February 10, 2011
Host: Ted Simons
African American Legislative Days
- State Senator Leah Landrum Taylor discusses the African American Legislative Days event which is focusing on education, economic development and the justice system.
- Leah Landrum Taylor - Arizona State Senator
| Keywords: affirmative action
Ted Simons: February is the month we commemorate and focus on the contributions of African-Americans. Here to talk about how black history month will be honored at the capitol is Senator Leah Landrum Taylor. Thanks for joining us. African-American legislative days, what are we talking about?
Leah Landrum Taylor: We have done this for nine years now. It's now actually in statute, on the second Thursday and Friday in February, we have a conference that takes place, a leadership conference that takes place where we have an opportunity for workshops, we also have an opportunity to be able to examine some of the key issues that are affecting the state. Around specifically the areas of education, justice, environment, economic development, health, a lot of different areas that we're looking at. This year we're taking a very strong focus on education, economic development, and justice. When we look at the issues that are going on here within our state, it certainly has a profound effect on African-Americans. You're looking at situation of education, where if a high percentage of African-Americans that are dropouts, not graduating, so we wanted to make sure we have more of a proactive way of going about helping with some of these ails that are occurring. All this being said, we want to come up whether it's with different policies or taking a look at the budget. Which is why this year we've done things a little differently. We have our opening session all the time at the legislature, which is wonderful, and then from there we do have committees. This year we normally have a banquet on Thursday evening, and we honor or unsung heroes. We're still doing that, but we're doing a town hall this year. The reason for that is because of the tenuous nature that's going on within our state, we have got to talk about the hard issues. And we've got to make sure that we have a strong discourse as it relates to these issues of concern. Education, our economic development, job creation, you look at the percentile range of individuals that are still unemployed in this state, and African-Americans certainly those numbers are even higher. So with that being said, what can be done in order to help make sure we do have a situation where job creation, what can be done to help in the justice area? So we have to have Tava Smiley who’s going to moderating that, it's going on now, so with that being the case, we're really excited about moving in a good direction.
Ted Simons: Are there -- how specific can you get with recommendations, with policy ideas? Stick to education. You brought that up first. How specific can you get on this, is this one of these, we need to push in a certain direction, focus on a certain thing? Right now the legislature is all over the place, but the budget is the big deal, and education and the budget are hand in hand right now.
Leah Landrum Taylor: Right. When we look at areas, you look, for instance, even in my district, where we have a large amount of African-Americans, and you look at many of our school districts, and certainly there's issues that are going on there. It gets to be just irritating sometimes. When you see the same thing happening over and over again, but nothing is being done. We've got to take things a lot more serious. And when you're looking at situations of class rooms busting out of the seams, not having conducive environments for children to learn, we're just creating and spiraling into this situation of teachers becoming burnt out, and frustrated, I've even -- just recently -- we had a press conference down at the capitol and had a chance to talk with some instructors. They were saying they're at the point where they don't even hardly have time to take lunch. They're just there in the classroom because they're having to give the extra time to the students, when you have a situation of the specials, art, music, being taken away, that's the teacher not even able to have a lot of planning time or to get out of the classrooms. It makes it very difficult for the learning environment. So we want to make sure that as it relates to this budget, that there are some key concerns that -- out of the conference we're having this year, and we want to present that and make sure that the legislature knows what our concerns are.
Ted Simons: Regarding economic development issues, what are those concerns and again, how specific can you get? Lots of ideas, ideas for now coming out of the legislature regarding business tax cuts, on the converse side, a lot of folks are saying public jobs need to go, that's got to be a concern as well. How specific can you get?
Leah Landrum Taylor: We can get as specific as necessary. Because we're very much involved in what's going on. It hits -- it's hitting the African-American community very hard. And so people want to come up with viable solutions. I've heard a lot of different things even today. When had an opportunity to sit in the committee that was focusing on the economic development, but a lot of the questions were what do we do now? We want to make sure there are jobs and things are being created. Are you taking a look at what can happen with renewable energy sources? Is there something that can be done in order to have it where we're a haven in Arizona to create more jobs? It's just the bottom line. It's a necessity for us to grow.
Ted Simons: We only have 30 seconds left. What again do you want people to take from tonight's town hall meeting?
Leah Landrum Taylor: What I want folks to understand is now is not the time for complacency. We’ve got to be here and we have to be proactive. The message has to be clear. That's happening even now with our budget is going to come the time we're going to have to have some revenue generators and we're going to have to look in that direction and I think we have to hear it from more than just us.
Ted Simons: It's good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.
Leah Landrum Taylor: Thank you.
Senator Kyl Announcement
- Political Analyst Chris Herstam talks about Senator Jon Kyl’s decision not to seek reelection and the politicians who may try to run for his U.S. Senate seat in 2012.
- Chris Herstam - political analyst
| Keywords: senator
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Senator Jon Kyl will not be running for reelection next year. Kyl announced his decision today, a decision that throws the 2012 race for the senate seat, his senate seat, wide open. We'll hear from a political analyst, but first, here is what some of what senator Kyl had to say about his decision at a news conference this morning.
Senator Jon Kyl: I will not seek reelection to the United States senate, but will retire from public service in January of 2013. Let me say that there is nothing negative about the decision I'm making. My health is good, I think -- I'm fairly confident that if I ran for reelection again that I could be reelected. I do not subscribe to this notion that politics has gotten so coarse these days that civil people can't engage in it. I learned long ago there will be people who don't engage in civil discourse, but if you stop that from serving, you really ought to get into another line of work. There's nothing about that that causes me to step down.
Ted Simons: And here now to talk about the politics of today's announcement is Chris Herstam, he served as governor Fife Symington's chief of staff and is a former lawmaker. Herstam now works for the law firm of Lewis and Roca. Good to see you again.
Chris Herstam: Good evening.
Ted Simons: Is this a surprise?
Chris Herstam: I wasn't surprised, simply because I had talked to a staffer of Kyl's several years ago, Frankly, right after he got reelected last time, four years ago, and there was a feeling then by the staffer that that was going to be his last election. So I think some people very close to Kyl sort of had a clue that last election was going to be his last one. So when the rumors were going around the last couple months, I sort of had come to the conclusion that he would probably announce his retirement. Why he picked this month, I don't know. Why he did it this early, I don't know. I think he mentioned in his comments in the news conference he wanted to give potential candidates a lot of advance notice. So I think we have to take him for his word.
Ted Simons: Internal errors on politics, especially on the Republican side, seems pretty rough and tumble. A couple of sides going after -- does that play at all any part in how he could see himself as a leader here in the state and moving that forward? Did he see any problems there?
Chris Herstam: You have to remember, Kyl endorsed Ron Carmichael, running for state chairman. Most of the Congress people did. And he was beaten at the state party convention. The Tea Party element, or the grass-roots element that actually had been against McCain for many years, they came out against Kyl's candidate. And so he played that game, Frankly I that I was another tip-off that he wouldn't run, normally Kyl is cautious with regards to internal party politics, but he stuck his neck out in that race for party chairman, his candidate lost, but I think he did it because he knew he wouldn't run and it wouldn't cost him anything.
Ted Simons: Interesting, OK. Is this a precursor to anything else? I know today he said he wasn't interested in president, vice-president still seems to hang out there a little bit. Anything going on here as far as future ambitions?
Chris Herstam: Well, he's been a U.S. senator now, been in Congress as of next year, 26 years. Can't do much better than that Frankly, except running for president. And he said he wasn't interested in that. He's always said for the last year or two if somebody wanted to put him on the ticket as vice-president he would do that, but once again I think what you see is what you get and what he says is accurate. He's been in Congress almost 26 years now, and I think he just wants to do other things in life, family things, he's a big Nascar fan, he can travel the circuit if he wants to.
Ted Simons: What will Jon Kyl's legacy be? He still has work to do, and it sounds like he's gearing up, knowing he does haven't to campaign, he's going to be active. Until now, what do you think?
Chris Herstam: I think he's done some excellent things for the country as well as the state with regards to water. And water law and reform and so forth. And some important agreements. He's always been a water expert even before he got into Congress as an attorney he was. Jon Kyl is a senator's senator. He doesn't grandstand, he isn't interested in the interviews and the media, he can do it very well, but he really works behind the scenes, is a detailed oriented individual, rational, he's very conservative, but he's easy to deal with, he can work with both sides of the aisle. He's just a class act, and that's what Arizona is going to lose so much of.
Ted Simons: Alright, let's try to find out what Arizona will get once he does step down and the new senator is elected. We could spend all day listing the names. Give us -- handicap some early favorites.
Chris Herstam: Probably every elected official in the state of Arizona is thinking, "Gosh, I'd like to do this." But I think when you look at the sensible contenders, you look at the congressional candidates. Certainly Jeff flake would be a leading candidate, Trent Franks might think about it, john Shadegg, who left in a retired from his congressional seat, I think will eye the seat as well. I that congressional group will be very interested. Also there's a new guy on the block named Ben Quayle that may be thinking about it too. There was always articles written about how his dad had done some fund-raising for him, and had made the comment he may be in the U.S. senate sooner than you think. As he was fund-raising for him. So did they know something? I don't know.
Ted Simons: Any dark horses out there? Anyone that people aren't necessarily looking at first?
Chris Herstam: Yes. I think there is a dark horse. Somebody that would be very formidable if you wanted to jump in the Republican primary race, and that's senate president Russell Pearce.
Ted Simons: Interesting. Say more, please. How formidable?
Chris Herstam: I think, a low turnout Republican primary where the immigration issue is critical, if Russell Pearce wanted to get in this race and it was crowded field of Congress people, and he's got the Tea Party senate and he's leading the Tea Party movement, and the grass-roots workers that we just talked about that defeated Kyl's candidate, their big -- they're big fans of Russell Pearce, I think he would be a very fascinating candidate. Whether he wants to do that or not remains to be seen. There's rumors that Sheriff Joe is not going to run again, and he's always been interested in the sheriff position. So I think Russell Pearce may have lots of options the next election cycle.
Ted Simons: Governor Brewer a possibility?
Chris Herstam: Well, she would have to resign to run, and I just think she's more state oriented, she's got a full four-year term here, I can't see her leaving that -- the governor's office and going to Washington. Like the last governor did.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about that last governor. Let's get to the Democratic side now. Obviously her name is first on the list. How likely is it that she would run?
Chris Herstam: I think it's very unlikely because I think she would simply read the tea lives and realize she can't win. When she left and made the decision to go to Washington, she became part of the Obama administration. Obama is probably going to lose Arizona in 2012. And once again, with the immigration issues, and the health care issues, and Arizona suing and so forth, I think it would be hard for Napolitano to wear that Obama cloak around her and be successful in a statewide race.
Ted Simons: Some other names, Terry Goddard, Phil Gordon, Jim Peterson, will those names be around?
Chris Herstam: Sure. But the Democratic bench is not very deep. And so they have to turn to people that have run and lost already. That always tells you that they don't have a lot of up and coming candidates, and that's probably one of those names you just said, maybe the very likely Democratic nominee.
Ted Simons: Last question let me ask you, is there any dark horse on the Democratic side? Someone we're not thinking about right now?
Chris Herstam: The only democrat that I can think of that would be a sure winner would be Gabrielle Giffords. But obviously we don't know how long that recuperation period is going to be. The odds are sort of would tell us was the senate campaign would start a year from now she'll need more time to do that, but if her miracle recovery continued, she would be unbeatable.
Ted Simons: Wow, interesting stuff. Chris, good to have you here.
Chris Herstam: My pleasure.
State Pension Reform
- House Speaker Kirk Adams has introduced legislation to reform Arizona's public employee pension system. Among other things it would raise the retirement age, increase employee's payments and eliminate cost-of-living increases. Speaker Adams discusses.
- Kirk Adams - Arizona House Speaker
| Keywords: pension
Ted Simons: House speaker Kirk Adams has introduced legislation to reform Arizona's public employee pension system. Among other things, it would raise the retirement age, increase employees' payments and eliminate cost of living increases. Speaker Adams joins us now to talk about his legislation. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.
Kirk Adams: Good to be here.
Ted Simons: Why are these reforms needed?
Kirk Adams: Well, we reached a critical stage in our pension system. Really within state government. We have a pension system that is simply unsustainable. It is built upon a foundation that is no longer solid. If we want to protect those that have devoted their careers to state service or service in our school system, or service in our cities, our cops or firefighters, our teachers, we have to make hard choices now to protect their retirement benefits, but second, we also have to protect taxpayers from a huge unfunded liability. As much as $10 billion of deficit according to the Arizona chamber of commerce foundation.
Ted Simons: How did it get there, and did it get there recently quicker because of bad economic conditions, which would suggest when things turn around, maybe the problem won't be as big?
Kirk Adams: Yeah. A fair look at this would say that, yes, the current economic conditions certainly have had an impact on this. But we've also seen over the years a steady increase in a generosity of the politicians designing these programs towards the beneficiaries. For example, I don't think it should be too much of a surprise to too many people that the elected official retirement program is credibly generous. A program designed by politicians for politicians is generous. Those are the types of things over an extended period of time that have been built into the system that simply make it unaffordable for the taxpayers. And so if you want to bring stability where that classroom teacher can count on after a career of service in the classroom that she'll have a stable retirement, we have to make some of the changes, and root out some of the abuses of the system.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about some of these changes. Raising the age of retirement from what to what?
Kirk Adams: Currently you can retire after you accumulate a certain amount of points in the system. Effectively this means that someone who starts in their 20s, early -- mid- to late 20s can retire by age of 55 or 53, for example, I have a staffer on my staff who can retire with a full retirement package, paid for by the taxpayers at age 51. So what we're doing is saying, look. That is bad for the system. We need to make that retirement age at a later date, 62, you could quit work earlier than that, but you can't begin to collect retirement until age 62 and 10 years of service. That puts us in line with social security, for example, and has a dramatic impact on the health of the system and makes it more financially stable.
Ted Simons: Eliminating cost of living adjustments. Now is this eliminating them for a certain amount of time, is this getting rid of them all together? What's going on here?
Kirk Adams: Currently there are four systems, public pension systems in the state of Arizona. One of those systems, ASRS, is the largest and covers most of our employees, including most of our teachers. That does not have an automatic cola adjustment in there. The other systems however, do have automatic adjustments regardless of what the financial condition of the funds are. So, for example, in the elected official retirement system, it's a 5% annual increase. Cola increase. Regardless of the financial condition of the fund. When you know that according to the fund's own numbers they're about 65% funded, that means that assets to liabilities is only at 65%. So what we would do is eliminate cola adjustment for those other three funds and put them in the same spot as ASRS, where most rank and file state employees are. What that means is it's up to the legislature and the governor to through the appropriations process, grant those cola adjustments to the beneficiaries.
Ted Simons: OK. Another change, another idea is to increase employee contributions. And again, what are we talking about now, what are your ideas?
Kirk Adams: Another good question. So in the ASRS system, this system that is the largest and has most of the state employees, the employee pays one for one. They put in a dollar, the employer, i.e. the state, puts in a dollar. In other systems, it's almost a three-to-one match where the employer puts in three and the employee puts in one. So we would move the other three systems over a period of time, to the same system that currently exists within ASRS. We phase in a 50/50 match over a five-year period of time and that will have an impact in two areas. It will make the funds more financially stable, and two, it will lower the burden on the government entities that are paying into these plans, and thereby protecting taxpayer dollars.
Ted Simons: One more change here that I wanted to mention, the deferred retirement option plan. This is a biggie, because this is the lump sum deal where if you stay a certain amount -- mostly a fire and police, is that mostly what this involves?
Kirk Adams: Yes.
Ted Simons: Stay past retirement age, and you're allowed a lump sum payment? How does that work?
Kirk Adams: Right now if you're a firefighter, for example, you can retire after 20 years of service. And you could then enter the drop program. Which means you stay on the job, you work an additional five years at your regular pay, and then at the end of the five years would you retire and collect your normal retirement plus a lump sum payment. And that lump sum payment, the drop payment, averages around $250,000 for that additional five years of service. What we are doing is actually raising the proposal actually raises the retirement age for public safety personnel from 20 years to 25 years, and it eliminates the drop program.
Ted Simons: OK. Highlighting that one, but going back to everything we've talked about, there are other changes, those seem like they’re the biggies.
Kirk Adams: Yes.
Ted Simons: Highlighting that one especially, the critics are saying that you're not going to get good folks, you're not going to -- especially when it comes to the double dippers, we should have mentioned that as well. Real quickly, how is that being addressed?
Kirk Adams: Well, I originally called for the elimination of double dipping, but as we got into the facts of this problem, I decided what we actually had to do was curtail it and set it up in a way that it would no longer do harm for the system. Say, for example, you have a master teacher who retires. Who may want to continue in the classrooms or maybe they're a good science teacher and that school needs them back in the classroom. You don't really want to prohibit that teacher from being able to come back to work and teach those students at the high degree -- high level she teaches them. So what we've done is said, if you're going to return back to work, you have to pay an alternative contribution rate that will be calculated by the actuaries to go towards the deficit in the plan. Therefore, that teacher who is just starting out or who is five or 10 years into her career will not be harmed by that other teacher who returns back to work.
Ted Simons: OK. Now we've got the biggies. As far as the criticism of the plan, the idea especially police and fire, because let's face it, those folks have a pretty dangerous position, and we want to make sure they're taken care of now and later in life, especially when they may not be able to do the things they do as a younger person. Teachers, other public employees will say we got into the public sector not necessarily to make money, but to do what we're doing, so we're get can paid less than the market rate. We hear this every once in a while. Some would disagree but in general that's the argument. Is this fair to folks who’ve said, I work for this amount of years at this amount of pay, knowing I would get these kinds of benefits.
Kirk Adams: First off, the proposal is for prospective employees.
Ted Simons: All of the changes?
Kirk Adams: Most of the changes would be for perspective employees only. Those who are currently in the system are not going to be impacted by these changes. On the most part. Here's what I would say to your question. We have to be able to keep our promises. We have said to them that when you commit a lifetime, a career of service to a city, fire department, or a teacher in a classroom, when you retire you're going to have retirement that you can count on. Right now we cannot say that with a straight face. Because the deficit in this system is so large, because of the abuses, because of the financial conditions, and because of the basic structure of the system that have made them financially unsustainable. So if we care about cops, firefighters, and teachers, we need to give them a program they can count on, and that means eliminate the abuses, put in the reforms so they can count on a stable retirement, and not tell them they're going to get something that taxpayers will not be able to afford. And Ted that's the other point there, are two parties in this. It's not just the public employees. It's the taxpayers who are ultimately on the hook for these pension systems. And they're not going to be able to afford, we are not going to be able to afford these liabilities unless we make major reforms.
Ted Simons: Real quickly, last question, for those who say we're not going to be able to get good folks if these changes go through, I'm already hearing that criticism as well. How do you respond?
Kirk Adams: This pension reform will still provide public employees with a more stable and more generous pension program than the average worker in the private sector will receive through a 401(k) and with no risk. Remember, when you contribute to your 401(k), you still have a risk. When you're in a defined benefit program you're guaranteed an outcome, you're guaranteed a return, nobody in the private sector can say that.
Ted Simons: Speaker, thanks for being here we appreciate it.
Kirk Adams: Thank you.