealing with the immediate problem here, we’re not looking at the long-term fiscal health of the state. We need a more stable base and we need something that we're not in here every six years, which is about what it is, and dealing with the problem.

Ted Simons: When we had the representative Konopnicki on the program, he did talk about the specific, a five-year plan, the idea of income tax hike. Food tax, health tax. But corporate tax cuts starting in a couple of years. So again, like how he says a little bit of everything. But in the grand scheme of things, does this make an impact in any way, shape or form?

Dennis Welch: If it gets a hearing ya it could, that it's a way to start breaking the ice down with this partisan gridlock. It could be a conversation starter.

Howard Fischer: Well, more on the point it's an actual alternative. The governor had that five-point plan she came out with last March and said this is the only way to do it and I'm the only one with the plan. What the hard right, if that’s what you want to call it has come back with is cut, cut, cut, sell off buildings outright, not just lease purchase them. And there needs to be something else in the middle that you need some way of saying we can’t keep cutting, well we can legally but at some point when do people say I'd like some DPS officers out there and I’d like to keep a few people in prison?

Dennis Welch: By just throwing this out there and no one taking ownership of it, I think it helps because had a Republican introduced it, you would have automatically lost Democrats on it and vice versa. And that's the atmosphere we're dealing with down there right now.

Howard Fischer: Let me give you one other point which has to do with Bill Konopnicki this is a man that tries to think outside the box for years, he's been talking about the fact that we have 40,000 people behind bars in this state and over $50 a day. And his point is for $15 a day, you can put an ankle bracelet on some of them and you don't have to have them behind bars. All the conservative republicans are saying, “Oh my god we’re letting people out of prison but he says, look, we can't keep funding a billion dollar a year prison system.

Ted Simons: Last question on this, was Representative Konopnicki the one who had to sponsor this, could anyone else have sponsored this?

Dennis Welch: I think he was the likely choice. Because he's seen as the more moderated voice of the Republican caucus in the house and he brings a lot of credibility because he does carry a lot of respect amongst the fellow lawmakers.

Howard Fischer: It has to be somebody moderate or a fairly conservative democrat. Perhaps a Jack brown, who had worked back in the 60’s with republicans.

Dennis Welch: This isn't a safe proposition for him. Remember, he's running for a seat over in the senate and it's going to be against an incumbent senator. He's not looking to score political points with this.

Ted Simons: We had a rally for state parks, it's being decimated out there. 100 folks showed up?

Casey Newton: More than 100 people came out with a message -- please find a way to save our parks. There are a couple different proposals out there. The most popular one is some sort of fee you pay when you register your vehicle and pay eight or nine bucks and then you could get into the parks without paying any additional money. That would provide a study source of revenue for the park system. Over the past year, the parks budget has been cut from $26 million a year to $7.5 million a year. It doesn't receive any money from the state’s general fund. There's a variety of funds it takes from. But the bottom line is unless some new money is found, 21 of the 31 parks and recreation areas are going to be closed by the end of June.

Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing where a dedicated funding source is likely to be found or is this going to get lost in all the clatter?

Casey Newton: Well it depends on how many republicans are willing to sign on to some sort of license plate fee. When I asked John Kavanagh about this for example, he said the fact that a proposal called for people to have to opt out of the fee if they didn’t want to pay it, he said that that made it a scam. So if a large number of republicans feel like it is a scam it might not get any traction. Maybe they'll be able to craft it in a different way to bring it more on board.

Howard Fischer: We asked the parks folks about this idea when it first came up. They don't like the opt in because opt in gets them perhaps 40% of the people who renew their licenses, and opt out gets them closer to 85% and 90% and that big difference is night and day in terms of number of parks kept open.

Ted Simons: Let’s keep it moving here, you wrote about party, change of registration, identification. We always keep hearing independents are on the rise, but they are on the rise.

Casey Newton: It’s interesting a poll came out this week, the rocky mountain poll, said that close to a third of Arizona voters, Republicans and Democrats are considering switching their party in the next year and the most likely party for them to switch to is no party the independent party and this is actually already happening. When you look at the most recent voter registration numbers, the Democrats lost about 7,000 and Republicans 5,000 and independents gained around 13,000. This is in the last quarter of last year. So polls are projecting in 5 years independence will be the majority in Arizona.

Howard Fischer: One of the reasons for this trend is a number of years ago, they enacted a change in the law, as an independent, you can ask to vote in the Republican or the democrat primaries. It's not wide open but you can request a special ballot. You're not disenfranchising yourself and that’s important because many of the races in the legislature are decided in the primary.

Dennis Welch: At the statewide meeting for the Republicans a couple of weeks ago, they quietly passed a resolution toward the end of that meeting to sue to close their primaries. One of the theories before that is they feel that there are a lot of true Republicans that are registered as independents that would come home to the Republican party if they knew they couldn't vote in the primary.

Howard Fischer: No, No, No, this becomes the problem with the Republican party. The people who go to those meetings, the true Republicans, this is like when Ed Mecham was talking about the real people of Arizona, the good people of Arizona. We know what the code is for that.

Dennis Welch: Parties have lost touch with voters. There are a number of different signs out there, this poll being one. Look at the campaign finance stuff recently. You've got the two main parties heading into an election year with a handful of cash on hand. Republicans $7,000 cash. Democrats about $4,000. That's unheard of.

Ted Simons: With these numbers, Casey, is this going to affect -- I mean a lot of folks, a name they're not familiar with, they make a little line across. Is this going to affect upcoming elections?

Casey Newton: I think the trend in recent elections has been independents are still breaking with Republicans in a majority of cases and there isn't a lot of evidence that that's something that's going to change. I think you're going to see a lot of Arizonans who don't support the Republican Party platform enough to declare themselves a Republican but at the end of the day are still going to vote for a Republican.

Howard Fischer: And some of the people who become independent are because their either further right or further left in terms of the Democrats. It's a thing that they’re saying we have to leave the party because the party left us.

Ted Simons: How Dennis mentioned clean elections, we have all sorts of activity there regarding a stay or a decision, the whole nine yards. Bring us up to date.

Howard Fischer: We know the federal judge said it's unconstitutional to use public funds to match what a private candidate uses of his or her money or gets in donations. Appealed to the ninth circuit, the ninth circuit said we’re going to hear that in April. They agreed to keep the current system in place until then. The Goldwater Institute said, wait a second, the longer you keep it in place, the harder it is to say you got to get rid of it. And they filed in the U.S. Supreme Court this past week, an emergency petition to lift that stay. We checked late today and hadn't heard anything back from the high court. It's going to be hard for the high court say were going to lift the stay on something we haven't even seen yet.

Ted Simon: So how does it impact elections? What does a candidate do?

Howard Fischer: That's the real problem. The real problem is actually for the legislative candidates because during the session, lawmakers can't take money from lobbyists. The lobbyists are the main source of cash for private donations. So these people having decided to run publicly, because after the legislature went in session in January and given the session goes to May or June or heaven help us, July, they're blocked out if in fact the ninth circuit says no the matching funds are gone and gone for the cycle, they may have to bail on public financing and say this is the only way we can do it. I think a lot of people are going to have to make that decision because you can't make it even as a gubernatorial candidate, 7,000 for primary when you already know that buzz mills has already put in $2.1 million--

Dennis Welch: I know as a journalist I’m not supposed to have a real opinion but, this is ridiculous. Make up your mind and make a decision, we do have an election to get through and I think the candidates and people need to know how the system is going to look. What system are they going to run on and how are we going to get this done.

Ted Simons: Are there candidates right now, more than others who are sitting there biting their nails waiting for some kind of decision?

Howard Fischer: I think a number of publicly funded candidates are on the cusp and saying if this goes south on me, I’m going to have to make a decision. The problem is if the state remains in place through the third week in April, or the fourth week, if it takes the court that long to do it. It's harder for them to back out and say I believe in public financing but now I feel the need to go the other way.

Ted Simons: Let's get back to Phoenix and the tax on food, Casey, 2% tax on food?

Casey Newton: That’s right and the voters don't get a say on this one, or at least they won’t right away. The city of Phoenix facing a $240 million budget deficit passed a 2% food tax and most people don't realize that most cities in the valley already charge some sort of food tax. Mesa, Surprise and Phoenix were the only three that didn’t. Phoenix though facing layoffs of up to 14,000 employees including 500 police and firefighters, that put a lot of pressure on the council to generate new revenue.

Ted Simons: The public safety aspect had to -- and let’s not forget Phoenix used to have a tax on food. They just got rid of it. Back in the '80s?

Casey Newton: The reason they got rid of it was that the tax was seen as very regressive. I remember interviewing the former city manager, when they were considering this tax and he said we don't like to tax the people. We have a high concentration of poor people. But that went by the wayside.

Howard Fischer: And what's fascinating is the lack of the reaction to the city because it was about the time the state went into the fight of tax or not to tax. There was a citizens' initiative to get rid of it and the legislature did it itself in order to keep it from going to the ballot. There was a horrible reaction at the state level and I don't know if it was to years of change, fiscal reality or link it to the firefighters and the state level we're paying for an administrator at the department of administration.

Ted Simons: It was derisive. Pretty passionate on both sides.

Dennis Welch: And I understand it was the way it was handled nobody had advance notice and it was rammed through and I find it interesting, the timing, because Phoenix just passed -- is it that the cash-strapped cities are moving quickly to get their tax increases before the governor puts hers on the ballot?

Casey Newton: Phoenix passed the food tax and then announced they were going to have hearings on the subject and what the public thought about the tax. Strange timing.

Ted Simons: The scene with the casino in Glendale and this could get nasty here.

Howard Fischer: This is a fascinating fight. Many years ago, the federal government built a dam on the Gila River which flooded 10,000 acres. It was shoved through congress and gave the tribe permission to purchase the equal number of acres in Maricopa, Pinal or Pima counties and it doesn’t have to be adjacent to the land, and quietly they built acres near the cardinal stadium, it was an idea and just started and didn't say what they were going to do with it and then last year said we're going to build a casino here. Because of the way the '86 law was passed, we can ask the department of interior to make it part of our reservation. All of a sudden, Glendale went, wait a second! How is this happening? They tried to stop it by saying the law said it can't be in a city or in the process of becoming a city. Now, we didn't abandon it, so it's becoming part of the city. The governor sent a notice to the tribal chairman Ned Norris, saying I think I have veto power. Told her to suck an egg, basically. And now we have a new bill, any city adjacent to any land being taken into trust by the government can annex it without the permission of the landowner. If it's part of Glendale, no more tribal casino. Ned Norris' reaction, this is just another broken promise to us. And that’s going to wind up in court if it becomes law.

Ted Simons: This threatens the entire gaming contract in Arizona, to a certain degree. Lawsuits regarding federal land resettlement, but you've got a contract out there, saying, X, Y and Z, and now you have Glendale and the state saying maybe not Z.

Howard Fischer: If it's considered reservation land, the compacts stay in place. Jack Harper has a bill that says if the tribe gets to build a casino on not historic reservation property, every city can start gaming. That breaks the original compacts that says you can only have so much gaming -- so we could be looking down the path of looking like Nevada if this plays out.

Ted Simons: Speaking of the path of looking like Nevada we'll go from gambling to booze. The legislature says its time to lift the restriction on Sunday booze.

Howard Fischer: And Dennis certainly needs a buzz at 6:00 a.m. on Sundays.

Ted Simons: You're up.

Dennis Welch: It passes, I guess if folks want to get up and get a shot before they go to church, now they'll be able to do that.

Casey Newton: The current is 10:00 a.m. Now I guess it's 6:00 a.m. if this passes.


Howard Fischer: Right now the law is for six days a week, the bars can be open and you can sell 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. the following morning. Used to be noontime on Sundays and then -- everything ties back to the cardinals and says I can't have no drinking in my stadium before noon. And the lawmakers said there's God and the NFL and sided with the NFL and said 10:00 a.m. And now it's why have any restrictions? It's not like people are sitting home, I'm heading to church but if I see a bar open, I'm going to stop there. That's where we are.

Ted Simons: Where we are is a minute or so left. Let’s get some quick thoughts here, has bipartisanship reared its head at the legislature for the first and last time? Or are we going to see more of this?

Dennis Welch: I think it's the first and last time for this session. I think there's a lot of host of other issues out there that these two parties can’t agree on.

Ted Simons: This was fun while it lasted but don't get used to it.

Dennis Welch: That's my thought.

Ted Simons: What do you think, Howie?

Howard Fischer: I think there’s some possibilities that the bill gets a hearing, there are small things that they have cooperated on. This really wasn’t even bipartisan cooperation this is a shotgun wedding of common interests and that’s all it was.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Casey Newton: There may be some more common interests coming down the road. The budget is going to be hard and they may find ways to peel off some Democrats to get votes.

Dennis Welch: It's going to be tough in election year, I think, to get that bipartisan camaraderie.

Howard Fischer: The Democrats have no desire to see Jan Brewer succeed. She looks good, they look bad. They'd like to get Terry Goddard elected. Lord knows he's not doing anything to get elected.

Ted Simons: One last question. If the sales tax referral fails or succeeds, both options, the governor's chances in the race?

Howard Fischer: If it fails, put a fork in it. If it succeeds, I still think she’s problematic. I think by making it the Brewer attacks she could easily be beaten in the primary.

Casey Newton: Either way, she's the underdog.

Ted Simons: Win or lose?

Casey Newton: Yeah.

Dennis Welch: I would have to agree, the underdog. And unanimously, we think the governor has her work cut out for her.

Ted Simons: Congratulations, you lost, in other words.

Howard Fischer: Talking to democratic nominee Dean Martin in August.

Ted Simons: That's it.

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